After nearly 30 years of The Simpsons and nearly 20 years of Futurama, Matt Groening (ably assisted by Simsons alumni, Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley) have created a new animated series. Disenchantment is the tale of Princess Tiabeanie 'Bean', the hard drinking and burping princess of Dreamland, a medieval fantasy land straight from many tales of yore. She is fated to be married to a Prince of whatever land her father sees as the most politically advantageous. However, Bean is a driven woman and her fate is linked to Elfo, an elf who escapes his magical land of pure maniacal happiness and Luci, a demon with a dark and mysterious past.
The trio end up together and the scene is set for an emotional roller-coaster for Bean as she battles her good and bad sides with the literal manifestations by her side.
In a crowded animation market with the meta Rick and Morty, darkly philosophical Bojack Horseman, gently family-centric Bob's Burgers and those stalwarts South Park, Family Guy and of course, the grandaddy, The Simpsons, how does this new show fit in?
Well, first of all the art style, whilst being unmistakably Simpson-ish has a less garish colour palette. In places the show is quite beautiful with lots of carefully lit scenes, lent some oomph with flashy computerised transitioning shots. The standard medieval setting is beautifully realised and the attention to detail is astonishing, especially when it comes to sight gags such as the shop signage.
The voice acting is too notch with Simpson/ Futurama regulars Billy West, John DiMaggio and Tress MacNeille joined by Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre and Nat Faxon. The standout voice actor is Matt Berry who plays the pompous arrogant Prince Merkimer with booming voice and faux gravitas. He gets the majority of the best lines and delivers then with aplomb, however he only appears in a few episodes and so feels underutilised.
The series has a mix of standalone episodes, where we get to know the characters and world further and add to the whole tapestry of the world. The episodes are:
Episode 1- Teabeanie is a hard drinking, hard fighting Princess of Dreamland and is set to be married against her wishes. She rebels and runs away, only to be pursued by her husband to be, Prince Merkimer.
Episode 2- The King attempts to use elf blood to create the Elixir of Life and so Elfo goes through progressively worse forms of torture. Bean tries to get rid of her betrothed with a visit to Mermaid Island.
Episode 3- Bean, Elfo and Luci steal a horse and carriage and go on a joyride whilst drunk on mead. They then move onto harder stuff and fall in with a bad lot and steal from Bean's family crypt. The King hires an exorcist to get rid of a demon he thinks is controlling his wayward daughter.
Episode 4- The King goes away for a few days and so Bean throws an immense party in the castle. Problems arise when the Viking horde gatecrash the party.
Episode 5- Bean is banished from the castle for her constant errant behaviour and so has to get a job in the 'real' world. She soon realises that she isn't cut out for menial work.
Episode 6- In an effort to teach her about responsibility King Zog has Bean represent his Kingdom as an ambassador when they travel to the land of the Dankmire, but things don't go according to plan when Bean gets drunk and offends the Dankmirians.
Episode 7- The trio visit a drugs den and under the influence of Bliss, have hallucinations. Elfo lies and tells Bean he has a lost love girlfriend, Bean then proceeds to find the figure, in the shape of a giantess. What could go wrong, right?
For the last 3 episodes the series is more narrative driven with a story arc and has a more emotional core. King Zod is still after the Elixir of Life but things take a turn as Elfo is kidnapped. A crusade is mounted to get him back and it leads to the lost city of Cramorrah and the Eternity Vial, the key to the elixir of life. The mission succeeds but things don't go according to plan.
This is a promising narrative arc that has clear influence from Indiana Jones and many other adventure matinee shows typical of the genre however, it all rings a little hollow as you are not invested in the characters as they haven't been developed enough. This is the main issue that I have with the series so far: the stories, while fine, are just not interesting enough overall. The final 3-parter does see an improvement in developing the characters and world along and hopefully in the second season (if there is one) there will be more of an emphasis on the bigger picture. Oh, whilst we are talking about the bigger picture, stay for the end of episode 10 stinger a la Marvel films.
The show succeeds on some levels but not in others. Whilst more mature in content with its 12 rating, the writing isn't as crude or as acerbic as in South Park or *groan* Family Guy, or as clever as in The Simpsons at its peak or the characters as well developed as in Bob's Burgers. This all sounds unfair as all those series have been going for many years and the shows have got better and we've seen character development so I'm optimistic that Disenchantment will grow like Futurama did in the 2nd and 3rd season. In far smaller scope Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated managed to deliver a story full of mystery and humour in just 52 episodes and Gravity Falls within 39 so it shows that series don't have to go on forever to deliver.
Overall, if you catch the series you won't be blown away but there is the promise of something building if it is given a chance.