I feel bad criticizing Matt Groening’s work, the man who gave us such wonderful shows like The Simpsons and Futurama really made the last two decades. I have a theory that eventually artists lose their creative streak, or at least go into some kind of downward slide. I mean, just compare Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark with Ready Player One. The former is a game-changing action film that has withstood the test of time (for the most part), but the other is just kind of a movie with a lot of special effects.
Perhaps the way to combat this downward slope of creativity is to constantly evolve. After all, most people in the eighties knew Clint Eastwood as a successful actor, but in his twilight years, he has become quite the director. If one looks at Seth MacFarlene, you can see that Family Guy has declined in quality, but The Orville brought back the Star Trek fun to TV again (mostly by imitating).
So it is interesting to see Groening, with The Simpsons also in constant quality decline, attempt something new with Disenchantment. This Netflix show promised Groening’s subversive humor, but in an epic fantasy setting. Before I get into the show, I will say that The Simpsons already did a high fantasy episode on their Season 29 pilot called “The Serfsons”. Generally, The Simpsons has one good gem every season, but even the giant medieval look did not make this particular episode stand out. Any show that is near its 3rd decade will probably not produce something decent, even by accident. I get the feeling that “The Serfsons” was some sort of test by the animation department to get the visuals right on Disenchantment. By the way, the visuals of this show look fantastic.
Unfortunately, Disenchantment is not good with its story and characters, and this is 10 reasons why Disenchantment fails to enchant. There are spoilers ahead.
1) For a Fantasy Element, the Quest is Lacking
While I admire Groening for giving us something different with his previous shows, he was good at both subverting and yet following conventions. The Simpsons was originally a family-focused comedy show, and Futurama was good at satirizing science-fiction tropes. In the case of fantasy, the conventions work because it features characters in a medieval time period with magic, usually with a party of adventurers on their way to something.
When I saw the productions stills for Disenchantment, with the princess, elf, and demon, I thought this was going to be our party of adventurers. I was optimistic, thinking that only a quest is needed, but Disenchantment doesn’t have any place for these characters to literally go, and this is its greatest flaw.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a story, and it is one that extends to each episode. Many of Groening’s series dealt with stories on an episode per episode basis, and I’m glad that he is trying something new with the story-arc of Disenchantment. The story that is there is kind of weak, at least for now. I’m willing to pardon that, as many great series have a weak first season as they are trying to find their feet.
However, this feels like some serious wasted potential. I would have loved to see these characters on their way to a lost city, or destroying a ring, or seeking a sacred artifact. However, we see these characters meet and then go to an established kingdom of Dreamland, where they have sit-com antics. Not a good start for an epic fantasy show, really.
2. Bean, the Disney Princess
Another one of the greatest weaknesses in the series is Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a princess of the kingdom of Dreamland who does not want to be a prim-and-proper princess. This subversion of trope has been done to death thanks to Disney, who have even satirized it themselves in their newer animated features like Frozen, Moana, and what looks to be a drawn-out scene in Wreck-it Ralph 2.
The only difference is that Bean will fall off the wagon and hang out a taverns with the common folk, and though Rapunzel did that in Tangled, she didn’t get tipsy with the barflies. Other than that, I felt like Bean had little to offer audiences as far as anything new is concerned, and you could easily compare her to the human Fiona from Shrek.
3. Luci, Demon Guy
Luci (Eric Andre), a demon that follows is a very non-typical Groening character. The worst part is he really appears out of seemingly nowhere, as part of some curse, yet unrelated to the curses that show up in later episodes. How Luci ended up being literally gift-wrapped is a mystery, for now. I’m talking like one of those mysteries like Who Are Rey’s parents or where does Snoke come from?
Luci is just a bad guy, and seems to want to do evil things. However, he often turns around and gives a compliment. This doesn’t make his character complex, like Bender on Futurama, but rather inconsistent.
4. Elfo the Average
Does it really surprise you that a show that takes place in the kingdom of Dreamland has an elf named Elfo (Nat Faxon)? To its credit, I like how he comes from a place similar to The Smurfs, but he really should be named after an emotion or some other trait, like his fellow elves.
Like Luci, Elfo is also inconsistent in his character. He seems to come from a true utopian society, but he does participate in lying and violence a little too early. If anything, Elfo and Luci are kind of the id and superego (shoulder angel and shoulder devil) of Bean, and it is an interesting dynamic.
5. The Kingdom is just Mewni on Star Vs. The Forces of Evil
Bean’s father King Zog (John Dimaggio) is a complete idiot with a crown, almost similar to River Butterfly on the Disney channel animated series Star Vs. The Forces of Evil. Worse yet, that show also has a mother named Moon Butterfly who is very similar to Bean’s mother, who appears as a villain on the last episode of Disenchantment Season 1. The issue is that Star Vs. The Forces of Evil is handling some of the Disenchantment themes much better, but it does have more seasons under its belt.
6. Is there a Trump Commentary Going on Here?
The previously mentioned King Zog has orange hair and can be characterized as a blowhard, sort of like a certain 45th president that we all know. His wife (his second one) is Queen Oona, a reptilian kind of creature who bears a resemblance to Melania. I suppose that I could say that their son resembles Barron Trump, but considering that this son is shown to be an idiot…I’m going to stop my comparisons right now.
I can’t help but think that we are living in a world where anti-Trump memes and satires are running rampant. It’s not that it isn’t deserved, but we are over-saturated with it so much that this will seem very dated with the next administration. This could give Disenchantment a very dated quality in the next few years.
7. Forgettable Side Characters
I have already talked about how the king and queen are just the Trumps (probably), but I feel that a lot of these characters are just recycled side characters from Futurama and The Simpsons. In fact, John Dimaggio has done his voice for Zog before on Futurama as a construction worker/truck stop guy.
Billy West, who voiced Fry and other voices on Futurama, does several voices on Disenchantment, as does Maurice Lamarche, a veteran of Groening’s works. All of these characters are familiar voices, and the characters they play are not complex at all. Granted, it took several years for The Simpsons and Futurama to develop their side characters into icons, but back then, we didn’t have such obvious comparisons to make.
8. The Jokes are Lazy
I can honestly say that I can watch early episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama and laugh out loud. Maybe it was because it was original back then, but when it came to Disenchantment, I only laughed at signs. Seriously, there was one sign to a convent that read: “Live Prudes Only” that made me chuckle, and I appreciate the show giving me the reward of laughter for paying attention.
As for all the other attempts at humor, it never worked for me. It feels like the unfunny writing of later seasons of Groening’s works, or MacFarlane’s Family Guy and American Dad. I found that binge-watching these shows are not enjoyable.
9) Disenchantment Lacks Imagination
Matt Groening made himself famous for creating the world of Springfield, which is a different world from ours but yet the same. He applied the formula times ten in Futurama, with his creation of New New York. I will say that the world of Dreamland looks so very beautiful, even if the same luscious establishing shots are used again and again.
I feel that Disenchantment could have created a fantasy world that could have been so original, but it just applies the Shrek fantasy satirizing spell. Most other fantasy epics rely on conventions while becoming their own separate identity. I mean, the worlds of Westros and Middle Earth are completely different, but Disenchantment does not do anything to stand out, other than it is a parody.
10) Who are the real villains of Disenchantment again?
Throughout the show, there were these two villains that seem to have a master plan. They watch actions unfold through a scrying pool, and talk about how everything is going according to plan. We know nothing about these guys, but they have a really dumb servant.
Is this meant to signal some storyline for a second season? Probably. I’m pretty sure that there will be a Season 2 of Disenchantment, but who knows the release date? I wouldn’t be surprised if these master villains wait until Season 3 to show up, because Season 1 ends with a lot of evil afoot.