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Netflix’s ‘Disenchantment’ gets off to a less than magical start

August 12, 2018

Netflix’s ‘Disenchantment’ gets off to a less than magical start

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Netflix’s 10-episode “Disenchantment” is an animated comedy aimed at adults set in a magical medieval fantasy kingdom called Dreamland. Another royal offering from the reigning streaming service? Dream on.

Netflix made the first seven episodes of “Disenchantment” available to critics, and, well, the results are anything but magical. Created by Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), the series takes us on a journey where we encounter a goofy assortment of elves, demons, ogres, fairies, trolls, imps, harpies, sprites, knights, kings, queens, jesters and wizards. What we don’t encounter much of is laughter.

Wielding a satiric sword badly in need of sharpening, “Disenchantment” meanders along a medieval middle ground, often fun but rarely funny. Still, many an animated series has taken a season to find itself, starting uncertainly before hitting its comic stride. This hardly would be the first cartoon show to overcome early stumbles and lackluster writing.

And for those inclined to give Groening and “Disenchantment” this benefit of the doubt, there are reasons to stick around for the full ride. First, the voice cast, led by Abbi Jacobson (Comedy Central’s “Broad City”), is terrific. Second, it has a visual style that is as engaging as it is amusing. And third, Akron native Mark Mothersbaugh’s original music is merrily infectious stuff, giddily fitting the show’s brisk pace.

If the jokes could rise to this level, “Disenchantment,” premiering Friday, Aug. 17, would take off like one of those winged dragons on “Game of Thrones” (one of the obvious targets here). And like one of those dragons, the writing would be full of fire, instead of the lukewarm jesting in the first seven episodes.

The main character in “Disenchantment” is Bean (Jacobson), a gambling, brawling, hard-drinking princess in search of rowdy good times and adventure. She refuses to conform to the traditional notions of how a princess dresses and behaves.

Most of the characters in “Disenchantment,” including Bean, have the trademark characteristics of Groening’s cartoon creations: bulging eyes, overbite, buck teeth – you get the picture.

Bean is facing the greatest danger of all. That would be an arranged marriage to a prince from a wealthy neighboring kingdom. Her father is eager to secure a political alliance that will bolster his struggling realm.

She is about to meet another misfit looking to escape the path destiny seems to have chosen for him. Elfo (Nat Faxon) can’t wait to escape his homeland, a relentlessly happy elf utopia. He is incapable of following “the Jolly Code.”

“I’m sick of being happy all the time,” Elfo says. “Just once, I wish I could go somewhere where people are miserable.”

Next stop, Dreamland. Disenchanted elf meet disenchanted princess.

Determined to make her own destiny, Bean hits the road, accompanied by the ever-optimistic Elfo and an ever-cynical personal demon named Luci (Eric Andre). A personal demon? Don’t ask. He’s a wedding gift that can’t be returned.

Also providing voices for “Disenchantment” are, among others, John DiMaggio, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, David Herman, Matt Berry, Jeny Batten, Rich Fulcher, Noel Fielding and Lucy Montgomery.

If not quite enchanting, this Netflix newcomer is not without charm. And while it comes up short when aiming for big laughs, it does provide plenty of grins and chuckles.

It’s an ongoing story, and with Bean on a quest to find her destiny, maybe Groening and his team will find a better series. Upbeat Elfo would say, “Don’t worry, things will improve.” Luci probably would reply, “Yeah, sure, when dragons fly.”

So there we would be, stuck in the middle, except, as anyone who has seen “Game of Thrones” could tell Luci, “Uh, dragons do fly.” And animated series do come into their own after a season of searching for the right flight pattern.

REVIEW

Disenchantment

What: A 10-episode animated fantasy series aimed at adults.

When: Available for streaming Friday, Aug. 17.

Where: Netflix

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