Disenchantment Review Roundup: Should You Binge or Skip?
Matt Groening's Disenchantment -- which takes the animation style of The Simpsons and Futurama, and places it in a magical fairy-tale land -- is finally out on Netflix. And the reviews are not that great.
Specifically, the show doesn't live up to its creators' promises of serialized storytelling (which Netflix shows have been known for) and how it's plodding through well-trod territory. The best that critics can say, so far (only 7 of the show's 10 episodes were sent for reviews) is that Disenchantment will be fun for Groening super-fans.
In his review for Rolling Stone, Alan Sepinwall finds worth in Disenchantment's visuals, and frustration with how its story and characters are lacking.
"The show’s visual style as a whole is routinely more adventurous and exciting than what we’ve come to expect even from the HD incarnation of The Simpsons." — Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone
"But if the figures and architecture seem familiar — the castle of Dreamland, where rebellious princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson) lives, is reminiscent of Futurama‘s Planet Express building — the show’s visual style as a whole is routinely more adventurous and exciting than what we’ve come to expect even from the HD incarnation of The Simpsons."
"But it’s in that vast expanse separating funny-clever from funny-ha-ha that Disenchantment frequently tends to get lost, largely thanks to the relative thinness of the three main characters."
"André does well with his sly line readings, but the show very quickly loses the thread(*) of his character being there to corrupt and ruin Bean’s life. Soon, he’s just commenting on the action. And the supporting characters tend to be one-note — and not always an inherently comical note, like John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender himself) as the enraged king, who’s far more abrasive than he is amusing."
Samantha Nelson's review at The Verge wishes that Disenchantment were as good as Groening's previous works.
"One of the more fantasy-driven episodes presents a spin on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, but it doesn’t deliver anything besides tired German stereotypes and Hannibal Lecter jokes." — Samantha Nelson, The Verge
"Some of the gags work, like a scene where Bean steals a carriage and is pursued by guards on siren-wearing donkeys whose hee-haws provide the alarm sounds."
"Unfortunately, Disenchantment, which drops its 10-episode first season on August 17th, plays its story too safe and winds up looking dated and bland compared to Netflix’s other animated offerings."
"Sticking to Futurama’s formula would be fine if Disenchantment also replicated its quality. Futurama poked fun not only at science fiction tropes, but at politics and capitalism, while also delivering some genuinely emotional stories. Nothing in the first seven episodes of Disenchantment has that power or bite."
In his review at Entertainment Weekly, Darren Franich has a lot more fun bashing Disenchantment than he had while watching the show.
"Some of the castle guards have a band called the Pillage People (grooooan). The band mostly plays at corn exchanges, and Bean says, “Maybe someday you’ll play at Cornchella” (GROOOOAN)." — Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly
"In the first episode, Bean meets a couple new buddies. … Together, they set off on… adventures? No, that implies excitement. Capers? No, that implies humor. Shenanigans? Too active. Stuff happens to them, I guess, and sometimes they respond with a wisecrack."
"But after the first couple of episodes, there’s no obvious narrative momentum. The interplay between characters feels off. Luci keeps telling Bean to do the wrong thing, and she does: That’s the inciting incident, and then sometimes no incident gets incited."
"Some of the castle guards have a band called the Pillage People (grooooan). The band mostly plays at corn exchanges, and Bean says, “Maybe someday you’ll play at Cornchella” (GROOOOAN)."
In her review at Collider, Allison Keene gives some hope to curious audiences, pointing out the plethora of laughs in the show.
"A decent balance of story and whip-smart gags, many of which take advantage of Netflix’s ratings-free atmosphere. (An elven trip to the gallows, for instance, delivers belly-laughs in very unexpected ways)" — Allison Keene, Collider
"There’s a little bit of bloat, but overall, a decent balance of story and whip-smart gags, many of which take advantage of Netflix’s ratings-free atmosphere. (An elven trip to the gallows, for instance, delivers belly-laughs in very unexpected ways)."
"The show is loaded with talent in even its smallest roles: Mighty Boosh alumni Matt Berry and Noel Fielding voice two scene-stealing characters (Prince Merkimer and Stan the Executioner, respectively), as does Lucy Montgomery as Bean’s maid Bunty. Mark Mothersbaugh has also composed a jaunty score for the series, one that works as a great juxtaposition to the grim happenings onscreen."
"One of the issues with the setting, though, is that as fun as it is follow Disenchantment’s particular satire of medieval life for awhile, it’s not exactly breaking new ground. Some of the jokes get obvious and lazy as the series goes on, especially those centered around religious life. Others careen too far into the macabre, with Bean being praised for finding the courage to murder someone (two someones, actually. “Mentally ill siblings,” to be exact)."
At Slate, Sam Adams damns Disenchantment with faint praise, and calls the show "comfort food for Simpsons and Futurama fans."
"Futurama proudly boasted a writing room full of physicists and Ph.D.s, but if there’s a medievalist on staff at Disenchantment, you’d never know it." — Sam Adams, Slate
"Disenchantment is joke-dense and free-associative, and it’s at its best when the writers and the voice cast run away with the material. There’s one inspired, if not especially sensical, riff where Bean runs through the entire history of a made-up rock band of which she is the theoretical singer, from early bar gigs through sudden fame and a stormy breakup, followed by a tumultuous solo career, triumphant reunion, and her tragic early death."
"If what you’re looking for is a re-skinned Futurama with jokes about the plague and beheadings instead of aliens and package delivery, you have come to the right place. And as a longtime Futurama fan, I don’t entirely mean that as a criticism."
"Weinstein reportedly promised that the show would offer a serialized storyline, in contrast to the near static environment of Groening’s previous shows, but in the seven episodes Netflix provided in advance, there’s precious little in the way of plot advancement, and certainly not enough to make you feel like you have to binge the next episode after you’ve finished this one."
"Futurama proudly boasted a writing room full of physicists and Ph.D.s, but if there’s a medievalist on staff at Disenchantment, you’d never know it. Instead, we get a hot-tempered king (voiced by Billy West, Futurama’s Fry) who talks—screams, mostly—in a thick outer-borough accent, never mind that this is the age of queens, not Queens."