'Disenchantment' review: A beer chugging, gambling princess set in the medieval times is all you need this summer
'Disenchantment,' a Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein creation, starring Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon, and Eric André, will premiere on Netflix this August 17.
Two minutes into Netflix's 'Disenchantment,' and Princes Bean has already caused a bar fight - but not because she's a ravishing hotness with suitors lined up and ready to fight for her. No, Princess Bean is your millennial dysfunctional princess who's as real as it gets.
The said bar fight is because she manages to whip out some wit and win the entire stake at gamble - and she does all of this while chugging beer and burping unabashedly. Now that's the kind of princess life that the current generation of damsels wishes of having. What makes her even better? She comes from the house of Matt Groening - the icon who blessed the masses with phenomenal shows like 'The Simpsons,' 'Futurama,' and 'Bob's Burgers' - which even after decades, have managed to hold their throne as cult classics.
But back to Princess Bean. She's your regular princess - with a pinch of fighting patriarchy, and a side of wishing for a life far distant from her current one. The setting, the idea, the concept really doesn't get any different than the Disney portrayal of the damsel in distress, waiting for a knight in shining armor. Or so you think until you're quite far into the first episode, and without spoiling too much, let me tell you - she's both, refreshingly so.
Say for starters, Bean is in distress, because she wants to shift the patriarchal paradigm and rule her own kingdom without having to marry a man. But that can never happen. And speaking of the man - or the supposed knight - he eventually arrives too. Actually, two of them arrive - in the form of Elfo, the elf, and Luci - Bean's sort of pet demon. It's funny how the two of them could never size up to the gallant knight we speak of, yet they become her cohorts in escaping!
But wait - that isn't all. Things become clear that this is going to be no ordinary tale right from the very first stages of the first episode, where Princess Bean is being literally tied to ropes and carried to her own wedding, and she earnestly requests a man tied to the guillotine to "switch places" with her. Now, princesses are dramatic, but Bean takes it over the top without being too much. She's just the right amount of too much, actually. And that's where arrives the magic of Matt Groening.
Co-showrunner Josh Weinstein, however, believes that Abbi Jacobson - the voice behind Princess Bean - had quite a bit of a contribution on the whole improvisation. Speaking about how they arrive at the concept, he says: "There have been so many fantasy stories before, and so many types of princesses that are either like Disney types of traditional, pure princesses or sometimes writers make the mistake of going in the other direction, where the princess is totally kickass warrior princess with no flaws. And we thought it would be interesting to approach it with what if she was just a real princess?"
And Abbi's role in that? "A 19-year-old young woman stuck in this position where she's grown up in a patriarchal kingdom, where she knows she can never rule - but she wants to experience the world and find her own way. So she's the underdog, and we've always liked those the very best. And it makes you really want to root for her," Weinstein continues. "But that's part of it, cause then we got Abbi Jacobson to play her. And she's got such a great, strong point of view, that her acting and her voice started impacting how we write Bean. So it's a great combination."
So clearly - it's not all Groening. It's Groening's portrayal of his medieval kingdom, with inputs from Weinstein, and Jacobson, and Nat Faxon (Elfo), Eric André (Luci) and, of course, his chicest team of voice actors like David Herman and Maurice LaMarche, who have been on board with him since 'The Simpsons,' 'Futurama,' and 'Bob's Burgers.'
That's the wonder of Matt Groening's world; and teamed with Netflix, it just gets better with every frame. Like, say Prime Minister Odval - voiced by LaMarche - who, more than a governing figure, is a babysitter to the princess. How does one make that happen? It's pretty easy in Groening's take of the medieval times, piled on with the creative freedom Netflix is known for offering. The showrunners truly have taken advantage of every bit of that space the streaming giant allows.
"They just went like, you're Matt Groening. You know what you're doing. Make us the show. So it was pretty phenomenal, the way they work," spills voice actor LaMarche. And it is probably this confidence the network shows that makes Disenchantment stand apart from 'The Simpsons' or 'Futurama.' And while tackling the topic of the animated show's similarity to 'Lord of the Rings,' or 'Game of Thrones' infused with satirical humor, it wouldn't be wrong to say that 'Disenchantment' is a class of its own.
Then there are social satire and hilarious puns which are so superficial that for a second you almost forget to expect the layered humor which all Matt Groening shows offer. And then it comes and hits you with such a hard force that the only reaction you can give is raucous laughter. "We've already made fun of the present day via 'The Simpsons,' and made fun of the future through 'Futurama,'" explains Weinstein. "And now we're able to do the same by going back into the past. It seemed like a very fruitful genre to go to."
But then, at one point, it gets slightly hard to not notice the subtle similarities that the show has with Groening's previous works. And right then arrives the buzzing soundtrack - just the perfect concoction of sinister balanced with fun - which knocks one off from all comparisons they are drawing. It is at this point that viewers realize - and we quote cast member David Herman on that - "We want to be the carbon copy of something that's already succeeded. Nobody wants to risk being groundbreaking."
Yet the show is groundbreaking because the princesses troubles don't magically disappear as soon as her tin knights have arrived. It just takes off from that point. And her knights are not exactly emblems of ideologies either. Elfo is too tired of living a life where everything is all smiles and no sadness. And as for Luci - well - he's a demon. Groening's take on the fallen angel, Lucifer, presumably.
So, of course, it's similar to his previous works - and in that, the characters look the same, somewhat. Bean could be your grown-up Lisa Simpson with a dash of Tina Turner. And Luci is, of course, a far more sinister Homer Simpson. But other than that, the show has so much to offer. Even when it drags slightly in between - say with prolonged shots that could have been cut down - you don't want to fast forward it. The underlying humor makes it worth the wait, and that's what it's all about when it comes to such intelligent comedies.
And if all of this (granted, slightly biased and stoked) gushing doesn't convince you to tune into 'Disenchantment' as it premieres on August 17 on Netflix, we sincerely hope that these words of Josh Weinstein will. Sharing his insights on how the show came to be, he said: "We actually conceived the stories and mapped them out as if they are dramatic stories, and then we find the humor and jokes in that - so it's most important that we're telling a good story first, and then we find the jokes and the visuals for everything else. But it all starts with a dramatic story."