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Disenchantment Fri­day Net­flix

THE good news about Net­flix’s new an­i­mated se­ries Disenchantment is that it’s the first new show in two decades from Simp­sons cre­ator Matt Groen­ing. This, though, is also bad news for Disenchantment it­self, as it means it is doomed to be in­stantly judged against the revo­lu­tion­ary phe­nom­e­non of

The Simp­sons at its long, mag­nif­i­cent peak, and the great, daft tapestry of Groen­ing’s cultishly adored fol­low-up, the sci-fi car­toon Fu­tu­rama, rather than be­ing taken for what it is. What it is, then, is a fun, smart and ami­able, if slightly am­bling, lit­tle fan­tasy spoof, skip­ping along tak­ing know­ing digs at the swords and san­dals genre, while crack­ing any other gags that come into the writ­ers’ minds along the way.

The other curse fac­ing Disenchantment, how­ever, is that it’s a fan­tasy par­ody that has ap­peared af­ter the world-de­vour­ing suc­cess of Game Of Thrones, mean­ing some view­ers might be ex­pect­ing a full-on lam­poon of that par­tic­u­lar show. But while there are nods in the di­rec­tion of King’s Land­ing (in­clud­ing a dumb but ter­rific Iron Throne sight gag in episode one), Disenchantment is more in the lin­eage of ear­lier, half-lov­ing

genre pas­tiches, from The Princess Bride to Shrek, Terry Pratch­ett and, par­tic­u­larly, the Monty Python of The Holy Grail – all squished through a Matt Groen­ing strainer.

In­stantly recog­nis­able as Groen­ing’s work from the char­ac­ter de­sign DNA (“weak chin, buck teeth”, as one bug-eyed char­ac­ter be­rates an­other), Disenchantment also repli­cates the dense tex­ture of his other shows. It doesn’t yet have that re­lent­less sen­so­ry­over­load as­sault, but many of the jokes are hap­pen­ing in the back­ground, in shop signs and pass­ing dé­cor. Mean­while, some gags step out from the ter­rain al­to­gether, to of­fer self-aware asides, or set up corny punch­lines that are funny pre­cisely be­cause you can see them slowly com­ing.

The ac­tion takes place in the mag­i­cal, me­dieval, near-bank­rupt king­dom of Dream­land. Our hero­ine is Princess Bean, a layabout mis­fit, not con­tent with her al­lot­ted role – like Au­drey Hep­burn in Ro­man Hol­i­day, but with sil­ver hair and gam­bling ad­dic­tion. Her grouchy fa­ther King Zog has set her up for a juicy ar­ranged mar­riage with a sim­ple­ton prince from a neigh­bour­ing roy­alty. But Bean would rather be out, booz­ing, play­ing cards.

Into her life come two faintly mag­i­cal lit­tle rebels: Elfo, a sweet elf who has ex­iled him­self from the elves’ hid­den candy land, be­cause he can’t stand how un­remit­tingly happy they all are; and Luci, a sly, sleek, black demon, sent by shady wizards to curse Bean, for rea­sons still un­clear. To­gether, the three go on the run. For a bit.

Un­like ear­lier Groen­ing se­ries, which have stuck to the tra­di­tional sit-com setup, where each episode’s story is more of less self-con­tained, Disenchantment teases an on­go­ing, un­fold­ing nar­ra­tive, to do with Bean’s destiny. Re­ally, though, plot re­mains sim­ply an ex­cuse to hang gags and slap­stick from. Where de­vel­op­ment might come is in the deep­en­ing of the tex­ture, the evo­lu­tion of the char­ac­ters and their world.

In Groen­ing’s uni­verse, Disenchantment lies nearer Fu­tu­rama than The Simp­sons. As well as the genre-pok­ing stuff, the Bean-El­foLuci re­la­tion­ship re­calls Fu­tu­rama’s Leela-Fry-Ben­der chem­istry. Luci – a weird, one-eyed, inky shadow cat with a cig­a­rette habit – has cult po­ten­tial, beau­ti­fully voiced by Eric An­dre as a cross be­tween Bill Mur­ray and Ge­orge San­ders.

Fans will recog­nise other voices, no­tably John DiMag­gio, pre­vi­ously Fu­tu­rama’s cranky ro­bot Ben­der, ex­cel­lent here as the dis­so­lute King Zog. There’s also a Mighty Boosh semire­union, with roles for Noel Field­ing, Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry. The lat­ter, of course, plays a poly­mor­phously horny princeling. Thus, while Disenchantment’s jour­ney has only just be­gun, at least one destiny is ful­filled.

Sor­cha Ground­sell Pho­to­graph: Paul Stu­art Cover im­age

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