IT’S EPIC FANTASY FROM THE MAKERS OF THE SIMPSONS AND FUTURAMA. BUT DISENCHANTMENT ISN’T JUST A GAME OF THRONES SPOOF, AS JOSH WEINSTEIN TELLS RICHARD EDWARDS
First there was The Simpsons. Then there was Futurama. Now it’s epic fantasy’s turn to be skewered…
The first teaser for Matt GroeninG’s
Disenchantment was so on-the-nose it could have put the honest trailers team out a job. “You’ve seen the future in Futurama!” wisecracked the voiceover. “You’ve seen the present in springfield! so what’s the obvious third move? the past, of course!”
having created the longest-running (and, once upon a time, greatest) cartoon show in history with The Simpsons – and almost definitely the cleverest with Futurama – Groening’s third animated odyssey is on a quest right to the heart of Lord Of The Rings territory.
“it felt like the right place to go,” showrunner and Simpsons/Futurama veteran Josh Weinstein tells SFX, “because for any of Matt’s shows, you’re really making fun of and satirising the present day. and since we already did that by going to the future and being in the present day, the most attractive other way to do it is by going deep into the past – a semi-magical past.”
the show’s centred on Bean, the teenage daughter of the king of Dreamland who’d much rather go out drinking with her mates than embrace her princessly duties. her best friends (being a Groening show, that’s a broad term) are elfo, an elf who thinks he has more edge than the rest of his pint-sized species, and Luci, a young demon who’s working his first possession gig. in Weinstein’s words, “it’s very much that they’re the angel and devil on her shoulder.”
“this show is a coming-of-age story,” Weinstein explains. “the three main characters are all around 18, 19, 20 years old – though Luci may be 10,000 years old, he’s still a young demon – and it’s about that age when you’re going into the world for the first time and not sure what you’re going to do, with all these adults and legends telling you how you should behave. But when you’re that age, you’re like, ‘no, that’s bullshit. i’m going to find my own way.’ in the end it’s not about what your elders tell you, it’s the friends you have who help you find a way. so as much as the show might be influenced by things like Lord Of The Rings, it’s more influenced by movies like American Graffiti. With a magical setting.”
Beyond the fact that it’s populated by the likes of demons and elves,
Disenchantment marks a major departure from the Groening brand, which has always heaped most of its focus on the male of the species and their various flaws – prodigiously unexceptional guys like homer J simpson and Philip J fry.
“We really wanted to have a Matt Groening-style character but have her be female and a really believable, fun character,” says Weinstein. “We also wanted to not go for the stereotype of either the dainty princess or the modern stereotype, which is a total kickass princess who has no personality except that she’s a warrior. We wanted to have a realistic 19-year-old woman who was thrust into the position of being a princess
in a kingdom where she knows she’ll never be able to rule, because it’s a patriarchy.”
Disenchantment also breaks with the rather conservative traditions of screen fantasy by making sure that Dreamland’s residents are not exclusively white, and that they don’t all speak with english accents – for starters, the king talks like he’s straight out of new Jersey, and has an approach to diplomacy and interpersonal relationships that echo those of a certain resident of the White house.
“fantasy can be such a white world, which doesn’t make sense to us, because the real world is wonderfully diverse,” says Weinstein. “that’s why we wanted to make sure our fantasy world is too, because it represents the real world. so without trying so hard that it seems like you’re trying too hard, we wanted to be realistic. that’s also true with our writing staff – you don’t want them to be all old, male, white sitcom hacks. You want young people, you want women, and you want different voices of comedy to come together. otherwise it’s just going to be the same old thing.” HISTORY LESSON
if Disenchantment’s familiar visual style is unmistakably a descendant (or should that be forebear?) of The Simpsons and Futurama, look beyond the trademark Groening overbites and you’ll notice that the backgrounds are markedly different – and not just because the in-jokes here are more likely to feature a trip to the Vii-Xi (say it out loud) than a futuramalike cruise down .
“We knew that the characters had to have that Matt Groening look because that’s what people love,” explains Weinstein, “but we knew the backgrounds had to be extra good because the level of animation – and what can be broadcast and streamed – is of much higher quality these days. so we really pushed the animators to have these rich backgrounds. We wanted it to have a more hand-painted feel, so hopefully they feel much more like classic storybook illustrations. if you watch it again and again, you’ll notice some things in the background that may be important – or just make you laugh.”
those gags aren’t just riffs on epic fantasy, either. Much as Futurama was nirvana for anyone with a science PhD, the new show gets properly nerdy with history.
“there are a few Game Of Thrones jokes in there but i’m more into actual legends and medieval history,” Weinstein laughs. “We’re sticking in certain medieval references that medieval scholars might get, and for other people it’ll just be something passing [in the background]. i’m not going to brag and say it’s some huge amount – but it’s like Futurama had those math equations snuck in.”
one thing Disenchantment won’t be doing, however, is celebrating a medieval equivalent of “homer’s 305th everything is Back to normal BBQ”. the fact that it’s streaming on netflix means the first season will be available for instant binge – and that this is the first Groening show where an arc plot is high up in the storytelling mix.
“netflix really give us complete creative freedom,” says Weinstein. “We look at each season of 10 episodes as a huge epic movie involving these characters. each one stands alone as its own contained story, but some of them are more deeply canonical. so viewers will find in episode nine and 10 that a story that’s been brewing since episode one comes to a head. We have arcs planned out loosely for a number of years, should we be lucky enough to continue, and we also know where we want to finish the series when it ends. that’s quite different to The Simpsons and Futurama, which kind of reset at the end of every episode.”
so seeing as – as this preview proves – it’s more or less impossible to talk about
Disenchantment without talking about the previous shows from the Groening stable, how do its creative team feel about following those particular oliphaunts in the room? isn’t making another 2D animated, satirical show just asking for trouble? “it’s incredibly daunting because people love
The Simpsons and Futurama so much,” Weinstein admits. “We know people will be watching it like, ‘Do they still have it? is it going to suck?’ But i think we fall back to the way we did The Simpsons and Futurama, which was that the jokes have to make us laugh and the stories have to involve us. in the early days of
The Simpsons, before the internet, that’s the way it was. We had to count on ourselves to know it’s good. then hopefully if it’s something we really like, there’ll be enough people out there who like it too.”
Beer gardens had started to get more edgy.