Amphibia: One of Gravity Falls’ Proud Progeny – Disney+ Review

Disney is getting some real talent on their shows.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

Anne Boonchuy (Brenda Song) and her best friends Sasha Waybright (Anna Akana) and Marcy Wu (Haley Tju) steal a music box from an antique store. When they open it, they are sucked through and end up in the land of Amphibia, a world populated by sentient frogs, toads, and newts. Separated from the others, Anne meets the Plantar family, a trio of frog farmers living in the small town of Wartwood: Anne’s best friend and partner-in-crime Sprig (Justin Felbinger), Sprig’s pollywog sister Polly (Amanda Leighton), and their grandfather Hopediah AKA “Hop Pop.” Anne, who is perceived as a freak by the population, eventually grows to be liked by the people of Wartwood, only for it to be revealed that Sasha has become the chief lieutenant of Captain Grime (Troy Baker), the vicious head of Toad Tower that controls the region of Amphibia that includes Wartwood. After Anne and Sasha fight and the tower is destroyed, they end up separated again. Now, the Plantars and Anne set off for the capital, Newtopia, to find something that may help Anne get back home… and maybe to find Marcy.

Renewed for Season 3.

END SUMMARY

I have made at least a dozen statements on this blog about my absolute love of Gravity Falls. I think that, in many ways, it’s one of the most impressive shows ever made, managing to make a kid-friendly version of Twin Peaks while also creating some of the most memorable characters and most powerful scenes of emotion you can get in an animated show. One of the episodes even was added to my 100 Best Episodes of Television and I genuinely considered adding another. The creator of this show, Matt Braly, was not only a director of 8 episodes of Gravity Falls, but was the Key Animator of “Not What He Seems,” the episode that I consider the peak of that show. Whatever experience he got on Gravity Falls clearly helped shape this show, because Amphibia manages to push many of the same boundaries of television that Gravity Falls did while also delivering the kind of show that can be loved and enjoyed by people of any age. It’s a show that families can watch together, something that I think we really need more of. Along with The Owl House and The Mitchells vs. The Machines, there’s a whole generation of great talent making animated shows.

Show knows how to design a city.

Part of what makes this show successful is that the characters are all likably flawed. Anne has more issues than almost any protagonist you could have on a kids show, but she does always keep trying to do the right thing. More than that, she learns from her mistakes and, while she ends up making more, there’s never a doubt that she’ll get better. She has very different relationships with all three of the Plantars: She’s Sprig’s emotional confidant and closest friend, she’s Polly’s source of both femininity and also athleticism, and she’s both Hop Pop’s surrogate daughter and, occasionally, the one who bonds with him over the childish behavior of the younger Plantars. All of the relationships feel natural and they keep the show fresh because there’s always more to mine as the characters grow. 

It also has TROGDOR!! The Burninator.

The setting of the show manages to be completely alien and yet familiar. Everything in Amphibia is just a bit off from Earth, but you can still find common ground with it. That particularly applies to the citizens of Wartwood, which include the corrupt politician Mayor (Stephen Root), his well-named yes-man Toadie (Jack McBrayer), and local weirdo Wally (James Patrick Stuart). The technology is a bit irregular, with most of society being at Feudalism, but other aspects being in the 1930s or even 50s. The old-timey society makes it more understandable when there are monsters or cannibals (seriously) or other crazy things populating the area. I think they honestly get away with some of these horror figures only because most of the characters are frogs and therefore less “real.”

There’s a lot of diversity among amphibians.

Overall, the show just really gets a lot of stuff right. I really recommend it, particularly if you liked Gravity Falls (which does get a tribute episode).

Stan Ponds. Perfect.

****SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 FINALE****

So, you may have seen this show trending a month or so ago. That’s because Disney ended up cancelling the finale of Season 2 shortly before it aired. So shortly, in fact, that the episode ended up being available on iTunes for a few hours before it could be pulled. Fans, as well as the creators and their fellow people in the animated series industry, rioted, because this was done without any real explanation. Having now seen the finale, I notice two things: 1) They put a warning before the episode about its potential impact on small children and 2) they made the actual broadcast of the finale be followed up by a sample of season 3’s opening. I think they had to do this because the second season finale of Amphibia was one of the most shocking things I have ever seen, completely destroying what I thought Disney’s standards and practices would allow. While the show regularly puts members of the cast in mortal danger, it’s still a kids show, so you would not expect them to, hypothetically, violently impale a character with a sword and then end a season. But they did. I think they made them air the season 3 opening just because it reveals that the character is still alive (albeit in a tube). I am actually a little sad that they weren’t willing to perma-kill a character, but it is a character I really like, so… I’m torn. In any case, I still think they shouldn’t have delayed the finale, but I do understand it.

Hulu Mini-Review – Into the Dark: My Valentine – Gaslighting As Horror

Blumhouse’s Into the Dark series turns a bad relationship into a mind-screwing horror story.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

On Valentine’s Day, a pop singer named Valentine (Britt Baron) plays a show with her partner Julie (Anna Akara), only to find that a group of fans of pop star Trezzure (Anna Lore) are in the audience harassing her. They claim that Valentine ripped off the songs, voice, and image of Trezzure, but Valentine claims that Trezzure’s manager Royal (Benedict Samuel) was her ex-boyfriend who stole all of her songs and created Trezzure. After the show, Royal and Trezzure show up to confront Valentine, and Royal is not planning on taking “no” for an answer.

Image result for into the dark my valentine
The show’s pretty great, honestly.

END SUMMARY

This film was the first feature written and directed by Maggie Levin and this is a hell of a first at-bat. While I have enjoyed several of the films that have come out in Into the Dark, this is immediately in the top tier. This movie basically turns the act of gaslighting into a monstrous act perpetrated by a cruel bastard, which at least a handful of people I spoke to say can be accurate in real life. 

Image result for into the dark my valentine
You will see someone you’ve met in his performance.

The strength of the film is the interaction between Valentine, Royal, and Trezzure. Benedict Samuel almost perfectly captures a level of sinister egotism in order to sell the premise to the extreme that the film takes it. The best part, and also the most unnerving, is how well he uses common lines from other films or that abusers frequently recite. Most of his abuse is given in flashbacks to his relationships, which appear almost the same whether it’s Valentine or Trezzure. This is magnified by the fact that Valentine and Trezzure intentionally look nearly identical. Both of them were willing to give him power over them because of his manipulations and their own fears, but he always couches his abuse in targeted language. He tells each of them that “no one will ever love [them] like [he] loves them,” something that sounds romantic until you consider it also tells them they are incapable of doing better than him. He constantly covers his threats with “unless you make me,” always putting the onus on the other party.  That’s how abusers get victims to forgive them, something he explicitly gets his victims to do in this.

Image result for into the dark my valentine
I shouted “YOU DON’T OWE HIM ANY EXPLANATIONS OR CONVERSATIONS” a lot.

I don’t want to go into the whole episode, but let me tell you that it is well paced and captivating. I really recommend this film if you like horror. The cinematography is more akin to a rock video at times, but since some of the cuts are literally to pop performances, that works. Give it a shot sometime.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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