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.
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.
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.
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.”
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).
****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.