Watching The Cuphead ShowNetflix’s new adaptation of the Studio MDHR run-and-gunner starring two anthropomorphic cup siblings, it’s hard to say who exactly the series is for.
Like the game before, The Cuphead Show centers on Cuphead (Tru Valentino) and his brother Mugman (Frank Todaro), two rambunctious talking heads who love each other almost as much as they love each other when their kind guardian, Elder Kettle (Joe Hanna), isn’t looking. While the boys love to get into all sorts of mischief in and around their tiny home, they know a world of adventure awaits them on the rest of the Inkwell Isles, where they’re not supposed to roam unsupervised. During one of the brothers’ excursions into town to spend time at a carnival, they cross paths with the devil (Luke Millington-Drake), a singing, dancing con man with his eyes set on possessing Cuphead’s soul, a turn of events that Cuphead himself doesn’t seem too concerned about at first.
if The Cuphead Show‘s 12 minute premiere explains his premise, you can see some of the logic cup co-creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer (who also serve as co-executive producers on the series) applied while trying to figure out how to fit the original game’s story into 12 episodes. While there are still many core plots of the game that follow the brothers as they are forced to devise ways to outsmart the devil, The Cuphead Show tries to spend some time delving into the lives of his supporting characters, such as the villainous King Dice (Wayne Brady) and Ms. Chalice (Grey Griffin). It’s almost always great when video game expansions – whether they’re actual playable game content, or “expansions” in the narrative sense The Cuphead Show is — go for this kind of character-building and world-building.
In The Cuphead ShowBut the way the series jumps from episode to episode makes it feel a bit disjointed at times, like a project best consumed as supplementary material for the game. When you pause on a particular frame of The Cuphead Showalmost anything will look like a still from a show based on cup the game. That’s not exactly the case when you hit the play button, though, as a whole host of minor changes here and there add up to a final product that feels like a version of cup that lost some of its essence in the process of translation across mediums.
Of The Cuphead Show Since it’s a modern cartoon aimed at a young audience, you can see why the show’s creative team couldn’t exactly rely on blocks of text-based dialogue set to old-fashioned music to continue the story. Instead of settling into a measured rhythm that fits the classic Fleischer Studios animation that The Cuphead ShowThe aesthetic harks back to the pace of the new series straying more towards the modern side of things – meaning it’s fast, loud and a little more frenetic than it should be. In some scenes that are clearly based on cupIn the more memorable boss battles, the show’s frenzied energy acts like a reflection of the stress that can come as you try to achieve perfect rankings in the game.
But because this is a show you watch and not a game you actively participate in, that same energy often ends up The Cuphead Show feel like it is propelling itself out of fear that people will lose interest. The speed at which each of The Cuphead ShowThe movements of the episodes also play a part in the overall feeling of the show that it isn’t quite the homage to the classic Fleischer Studios animation that the game was. It’s not real The Cuphead Show would work better if every single frame was illustrated by hand, but rather it seems unsure how much effort to put into its faux-vintageness rather than play with modern storytelling sensibilities.
By the time The Cuphead Show starting to sharpen his focus a bit and dig more into Cuphead and Mugman’s battle for Cuphead’s soul, you can clearly see how close it is to capturing the same kind of magic that futurama‘s “Hell Is Other Robots” one of the strongest, most memorable episodes of that series. Most of the necessary elements are there, and it’s commendable how much detail each of them contains The Cuphead Show‘s episodes manage to pack in given their limitations. However, density of details does not always make for great television, and in The Cuphead ShowIn this case, it might have been a better option to opt for less and give everyone on the screen a chance to breathe.
The Cuphead Show will be released on Netflix on February 18.