Prior to San Diego Comic-Con 2018, all we knew about Netflix and Matt Groening's new show, Disenchantment, was what we saw in a brief teaser trailer: It's a fantasy show, made by Groening (the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama), and it stars an irreverent, relatable princess played by Broad City's Abbi Jacobson. During group interviews at the convention, we learned a whole lot more; you can also see a new trailer below.
Groening, who's been embroiled in controversy lately, was totally focused on promoting Disenchantment during Comic-Con. Alongside longtime collaborator Josh Weinstein--who also worked on both The Simpsons and Futurama--he described his influences for the show, which go back to his childhood dreams of an "enchanted forest."
He didn't want to make a straight fantasy show, though, and he and Weinstein hope to subvert the genre's many tropes--both old and new. "The princess is a perfect example," said Weinstein. "It used to be like the Disney princess, but also, I think a lot of writers make the mistake too of going the other way--it's like, 'She's totally kick-ass and she's perfect.' So we wanted to bust that trope and actually make, what if the princess were just like, a realistic 19-year-old young woman?"
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"The tendency in a lot of epic fantasies and science fiction is 'good vs. evil,' and we tried to shade it a little bit," Groening added. "[King Zog, played by Bender and Jake the Dog actor John DiMaggio] here starts out pretty villainous, but then you find out he has his reasons, and he's not all bad. And same thing with [Princess] Bean, who's the star of the show, and who it's all about. She's not perfect by any means--she makes some bad mistakes and she has a lot of flaws, but you like her anyway."
Monty Python and the Holy Grail proved to be a big influence, unsurprisingly, given the setting. But Disenchantment's home on Netflix allowed Groening and Weinstein more freedom than they're used to. Netflix has become known as a place where creators can fulfill their visions without studio meddling--for better or worse. One way they're experimenting is with length and pacing--the show's first episode is around 35 minutes long, and later episodes vary in length, which isn't possible on network television.
Disenchantment also has more adult content than The Simpsons and Futurama, but they didn't want to be gratuitous.
"If there's nudity, it's going to be King Zog"--i.e. a character most people wouldn't want to see naked, Weinstein said. "If there's violence, it has to be funny or clever so it's not gratuitous."
"We do have a lot of severed limbs and decapitations in this show," Groening added.
Dropping all the episodes at once has advantages, too. "This was a different kind of storytelling than we've ever done, in that you don't have to wrap things up at the end of the episode," Groening said. "And so we have a lot of fun with cliffhangers--a literal cliffhanger at the end of Episode 1."
"Some of the best jokes come from when you don't have to push the story forward so much," he continued. "On The Simpsons and Futurama and other cartoon shows like that, you're so pushing the story forward that you don't have time for some of the best jokes, which are free-standing."
Groening and Weinstein said they designed the show first as if it was a drama, getting the story beats in place before subverting things to add the humor. Weinstein brought up a "rule" that he said Groening has had "from the very beginning of The Simpsons": that characters have to react emotionally to the story in realistic ways.
"We especially thought that in a fantasy, and in an epic tale, and with a character like Bean, if those emotions, and her relationship with her dad, if those aren't real, you'll just disconnect, and it would just be like, a stupid parody show," Weinstein said.
In addition to Jacobson and DiMaggio, Disenchantment's voice actors include Eric Andre, Noel Fielding, and many other talented comedians and actors. The music is atypical for a fantasy show, created by Mark Mothersbaugh, an accomplished film composer and frontman of the band Devo. And the show will be chock full of secrets, according to Groening, from the very first scene.
"The very first thing you see is a giant clue," he teased. "The first animation you see reveals a giant clue, and it's staring you right in the face. And I'm being very legalese here, and my wording is very precise, so it will pay off later."
Most of all, he said, they want to create a show that elicits a wide range of emotions--not unlike The Simpsons and Futurama before it. "We hope we choke people up and break some hearts and maybe cause a tear here and there," Groening said. "But that's after we make you laugh."
Disenchantment arrives on Netflix August 17.
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