REVIEW: Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts – Finding Joy in Heartbreak

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Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Dreamworks Animation’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a fantastical post-apocalyptic tale brimming with joy, adventure, and poignancy. It’s a unique series that dares to take animation in new directions. Based on the series creators Radford Sechrist‘s 2015 webcomic, it thrusts the viewers headfirst into a ravaged future world that is both dangerous and wondrous. With consistently compelling characters leading, the excitement never ceases in this thrilling and emotional adventure.

The setting is 200 years in the future from our present day. It is a post-apocalyptic version of our world that, while ravaged, has been transformed into a fantasy world of natural splendor. Whatever apocalyptic event happened, it mutated many, if not all, of the animals to evolve into “Mutes.” They are either anthropomorphized, speaking and creating new societies dwelling on the surface, or simply mutated animals with new abilities and forms. As with people, some are good and some are bad. Giant versions are called “Mega-Mutes.” They are the “Wonderbeasts” of the show’s title.

Kipo (Karen Fukuhara) is a 12-going-on13-year-old girl who has lived underground her whole life. When her home is breached by a Mega-Mute, she finds herself on the surface she never thought she’d ever see. Even though she’s afraid of this new world, and aims to get back to her father (Sterling K. Brown), she is also excited by the prospect of exploring this wondrous world.  Soon, she meets fellow humans Wolf (Sydney Mikayla) and Benson (Coy Stewart) and Mutes Dave (Deon Cole) and Mandu (Dee Bradley Baker) who decide to help her find her people. On the way, they face the villainous Scarlemagne (Dan Stevens) and his various Mute lackeys and allies.

Kipo, having never experienced the surface, is a relentless optimist and go-getter. She approaches each situation with an open heart that never falls into naivete. Fukuhara gives an amazing performance, conveying incredible range as a voice actress with the array of emotions written for Kipo as she learns more about the world and herself on her journey. The answers she receives on the way challenge her and the new friendships she’s made. I very much hope Netflix greenlights a season 2 to continue her and her friends’ journey.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Wolf is the co-protagonist. She is literally the lone wolf of the series, fending for her own and balking at forming close relationships or friendships. She’s an independent fighter who has undergone abandonment trauma at her young age. Her journey is about recovery and finding her belonging and faith in people once again. It’s very moving to watch.

But with Kipo, Benson, and the others, Wolf gradually learns to open herself up. Her new friends provide the belonging she more than deserves. Mikayla plays her role with palpable tenseness, resilience, and an underlying vulnerability. Additionally, on the representation side, the importance of having a dark-skinned Black girl as a main hero cannot be overstated. Wolf provides a wonderful character for all kids and adults to identify with and look up to.

The core of the series is the relationship between Wolf and Kipo. Gradually, as they get to know each other better, so too does the audience. As expected, Kipo is the one to pursue their friendship, with Wolf resisting and initially only staying with Kipo out of obligation. The series provides a moving example of sisterhood between the characters. Despite seeming like polar opposites, they have much more in common than they thought. Though both are heartbroken by what has happened to them, they find joy in their newfound relationships. They are each other’s found family.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Unfortunately, Benson does not get as much development as he deserves. He’s still a great character with a lot of potential, but we don’t get to know him well until the latter half of the season. His backstory fleshed out much less than Kipo’s and Wolf’s. His friendship with beetle-Mute Dave is entertaining but also needs more character development. The representation he provides, however, is also very important.  He explicitly comes out as gay to the audience and is shown developing a crush on another boy his age. Hopefully, season 2 develops him and his relationships with the others further.

South Korean Studio Mir of The Legend of Korra, The Boondocks, and Voltron: Legendary Defender fame animates this stunning series. The animation is crisp, vibrant, angular, and full of color. There is such a rich use of texture and movement in every frame. Dreamworks and Studio Mir continue to make some of the most stunning animations in the industry with Kipo.

The mutated future world is a nature-filled marvel. The Mutes that populate it range from the beautiful and elegant, to the incredibly cute, to the dangerous and malicious. Earth has become a Mute-dominated world, causing humans to hide away. It’s almost like a thought experiment given story treatment. The deliberate design and world-building challenges our perceptions about our own society. There’s so much to explore this season, and certainly for seasons beyond.

The show has musical sequences that are fun and engaging, and for the most part, don’t feel out of place. Like in any musical, they provide a cathartic release of our characters’ feelings on their journey and what they learn. The compositions are beautiful and moving, and make themselves key to the show, in the same way Steven Universe makes music important to its narrative. It fits with the whimsical nature of the show.

Overall, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a delightful, heart-wrenching, thrilling, and wonderful show that will keep you on your toes with each episode. This future version of our world is large and expansive, with an abundance of adventures to pursue. Start watching it now, and join Kipo, Wolf, Benson, and their friends on their journey.

You can watch season 1 of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts exclusively on Netflix.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Overall, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a delightful, heart-wrenching, thrilling, and wonderful show that will keep you on your toes with each episode. This future version of our world is large and expansive, with an abundance of adventures to pursue. Start watching it now, and join Kipo, Wolf, Benson, and their friends on their journey.