Cuphead, as a game, managed to mesmerize everyone who saw it. It combined the classic 1930s and 40s style animation with a brutally hard platformer that made everyone want to dive in and experience the charm first hand. Done by Studio MDHR and a team of animators, the game showed what is possible with the medium, and spawned a new love of traditional classic animation. With that love came The Cuphead Show!, the inevitable TV show based on the game. While filled with charm, the format and simple storytelling hold back what could be the next beloved series for all ages.
Following the adventures of Cuphead and Mugman, The Cuphead Show! tries to capture the magic of the game in short, digestible episodes. From irreverent antics at home, to run-ins with the devil and his many lackeys, the show follows the basic concept of the game closely.
Many of the bosses and characters you encounter during your time in the Cuphead game will be found to some degree within the series. With diabolical vegetables, boxing frogs, and the one-eyed pig shop keep, Porkrind, if you have played the games, you will instantly feel a part of the world as you watch the series.
The voice acting and style is reminiscent of classic cartoons. Everyone brings their A-Game, delivering performances very similar to what you would expect from the early days of Disney, Warner Bros, or the classic Fleischer Studios cartoons. The quick witt and slapstick we all know from the early days of animation are here, with plenty of wisecracks, mid-1900’s slag and even the accents give the feeling of rough and tumble cartoons.
But the real showstopper for The Cuphead Show! is the animation, and the cartoon studios at Netflix Animation along with King Features Syndicate should be very proud of the final results. While not entirely true to the classic animation styles of the 30s and 40s, it is a fantastic take that meshes modern techniques with the visual flair that era is known for.
The show also manages to capture the colour range that feels very reminiscent of early animation, with muted tones and bright visuals that feel exciting and classic all at the same time. The movement and expressions of the characters are also top-notch, delivering very expressive animated performances that feel like something you would have seen as a kid, with this new show allowing you to rediscover a classic you once held dear.
“The real showstopper for The Cuphead Show! is the animation…”
Even the episode length—feeling more like shorts than real full episodes—is a great nod to the animation of old. This is a series that you can easily lose yourself in if the subject captures your attention. Quick vignettes teleport you to the world of Cuphead and the Inkwell Isles, giving you quick looks into these characters lives as they find themselves in new forms of trouble that range from needing glue and pillow fights, to an eternal struggle for their souls against the devil. It is a mix of stakes that keeps even the shorter episodes engaging, even though the story never feels as cohesive as many modern takes on kids animation.
The story, while it fits the style of the cartoon they are trying to capture, is also the biggest gripe about the series. The Cuphead Show! feels very simple compared to the kid’s cartoons we have grown to know and love over the past decade. Shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe all showed what was possible in a children’s medium. A kid’s show can be enthralling for both adults and children, giving depth and character that draws all audiences in.
The Cuphead Show!, on the other hand, is very simple, with even the most extreme stakes feeling more like a punchline akin to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, than anything the characters will ever truly struggle against. This is a show made for slapstick humour and minimal stakes, save for a few outliers.
While not bad in itself, with a game that is targeted at an older audience, jumping into this show could be hard. There is little meat on the bones when you get past the stunning visual style and the callbacks to the game. There are a few episodes that do bring exciting things to the table, but they sadly are in the minority of the series, so if you are above the age of 10, be aware.
Even with that said, The Cuphead Show! is an achievement, and brings the wonderful world of the games to the small streaming screen. If you have kids and want something new and fun, there is a lot to love about Cuphead. I had hoped to see the depth and wealth of ideas the games brought to the universe. What was delivered is a great, new, animated series for kids. Fans of the game should enjoy seeing their favourite cup and mug in all-new visually stunning adventures.