As expected, more and more media based on video games is being made. One of the latest video games to be adapted into a TV series is none other than the 2017 run-and-gun side-scroller Cuphead, which has been brought to life in the Netflix animated series The Cuphead Show. The Cuphead video game is famous for its 1930s style hand-drawn animation, incredible boss fights, skillful platforming, and intense difficulty. Does it translate well to a TV series, or should they have played it safe with what made it famous? Let’s take a gander at each detail to find out.
Like the game, The Cuphead Show uses its animation to pay homage to classic cartoons like that of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. The hand-drawn animation is absolutely gorgeous, is impressively detailed, and serves as a fun throwback for those who grew up watching this style of cartoon. The formula of each episode, many of the tropes, and even the opening credits of each episode matches those of classic cartoons. It’s truly like a classic cartoon being created in the 2020s, even including a couple of jaunty songs. It’s wonderful.
This show is pretty darn funny. Most of the humor throughout the season is well-timed and leads to big laughs. The dialogue is witty, there’s definitely a strong pun-game at times, and as expected for a throwback to classic cartoons, the slapstick is especially comical. A lot of the humor comes from unexpected circumstances, like Cuphead wearing an invisible sweater to protect himself from the Devil, but being tempted to remove it just because it’s a bit itchy. It’s overall a solid comedy for audiences young and old.
There is a bit of an ongoing story throughout the season featuring the Devil (and his henchmen, Henchman and King Dice) trying to obtain Cuphead’s soul. This story helps to make everything feel more connected rather than having each episode feel like random nonsense. Plus, it’s quite an entertaining story. This plot is also well-written and creative. While binging on Netflix, a jolt of excitement strikes when you find out you’re about to watch one of the episodes that ties to the story. It is worth noting, though, that the one-off episodes that don’t tie into the grand scheme of things are mostly just as entertaining and can be extremely fun to watch as well.
With the show being so similar to classic animations, each episode could have easily fallen into the trap of repeating many of the same clichés that have been played out for decades. Thankfully, it never does. There are even times when the writing plays with your expectations by having something close to what you’d see in an old cartoon but hits you with a bit of a curveball. This keeps things feeling fresh and exciting for the twelve episodes.
The voice talent in The Cuphead Show is tremendous. Tru Valentino and Frank Todaro bring Cuphead and Mugman to life, which is especially nice since they aren’t voiced in the game at all. The rest of the cast, which includes Joe Hanna as Elder Kettle and Wayne Brady as King Dice, is just as talented. Since there’s no voice acting in the source material, it’s truly impressive that they were able to create voices that match the characters so perfectly. The voice talent, along with the cleverly crafted dialogue, adds a lot of personality to these characters who didn’t get the chance to have much in the game. Each voice and personality is somehow fitting of the characters and helps them stand out from each other quite well.
If you’re a fan of the popular video game, then you’ll be pleased to see that there are plenty of references and Easter eggs scattered throughout the series. A couple of the boss fights from the game are used as characters in some episodes, there are amusement park rides identical to ones seen in the game, Porkrind is still the local shopkeep, and other familiar elements can be found throughout. These moments feel like little love letters to the outstanding source material and its fanbase.
There may be a fun ongoing story throughout The Cuphead Show, but it doesn’t quite match the story or feel of the video game. Outside of those clever Easter eggs and the Devil wanting Cuphead’s soul, it’s pretty far from following the source material. This could have easily been a show in which Cuphead and Mugman must work together to collect the soul contracts of those who have escaped the Devil until they get close enough to him to defeat him, which is the exact premise of the game. Each episode could have focused on obtaining a different soul contract. However, they decided to go a very different way with it, which feels odd and even forced at times.
They try a little too hard to make the show different from the games. Instead of gambling for his soul at a casino, Cuphead’s run-in with the Devil is at a carnival where he plays skee-ball. King Dice does not run said casino, but is a gameshow host instead. The strangest change is with the genre. It’s understandable to write the show as if it’s similar to classic cartoons since the video game celebrates them in its own way, but the action and adventure are extremely toned down. Cuphead and Mugman never have their powers and never actually fight anyone, which is almost the entirety of the game. Although it’s certainly enjoyable regardless of age, Netflix made a series geared more toward kids who are younger than the target audience of the source material, which is a strange choice.
While the story in the show is still great, only a small handful of episodes actually tie into that story. The majority of episodes, while still good for what they are, are just standalone shorts about the characters and the wacky shenanigans that happen in their lives. This makes too much of the show feel like filler. This could be a scenario similar to Steven Universe where the series started off with fun one-off stories and gradually became more centered on the ongoing canon, but only time will tell.
As stated earlier, most of the humor in the series is hilarious. Some of it, however, doesn’t exactly lead to the most uproarious laughter. It’s not necessarily cringey, it’s just not quite as strong as the jokes and the visual gags that actually land. These moments are cute, but not necessarily funny.
The Cuphead Show is a fun and upbeat animated series that is equal parts hilarious and exciting. The animation is beautiful and extremely detailed. It does stray from some of the things fans love about the source material, and introduces a storyline that too-often takes a backseat to standalone adventures, but it’s still entertaining and finds its own ways to celebrate the source material. Whether you’re a fan of the video game or have never played it, and whether you grew up with classic cartoons or are a younger viewer, you’re sure to find something of value while watching Cuphead and Mugman journeying through the Inkwell Isles.
Rating: 8 / 10