Monday, June 13, 2016

TV Review--Voltron: Legendary Defender

Dreamworks' reboot of the 1984 cartoon series Voltron: Defender of the Universe came out on Friday, June 10th, on Netflix.  This was an event that had been marked on the calendar at our house.  We've been looking forward to it for quite some time.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe

I don't know if you've noticed, but contemporary cartoons suck.  We like the Nickelodeon reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the girls sometimes watch Teen Titans Go!, but there is not much on TV anymore that can hold the interest the way that the old Superfriends once did.  Even something like the old G.I. Joe or Thundercats will typically hold up at my house--with my kids--longer than anything that passes for an adventure cartoon today.  The girls never got much into He-Man or She-Ra, but collectively, we all liked Voltron: Defender of the Universe quite a lot.

Apparently, we're not the only ones who remember Voltron fondly.  In fact, folks have been trying to reboot Voltron for some time now.  There was talk for a while about making a live-action Voltron movie, and one of the cable networks put out a short-lived younger-skewing cartoon series a couple of years ago that I personally found unwatchable.  

But surely Dreamworks can do better, right?  After all, these are the same people who brought us How to Train Your Dragon.

Promo poster for the new series.
Thankfully, yes they can.  Hannah and I sat down on Saturday to watch the first episode of the new series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and we wound up watching four.  Then Hannah caught Emma up to speed while I went running yesterday, and we watched the next four episodes afterwards, while I ironed.  So we've now watched through Episode 8--about the first two thirds of this first season.  Already my one big take-away is this:

I wish there was more.

The new Voltron is terrific.  It is not by any means a straight reboot of the original concept from the ground up, but they've taken all of what made the original work while changing the things that used to drive you crazy.  For example, the original show was awesome but also repetitive in the extreme.  The new one is not like that in any way.  It still mostly follows the "monster of the week" format, but now they also make good use of the lions for their various lesser missions, and they even dismount--with alarming regularity if you ask me--to fight or scout with their various individual weapons as well.

The cast of Voltron: Legendary Defender
One of the big concerns I had for this new season was with the portrayal of Princess Alura.  As I wrote a few months ago, the original Alura was a fully-functional Disney-style princess, complete with super-cute animal companions and a fairy-tale castle.  This was important because when the team lost a man--Sven, the Norwegian pilot in the original series--Alura had to step in and learn to fly the blue lion.  That was a huge task for a previously privileged, sheltered child, and neither Alura nor any of her teammates were completely sure she was up to it at first.  And from this point forward, Alura's character arc is perhaps the most interesting part of the original show.

Alura, from the original series.
As of Ep. 8, we've yet to see Alura in a lion.  However, they've still done a nice job with her character.  She is--predictably--much tougher in this new series.  Thankfully, she still comes across feminine.  That's not always an easy balance to manage.  She also has plenty of interesting things to do.  That was hardly a given considering that she's not, strictly speaking, a member of the team.

Overall, characterization is perhaps the best thing about the new show.  All of the pilots are smart in their own unique ways; they all have talents--different talents--and they all have things that they want.  For example, Lance pilots the blue lion.  He's the team screwball, the most likely to get himself and his teammates in trouble.  But we never wonder why he's on the team.  Yes, he's the most apt to do something boneheaded, but he's also courageous and even heroic, sometimes to a fault.  As of this writing, everyone in the house likes Lance the best.  But all of the team members have interesting personal plots, even--amazingly--Hunk and Pidge.  In fact, if anyone on the show is flat, it's Keith, pilot of the red lion and would-be leader of the team.

There's more, but I don't want to spoil it for you.  Suffice it to say that these are interesting stories, that our heroes are hardly infallible, and they don't win every fight easily by drawing their Blazing Sword.  

Enjoy the show, and by all means, let me know what you think!

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