This article contains minor spoilers for “Centaurworld.”
For those that identify in any way as a theater nerd, cartoon or anime fan, or horse girl, Netflix has a new show that is impossible to resist! Netflix’s catalog has lacked fantasy series that are accessible to all ages but “Centaurworld” may be what satisfies everyone’s wishes. On July 30, the streaming platform released 10 episodes of the eccentric new comedy, which features an abundance of quirky characters and creatures like no one has ever seen.
The animated series, created by Megan Nicole Dong, follows a dedicated warhorse who tragically gets separated from her rider and transported to the whimsical world of magical, singing centaurs. In this strange and vibrant new world, Horse teams up with a herd of centaurs and goes to great lengths to reunite with her Rider.
Dong is no amateur in terms of animation and production. She is well known for her artistry on films like DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” At the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Dong shared that her inspiration for “Centaurworld” came from her life growing up as an Asian American woman. Dong recalled feeling immense pressure in high school to perform academically rather than pursue her talents creatively; joining her school’s show choir, however, changed her life for the better and encouraged her to explore her creative side. Now, she’s finally ready for people to “experience the joy of Centaurworld and its positive message about overcoming trauma and finding friends and family.”
The show would not have been a big hit without the help of Dong’s production team. Dong collaborated with the fabulous Meghan McCarthy — the writer and producer of the show “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” — as the show’s story editor. She even scored the brilliant composer Toby Chu, famous for his work on the Academy Award’s best animated short film “Bao,” for the incredible music in “Centaurworld.” With this trifecta of esteemed hard workers, it’s no wonder the show has received a 100% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
What seemed to sell viewers on the idea of the show was the established, diverse cast of voice actors. Legendary stars and singers attracted thousands of fans to the series on social media before its release on Netflix. Among the most famous are actresses such as Kimiko Glenn as the jaded warrior Horse, Megan Hilty as the motherly llama-centaur Wammawink and Renée Elise Goldsberry as the hippo-centaur named Waterbaby.
“Centaurworld” has received the most praise for its experimentation with color and animation. The show contains two separate styles of animation and two distinctively different worlds. In the first episode, the audience is introduced to Horse’s bleak, war-torn world. The characters and scenery are drawn with sharp lines and dark colors. This setting momentarily tricks viewers into thinking the show is more of an action-packed anime with serious undertones.
But as Horse is ripped from the world she knows, both she and the viewers adjust to a completely different art style. The bubbly and colorful Centaurworld stands in stark contrast to Horse’s dimension. Every detail is drawn with soft curves and shaded in pastels. Horse, however, continues to appear dark, realistic and a bit out of place next to the wacky centaurs and other mythical creatures. As the season continues and Horse begins to adapt to her environment, however, she starts to blend into the art style of Centaurworld. Even though the zany characters come from totally separate worlds, they can easily interact and coexist together.
Many viewers are having trouble deciding whether this show is geared toward children or young adults based on the humor of the series. For example, the character Durpleton — a goofy giraffe-centaur — is practically a walking fart joke. In Episode 4, his farts begin to speak words of affirmation. This random comedy that “Centaurworld” feeds off of is typically a big hit in kids cartoons. On the other hand, there are other aspects of the show that appeal to older fans. The clever parody of “Cats” later in the season may only be recognized by people who have outgrown fart jokes.
The sugary-sweet visuals and childish bathroom jokes of “Centaurworld” mask heavy storylines that evoke the horror genre. This is similar to the way Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time” uses its setting to trick viewers into thinking the show will be something much more lighthearted.
There are criticisms, however: “Centaurworld” milks its ostensible levity for several episodes and, with little to no leadup, the dark plot elements are suddenly revealed very late in the season. The beginning of the show feels too upbeat and silly to be taken seriously at the end, when Horse has to choose whether to stay in Centaurworld or go back home with her Rider. “With all the goofy hijinks and often gross toilet humor, the sudden, sharp climax feels imbalanced,” writes critic Petrana Radulovic from Polygon magazine.
“The strange magic almost brushes the line of body-horror,” Radulovic continues. The centaurs have a handful of wacky, harmless spells up their sleeves. A gazelle-centaur named Glendale has a shining portal stomach in which she can shove everything and anything she desires. Ched, a bird-like centaur, can twist his face to be handsome for eight seconds. Perhaps the most disturbing element, however, is that everyone in the herd can shoot tiny versions of themselves from their hooves, only to have the miniatures go through a violent existential crisis and destroy themselves. These spells are surely meant to be humorous and appeal to a younger audience but they seem a bit unnerving upon closer examination.
Dong’s ambitious attempts to weave both goofy and serious ideas together have varying results. Despite mild complaints about the childish humor and the somewhat annoying characters, the show has been a success. Joel Keller, a writer from Decider, explains, “Even though the world Dong has created is one that looks like it was imagined with the assistance of edibles,” it is ultimately something that everyone should try. Another writer from CBR, Reuben Baron, agrees that the show is worth giving a chance. “If the designs seem too weird or the jokes too childish, then you’re at least going to be on the same page as the main character, Horse.”
Netflix has committed to 20 episodes for the first season of “Centaurworld,” which means 10 new episodes are on the way. Fans of the new show are hoping to see more of their favorite characters and music with a little more balance for the plot’s pacing. Now that the audience has been introduced to the characters and storyline, they are excited to see the series move forward in the next set of episodes.