Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts Review

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts on Netflix feels like a pastiche of everything recognizable in the last decade of the greatest children’s animation and it achieves a refreshing mix. I sensed the cryptic spirit of Over The Garden Wall and Infinity Train, the post-apocalyptic chill vibes of Adventure Time, and the kick-butt humor like its fellow DreamWorks TV series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, all with their overlapping traits of weird musicality, priceless zingers, life lessons, and optimism. Created by DreamWorks storyboard artist Radford Sechrist, Kipo and its Mad Libs world-building, wholesome embrace of the scary and the light, and ambitious storytelling are familiar and fresh. 

The first frames of Kipo set the eeriness and chipperness right off the bat with “Burrow Girl,” opening with an abandoned derelict human civilization on the surface world. Our eponymous chatterbox heroine, a 12-year-old girl (a giddy Karen Fukuhara) is spewed out of a watering vent into the surface world of Las Vistas.

Hailing from an underground city, Kipo discovers that the surface level is different from what her father’s classroom taught her, but she is taken to its mysterious beauty and the small and large mutant critters, called “mutes,” and she adopts a four-eyed, six-legged pet mutant-pig, “Mandu” — named for her favorite Korean dumplings. 

Bless Fukuhara for injecting such an infectious persistence and purity of spirit, such as her line, “I will find you. And I will pet you.” Fukuhara’s performance and her one-liners alone feel like they can hold the show together. But Kipo isn’t complete without the human—and mute—friends along the way. She allies with the loner Wolf (Sydney Mikayla), a young surface girl hardened by merciless ways of the world and flaunting a spear tipped with a scorpion-claw. They pal up with another surface human, the teenage Benson (Coy Stewart), and his talking crawly mute pal, Dave (Deon Cole), who can undergo transformative life cycles from birth to old age depending on his constitution.

Then there are the classes of anthropomorphized mutes who can talk and they formed their own factions with their own rules and cliquey quirks. Frogs, or Mod Frogs, have mafia ways, plaid-attired cats are axe-brandishing lumberjacks called Timbercats who worship a tree as a sacred scratching post. Giant electric-guitar strumming snakes just want to rock—and sleep—in peace. A turtlenecked wolf pack deemed the Newton Wolves because of their appetite for science and knowledge. Who is foe or ally…well, just wait and see. To complicate Kipo and her gang’s journey to find her lost people, her status as a burrow human makes her a highly-prized target of the elusive Scarlemagne (Dan Stevens), a talking mutant mandrill gleefully conducting his mind-controlled human slaves to dance for him.

The sheer-glossiness of Studio Mir creations animation reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, especially for the big anime eyes of the cats. Even the occasional clashing styles of sophistication and cartooniness are more quibbles than glaring issues. Kipo has a keen instinct for hopping along with the familiar beats with humor and dramatic sharpness. Take for example when the normally cold Wolf adjusts to her burgeoning attachment to Kipo or the build-up to a causal no-biggie reveal that does wonders for LGBTQ+ representation in children’s animation.

The music is on its A-game, mingling the borrowed and the original thanks to the music supervision of Kier Lehman (Into the Spider-Verse) and eclecticism of composer Daniel Rojas, spinning musical choices that stay true to its bizarro nature with songs that could pop up on the radio or dance floor. Without giving away the context, the foot-stomping folk song “Yumyan Hammerpaw” and the ear-wormy “Purple Jaguar Eye” performed by Sterling K. Brown, who also voices Kipo’s father, stand out. The music is among the few elements that stick in your head long after you finish all ten episodes and thirst for more adventure with Kipo and her friends.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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