Amphibia

Tagged: TV

US animated tv series (2019-current). Disney Television Animation. Creator and Executive Producer Matt Braly. Directors include Derek Kirk Kim and Bert Youn. Writers include Matt Braly, Michele Cavin, Adam Colás, Jenava Mie, Gloria Shen and Jack Ferraiolo. Voice cast includes Anna Akana, Troy Baker, Jill Bartlett, Keith David, Bill Farmer, Justin Felbinger, Amanda Leighton, Brenda Song and Haley Tju. 30 22-minute episodes (usually two stories per episode). Colour.

Thirteen-year-old Thai-American Anne Boonchuy (Song) is peer-pressured by her friends Sasha (Akana) and Marcy (Tju) into stealing an ornate music box from a thrift store. They open it ...

Anne awakes in Amphibia, a Parallel World of anthropomorphized amphibians. She befriends hyperactive ten-year-old Sprig Planter (Felbinger) and the rest of his frog family: sister Polly (Leighton), still a pollywog but with a warrior's soul, and grandpa "Hop Pop" (Farmer), old-fashioned but good-hearted. Anne and Sprig hit it off, frequently encouraging each other into the reckless option, and thus angering monstrous insects, leeches, reptiles and tomatoes (see Great and Small; Monsters).

Underneath the Planter cottage are chambers left by their ancestors, including a Scientist who created a giant pumpkin/animal hybrid (Polly: "This abomination must be destroyed."). They also confront a parasitic (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) mushroom able to control the mind of its hosts: the town of Wartwood is briefly assimilated (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is directly referenced). Welcoming innkeepers are revealed to be cannibals (though they'll happily chew on Anne too): fortunately, spotting barrels of baking soda and vinegar, Anne cracks her knuckles and declares "Finally, a chance to use everything I know about chemistry." Sprig becomes temporarily engaged to Maddie (Bartlett), an unsettling child witch: "I've seen your death in my mind." Sometimes lessons are learnt, usually half-heartedly ("... right, right, the lesson thing."). Anne overcomes the town's initial hostility, eventually winning its "Frog of the Year" award.

Sasha has been imprisoned by Grimes (Baker), leader of the toads who control the region. When herons – giant, toothed, dinosaur-like herons – attack his castle, she shows him how to rally his demoralized troops by complimenting them, cynically explaining "get them to love you and they'll do anything for you". She becomes his second-in-command. Hop Pop unwittingly inspires rebellion against the toads (see Politics), so Sasha takes him to Grimes's castle to be fed to a carnivorous plant; she is puzzled when Anne objects. Though initially browbeaten, Anne stands up to her and they fight. The castle's turret collapses and Sasha almost slips off, but Anne grabs her hand and the Planters hold on to Anne: realizing they will all otherwise die, Sasha lets go, but is saved by Grimes before she hits the ground. The toads, with Sasha, depart.

In season two the family goes to Newtopia, "a bustling metropolis full of ancient knowledge" – which might include the means to get Anne home. En route they encounter a derelict Computerized factory that once manufactured Robots: briefly reactivated by Sprig's and Anne's high-jinks, a robot is created that, unknown to the Planters, follows them. Arriving in Newtopia, Anne finds Marcy established there: unlike the reunion with Sasha, this one is joyful. Marcy's scientific worldview has got her the ear of the amiable but possibly shady King Andrias (David). Marcy and the King research the music box, discovering that in the past it was used to visit Parallel Worlds by the King's ancestors, who – he assures them – "were peaceful explorers, Scientists if you will": but three temples will need to be visited to recharge each of the music box's now faded jewels. We also get hints that Anne's, Sasha's and Marcy's arrival is part of a prophecy. There is also a stop-off at the amphibian version of Gravity Falls's Mystery Shack: "Ever get the feeling we exist simultaneously in multiple parallel universes completely unaware of the others' very existence?" "You been licking yourself again, Frog Soos?"

Despite some weaker episodes, Amphibia is a major new series created by a former director of Gravity Falls (2012-2016). Funny, with appealingly odd moments and asides ("... aaaand there's the weird dark turn"), it also provides an effective character arc for Anne, as she gradually acquires responsibility and self-belief; there are moments in both seasons that carry great emotional heft. [SP]

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