Quick note before we start: Netflix announced that this show has been renewed for a second season. However, the episodes they’ll be releasing were actually made for the first season. They did this in order to sidestep giving the animators a raise for the second season. I’d hope I don’t have to explain how scummy this is. I’m unsure how to actually help the poor animators, so I’ll just do what I can and make you all aware of the situation.
Back in 2017, Cuphead took the world by storm. Between its beautiful style and its intense and challenging gameplay, it quickly became one of the most beloved games of the year. And as time has gone on, it has managed to cement itself as an all-time classic. At least for me and those in my circle.
As good as the game is, though, it’s story really didn’t leave an impression. You’re a little cup dude and you need to fight the devil. That’s it. There are occasional cutscenes, but who cares? It’s basically an NES game plot.
That may be why the Cuphead show actually had potential. How can you mess up a story that pretty much didn’t exist? All they really needed to do was capture the style. After that, they could do whatever they wanted with the story.
So they decided to make it an episodic Saturday morning cartoon series. Which… I don’t know what else I was expecting, honestly.
The premise is simple. After losing at a carnival game (because we can’t show gambling, apparently) Cuphead ends up owing his soul to the Devil. Not that that makes for a central conflict; the Devil is more of an occasional villain who shakes his fist and says “I’ll get that Cuphead,” every few episodes. Each episode focuses on a new misadventure shared by Cuphead and Mugman, from their attempts at parenthood to a frightful chase through a graveyard with ghosts.
The basic premise of each episode is nothing special. You’ll likely have seen most of them, if not all of them, before in some other cartoon or sitcom. Look, now they have to take care of a chaotic baby! Look, now they’re on a game show. Oh no, the Devil is chasing them again! It’s a very predictable show. Enjoyable, but predictable.
While the stories themselves are nothing to write home about, some of the stuff in each of them is. Each episode has a musical number, ranging from wildly enjoyable to passable. And they do have some highlights, like the occasional clever reference to the original game or clever visual gag. It’s all nothing new, but it’s executed fairly well.
I can’t say the same about the jokes. The humor in this show never did anything for me. Luckily, the jokes are never dragged out for extensive periods of time. If you don’t like a joke, fear not; it’ll be over and out of the way before it gets truly annoying.
While the writing itself doesn’t impress, the voice acting definitely does. Tru Valentino and Frank Todaro inject a ton of life and personality into Cuphead and Mugman respectively. Luke Millington-Drake is absolutely delightful as the Devil, and David Wasson is adorably charming as Henchman. Although all of them pale in comparison to Wayne Brady as King Dice; I had a big doofy grin on my face every time this dude spoke.
Now, let’s talk about the animation. As you might expect, this show uses the same rubberhose style that the original game had. Unlike that game, however, this show wasn’t animated entirely by hand. Rather, they utilized rubberhose techniques with modern animation technology.
Which is not a problem. What, did you actually want them to do the whole show by hand like it’s the 1930s? Are you trying to kill the poor animators?!
This show looks good! It looks absolutely stunning from beginning to end, with every shot being highly animated and enjoyable on the eyes. They even do some creative work with the backgrounds, using 3D panoramas to create that feeling you might get from a classic cartoon.
It sounds good, too. The soundtrack is delightfully charming! Although the musical numbers are very hit and miss. Some of them are a joy! Others are… acceptable. The Devil’s song is my personal favorite; I love me a good villain song.
Overall, the Cuphead Show is pretty good. The writing isn’t spectacular, but it’s still plenty enjoyable due to the spectacular animation. It’s definitely well worth a watch.
Even if Netflix decided to pull a huge dick move on the animators.