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, Bill Farmer, Justin Felbinger, Amanda Leighton and Brenda Song. Twenty 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 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, so angering monstrous insects, leeches, reptiles and tomatoes (see 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.

Despite some weaker episodes, Amphibia is an impressive 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; the season-one finale carries some emotional heft. [SP]

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