Centaurworld Review

Surprise cartoon delights are one of my favorite things. Watching a cartoon that you had no expectations for, other than a vague “eh” and watching it turn out to be a moving story is such an amazing feeling. Such is Centaurworld, the 2021 show from Netflix.

I have a long history of mixed feelings on the “looney Cartoon Network-style” shows. Popular series like Adventure Time and Steven Universe landed with a wet thud for me. I could see glimmers of shows I could love beneath the surface, but the incessant need to be wacky created a barrier between me and the characters such that I could never connect, and therefore never invest in the show or world.

Many of my favorite cartoons have action elements: the DC Animated Universe, Gargoyles, X-Men TAS, Dragon Flyz, Avatar TLA, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I like a good action/adventure show, as it often provides compelling story beats and a narrative framework to keep the plot moving forward. At first glance, Centaurworld doesn’t look like it has a strong central plot, but that is where you’d be mistaken.

***Obviously, spoilers below if you haven’t finished the series.***

The show, created by Megan Nicole Dong, centers on Horse, and her Rider, a human girl. They are in possession of “the artifact” a horseshoe-shaped talisman of great magical power. Entrusted to carry it to “the General,” the pair are waylaid by huge minotaurs, who throw Horse off a cliff, where she is swallowed by the magic of the Artifact.

First, I must applaud the show for opening in the dark, war-ravaged human world. The advertising for the show skims this a little bit, but it really makes a cool first impression. Also, there’s the immediate juxtaposition of the dark opening with the eye-searing colors that come later.

When Horse awakens after her fall, she opens her eyes to a world full of centaurs of every kind – particularly in this case, llama, zebra, giraffe, deer, and bird centaurs. Over the course of the show, Horse joins with this found-family “herd” to assemble the remaining pieces of her “artifact” that turns out to be a key to the portal between the human world and Centaurworld. She visits the five Centaur Shamans to acquire their pieces of the key, and hopefully return to her home world, and Rider.

The series goes through EPIC twists and turns, but the darkness is layered expertly with comedy. The backstory of the main villain – the Nowhere King – is bleak for a show that looks like an LSD trip, but it’s so, so good. The characters all grow over the course of the show’s eighteen episodes as well. Horse, Riders, the Herd, none are the same characters at the end as they were at the beginning of their journeys.

At its heart, Centaurworld is a comedy. I laughed out loud almost every episode – a rare treat for me with any comedy show. There was almost always something going on in the background that, if you could catch it, doubled the humor. The series spoofs everything from RuPaul’s Drag Race to Internet Fan Culture, to TED Talks, to collecting. No topic is sacred. But the jokes never feel mean-spirited towards the people they satirize, a welcome change from the abrasive comedy in so many shows.

And the music! Every episode had at least one musical number. Almost every musical style is represented: Broadway, pop, country, folk, rock, etc. Often the songs are silly, comic numbers, but other times full of surprising pathos. The actors did amazing with their singing, and the show sports several musical luminaries like Lea Salonga and Megan Hilty.

Maybe because I was watching with my BFF, but watching together was so much fun. Ronnie and I haven’t watched a show together like this in years, and this was the perfect choice. We both remarked that if Jewel Riders ever got a modern reboot, this would not be a bad template. The mixture of fun and strong storytelling definitely felt like the modern equivalent of what the folks behind PGJR were going for. Especially considering the “mini-musical” aspect of Centaurworld, which is perhaps the first time I’ve seen the idea for Jewel Riders’ musical quality executed to its fullest extent. (MLP: FiM is very close as well, but not every episode is a musical.)

Watching this show reminds me why I love cartoons: they tell stories that live-action either won’t touch, or wouldn’t read right. The manic comedy, the musical numbers, the satire, and even the heart. All are heightened in the animated medium.

So if you’re looking for something that contains a little bit of the spark of Jewel Riders, and the best musical storytelling I’ve seen in a long time, look no further! Centaurworld has what you want in spades.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to go find my herd, travel the rainbow road, eat some Gigglecakes, and hoard of a bunch of junk in my portal tummy.

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