By Tom Wiles, Third Year, Theatre & Film
Oh boy. I will apologise for this review right off of the bat, both to you the reader, and to my soon-to-be enraged editor. Why? To give you some backstory, I decided to review The Cuphead Show!
As a fan of the video game that inspired this Netflix series, my views are that of a subjective fan’s and not those of an objective reviewer. For the most part, I’m going to do lots of Epigram-worthy complaining further on, so stick around.
If anything, I assumed I would have pedantically, even pathetically, strong feelings about the quality of this adaptation, largely as it’s based on one of my favourite video games. So, for me, this had some colossal cartoon shoes to fill.
The Cuphead Show! follows the titular mischievous Cuphead and his brother Mugman as they evade having their souls taken by the Devil after losing a game against them. This is the plot for both the first episode of the animated series and the entire video game Cuphead, and here lies one of many issues I have with The Cuphead Show! that requires context to the game for you to understand why my blood vessels are swelling as I rant.
Cuphead is a “Run-and-Gun’ game released by Studio MDHR in 2017. Most notable for its aesthetic inspiration stemming from surreal, rubbery, animated styles and trimmings similar to Walt Disney’s earliest 1930s cartoons, Cuphead was a success commercially and critically as a gem for the gaming industry.
The game’s plot is similar to the described above with the playable addition that Cuphead and Mugman have to battle against colourfully personified enemies in order to pay back their debt to the Devil, collecting other debtors’ souls for the horned fiend. The amount of polished content in Cuphead is admirable, especially through sound, gameplay, and of course the artwork, each easily keeping a viewer coming back for more punishingly tricky scraps. The Cuphead Show! However? Not so much.
As I mentioned earlier, pretty much this entire plot is retraced in the first episode of the series, and as such is the only episode I cracked so much as a smile toward, all of which have executive production from Studio MDHR. But then there are eleven more episodes after this where genuinely nothing happens, and my smile turned to a frustrated grimace.
Each episode going forward miraculously manages to excel in being, bland, repetitive, and yet over written, made even stranger by the fact that each episode is shy of fifteen minutes! A textbook example of ‘Quantity over Quality’, with the admirable quirks of Cuphead fleeting from view.
I have many issues with The Cuphead Show! that can all be boiled down to the pretentious whining of an adult complaining about the good old days, when cups with aggressive New-Yorker accents didn’t exist. Even this aspect of the series, the voice acting, is an exact contrast to the inspired nature of the shows’ own inspiration. Picture this: two brothers, Cuphead (Tru Valentino) and Mugman (Frank Todaro), one unaware of any danger he drags his overly cautious brother into. I can think of two Italian plumbers who are probably pretty miffed right now.
Looking back, even the sound and animation have me biting at my nails, and yes, this is me at my pedantic worst. They are both fine, good even, but compared to what Cuphead’s unique animations offer and what composer Kristofer Maddigan’s phenomenally nuanced score did for the game, and for me, The Cuphead Show! is but a candle to a flame.
Also, why does Cuphead have a straw in his head? Who drinks from a cup with a straw?
Featured Image: IMDB
Will you be taking a sip from The Cuphead Show!?