This doesn't look like 1930's Fleischer Studio inspired animation to me

The Cuphead Show (2022)

I Weep For Cinema Feb 18, 2022

When Cuphead was released in 2017, one of the best and most instantly recognizable things about it, was it’s recreation of the Fleischer Studios cartoon style of the 1930s. Every frame of the game could be considered a gorgeous piece of art in it’s own right, so naturally, turning a video game based on a classic cartoon back into a modern cartoon should be a no brainer and a piece of cake, right?

Cuphead (the game)’s premise is simple, Cuphead sells his soul to the devil when he loses at gambling, and has to fight to get it back. And that’s how the new TV Show feels…. The soul of Cuphead has been lost and sold to Netflix (not saying they are the devil, but… well you know). Everything about the show feels like it was sold to Netflix, and Netflix’s writers and animators never once played the game or know anything about it. Even down to the premise which is already tweaked in the first episode.

The show starts off with Cuphead and Mugman being forced into painting a fence for Elder Kettle, which is very reminiscent of Tom Sawyer. After trying to shortcut through painting, by using a cannon to shoot paint, Cuphead ends up blowing up the fence instead and having to go buy new supplies to fix the fence. Instead of grabbing supplies, Cuphead drags Mugman to the Carnival they see off in the distance. While playing a game of Soul Ball, the Devil sees that Cuphead is so good at the game he is causing the others who are losing at the game and taking their souls to stop and watch Cuphead play.

Hilarity ensues and so on… In the first 12 minute episode the only thing that resembles the game of Cuphead is the character’s appearance. Nothing else. Sure the backgrounds looks absolutely amazing, as they seem to be brilliantly painted mattes, but the animation style feels nothing like that of the 1930’s Fleischer Studio cartoons the game was based on. Sure the opening scene features a couple bouncing animals… but that is quickly dropped and never shows up again (at least for the two episodes I could stomach getting through).

Throwing a film grain effect does not make something “old”, nor does it add any real effort or art to what is being portrayed. It’s like when a modern TV show or movie tries to do a flashback to “olden times” and they end up just putting on a bad sepia or black and white filter, and maybe some film scratch effect. It still is in 4K clarity, with the same professional lighting for color camera sensors, and moves in the same frame rate as everything else. It looks fake and cheap. That’s how The Cuphead Show feels, Fake and Cheap.

Modern cartoons move at a speed that can only be described as whiplash animation. Faster than light movements that end up so overly exaggerated that it feels like every second is causing my eyes to dart from one corner of the screen to the other. Along with the facial features being contorted into a grotesque grimace. It’s unpleasant to look at and something the doesn’t resemble the original game’s art choice. The over exaggerated body movements and general feeling of what I believe the animators were going for seems more along the lines of Spongebob and Adventure Time than a 1930’s classic cartoon studio.

The other issue is the characters themselves. While the game’s characters were not voiced, they still give off a general feeling of maturity that doesn’t make them feel childish and immature. The show takes the opposite approach, making Cuphead and Mugman children with the talking style of a 1940’s New Yorker. This very well could be the intention of what the creators of Cuphead wanted… but I honestly don’t believe it. Cuphead never sounded like a catcalling construction worker down on his luck in my mind. Nor did the devil come across and some whining sniveling weirdo who dances to his own songs. Which is where the show completely lost me. Sounding like Niegle Thronberry without the Tom Curry, he doesn’t feel threatening in the slightest and is more of a joke than a foe to be fearful of.

The Cuphead Show is exactly what I feared it was going to be, and did what I feared it was going to do when it got announced. It was going to delay the DLC several years, and change the game, which was a tough as nails run and gun boss rush mode game with platforming levels with a unique art style (in games).... And water it down and cheapen the beautiful art that it is, and merchandise the heck out of it. While some of the stuff is actually cool (I do have a Cuphead mug I got for christmas), the show feels like another sell out piece of merchandise that isn’t lovingly crafted, but instead is produced as quick as possible and losing all semblance of why someone loved the game in the first place. Good on the Moldenhauer brothers for being able to come up with an idea and do extremely well with it. But the Netflix TV show is the exact reason and a prime example of not licensing out your product to anyone and everyone. This show is Cuphead in name only. It really did lose it’s soul.

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