The Cuphead Show! Review: A Wonderful Revival of Old-Fashioned Cartoons

The Cuphead Show! is genuinely a ton of fun over the course of its 12-episode first season. This TV iteration of the popular video game (which itself is based on old-timey cartoons) does a fantastic job of not only adapting the source material, but also expanding on it in new and unexpected ways. The result is a series that doesn't just adequately harness the charm of 1930s cartoons, but shows that Cuphead as an IP still has room for growth. 

Perhaps the thing that's most impressive about The Cuphead Show! is the way in which the creators have built a series that feels cohesive with the video game. Even though Cuphead has become an indie darling over the past few years, the game itself doesn't feature voice acting or a whole lot of characterization for its most notable faces. As such, the creators of The Cuphead Show! had to do a lot of that legwork when creating this series to essentially fill the gaps. Although the creators of the video game (Chad and Jared Moldenhauer) helped to oversee The Cuphead Show! to ensure a sense of parity with Cuphead, the way in which the TV series brings to life these characters in ways we haven't seen before is a lot of fun. 

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(Photo: Netflix)

The voice acting in The Cuphead Show! is something that I was hesitant about when I first realized this was going to become a TV series, but I cannot state just how excellent the voicework in this adaptation is. Cuphead himself is a fast-talking wiseguy who has a classic "newsie" accent while Mugman is a bit more of a reserved and apprehensive counterpart. And while this dynamic between the show's two main characters is great throughout, the other voice acting for some of the side characters is just as great. Elder Kettle, in particular, ended up being my favorite character overall, which was surprising given how little he's seen in the video game. Actor Joe Hanna brought a lot to the father figure of Cuphead and Mugman that I was not expecting and made me laugh aloud on more than one occasion. 

The animation of The Cuphead Show! is something else that I was impressed by almost constantly. The visual style that has been used here in the series is meant to reflect the old-school look of 1930s cartoons, but obviously, the way in which it has been created in 2022 is far different from how things were done roughly 90 years ago. Despite this, the show's overall look reflects this throwback style in a way that had me questioning whether or not those that worked on The Cuphead Show! actually hand-animated the whole series. The ability to use these techniques from the past while combining them with modern day animation tools, which in turn led to this 1930s flair that is seen all throughout The Cuphead Show!, was continually astounding. 

Something that initially surprised me with The Cuphead Show! is that there's a really diverse lineup of episodes. As someone who has played Cuphead in the past, coming into this series, I expected the TV adaptation to merely feature different episodes that are based on each of the game's boss fights. And while there are episodes like this, there are also a ton of others that just center around small character moments involving Cuphead or Mugman. For instance, one episode sees Mugman shattering the handle on the back of his head and he begins to scramble for a way to reattach it. It's much different when compared to the episodes where Cuphead and Mugman have to square off against the Devil, but every episode brings some sort of delightful zaniness with it. 

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(Photo: Netflix)

In a truly nefarious way, the thing about The Cuphead Show! that I find the most enjoyable is that I can see this being a show that younger audiences really latch onto. While the humor and storytelling here is really for people of all ages, I imagine that kids in particular will have a blast with this. In turn, I think that The Cuphead Show! will then lead to kids discovering the video game, which is where I imagine they'll be in for a rude awakening. I say that not because Cuphead is bad by any means, but instead because it's notoriously difficult. The thought of young kids being angry over Cuphead and bothering their parents to help them beat it (which is something I absolutely would have done as a child) is something that I find a sort of evil joy in. 

The Cuphead Show! through and through is a blast to watch and is something that I imagine both fans of the video game and those unfamiliar with the franchise will find a lot to love. Netflix is smart to have already renewed this series for an additional two seasons, and hopefully, The Cuphead Show!'s future episodes will be just as good as this inaugural run. 

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Cuphead Show! is set to debut on Netflix later this week on February 18th. All 12 episodes in the show's first season will also be available to watch from the get-go.