Centaurworld Review: Fearless Fragile Things

Centaurworld is exceedingly difficult to describe succinctly. Netflix, which is the streaming home for the new animated musical series, describes it as about a war horse transported to a world filled with "silly, singing centaurs of all species, shapes, and sizes" where she must then team up with a group of oddballs to find her way home. Creator Megan Nicole Dong describes Centaurworld in part as "the story of a war horse who gets magicked into a Muppet-y realm [...] and she has to take a Wizard of Oz-like journey to get back home." Neither of these exactly roll off the tongue.

For my part, I think I've come to a much more straightforward description: brilliant.

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(Photo: Netflix)

A completely original animated series can be a hard sell. There's no established brand here and no expectations beyond what can be gleaned from the few promos for Centaurworld released by Netflix. Add to this the fact that it is, indeed, very much a goofy musical featuring a war horse trying to get back to her world from one where magic and creatures like a centaur that's part llama named Wammawink exist and… it's a lot. Enough to easily be overwhelming.

Which makes it all the more impressive that it manages to blend and weave between drama and comedy, song and conversation, without ever really stumbling. The opening moments from the first episode are all very serious and dramatic, but the moment Horse (which is the horse's name) enters the world of centaurs she meets a centaur that's part giraffe. They immediately scream in each other's faces. After that, if you will pardon the horse-related wordplay, it's off to the races.

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(Photo: Netflix)

It's worth noting explicitly that the cast for the show is full of incredibly talented performers. All of them are stellar, and while, for example, Josh Radnor as the voice of the aforementioned giraffetaur Durpleton and Parvesh Cheena as the voice of Zulius are given plenty of moments to shine, the two leads of the show -- Kimiko Glenn as the voice of Horse and Megan Hilty as the voice of Wammawink -- are so charming and captivating from the start that it still surprises me even now.

And that makes sense, of course, because it is the relationship between Horse and Wammawink upon which the entire season revolves around. Horse forces Wammawink and her herd out of their safe little bubble only to find that she needs them for more than direction, and Wammawink reluctantly goes along with this at first before later recognizing something painfully familiar in Horse: loss, despair, and the constant shoring of a good front.

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(Photo: Netflix)

While this is all covered via conversations between the characters, it is reinforced through song. If a good musical is about character-driven moments and narrative throughlines, Centaurworld is a good musical as it manages to thread together all of its many parts with lyrics and beats that aren't simply catchy -- though they are that -- but narratively important. If there is one arrow in the musical quiver that Centaurworld has mastery with, it is a devastating and well-timed reprise.

It's possible that I am simply a mark for everything Centaurworld tries to do. I love musicals, wacky, action-packed animation, and darkness and danger masked by a thin veneer of candy coating for sanity's sake. I'll take the big swing, the ambitious-but-not-quite-there project over the technically perfect but boring and rote every single time. But it seems even more likely to me that I am a mark and also I was correct the first time; Centaurworld is brilliant.

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Rating: 5 out of 5

The first season of Centaurworld is set to release on Netflix on July 30th. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the animated musical series right here.