Disney launched a brand-new animated series this morning with Amphibia, bringing a wholly original cast of characters and magical mythology to the small screen. The new show is the brainchild of Matt Braly (Gravity Falls) and was inspired by his heritage, family, and childhood trips to Bangkok, Thailand. But as viewers will quickly find out, the setting of Amphibia and the town of Wartwood is rather other-worldly as it takes place in a land populated by talking frogs, giant pond monsters, lethal praying mantises, and more curious creatures that bring this world to life.
Audiences do get a human character to act as their anchor in this weird new land and it’s through her rough start with the frog-folk that we learn about their world. Amphibia chronicles the adventures of independent and fearless teen Anne Boonchuy (voiced by Brenda Song) after she is magically transported to a rural marshland full of frog people and meets the excitable young frog Sprig Plantar and his family. But as the first episode reveals, there’s a lot more going on in Anne’s world and in this fantasy land than you might have guessed at first blush.
If you haven’t seen anything from Amphibia just yet, be sure to check out the trailer:
The first episode, which is made up of two 11-minute stories “Anne or Beast” and “Best Fronds”, serves as a great introduction to the series. This premiere does a lot with a relatively short run-time: We learn about young Sprig and his place within the Plantar family, as well as his status within the wider world of Wartwood. We also get some nice teases as to the very lively town life in the marketplace as vendors prepare food for customers, travelers come and go, and the frog-folk busy themselves with their daily business. You’ll want to pause this introductory scene, or watch it a few times, to catch all the craziness that’s going on in just the establishing shot alone.
Outside the market, however, a beast lurks in the marshland … and that beast may or may not be the lost and confused human, Anne Boonchuy. The only drawback to Anne’s introduction here is that her fast friendship with Sprig is a little rushed. They are put under some intense pressure when they have to defend the townspeople from the real threat, and they’re both outsiders, so it all works for the good of the story. The banter between the two is great and there are some laugh-out-loud moments coming from the “frog-out-of-water” story disconnect between the two; I very much look forward to seeing more from Anne and Sprig as their dynamic evolves.
So while the first part of the premiere does a great job of setting up the character, world, and story, the second part gives us a bit of backstory and a nice stinger that foreshadows a bigger conflict to come. Though Anne doesn’t know how to get back home, we do learn how she ended up being transported to Sprig’s world, and it lets us know that maybe her ideas about friendship aren’t the most admirable. Will she end up teaching the young and impressionable Sprig the wrong sorts of lessons? Or will Sprig’s innocence and optimism wind up changing Anne’s view of what true friendship really means?
Those questions are likely at the heart of the rest of the season, but there’s more mystery in store as well. We learn that Anne isn’t the only new arrival in this swampy world, just as we discover that there are far more dangerous entities lurking about than mantises and pond monsters …
Disney seems to have the potential for the next great awards-worthy animated series on their hands in Amphibia. We haven’t seen much of the Thai inspiration yet, so expect that aspect to arrive in future episodes as we get to explore more of this new world with our characters. We’ll need to see a little more to know if this is the next Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, or Steven Universe, but it’s off to a fantastic start.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good