[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Crossing Swords.]
What’s in a name? Hulu’s Crossing Swords is clearly a pun on both actual swordplay (of the medieval fantasy sort) and the sexually charged entendre that I’ll let you look up on Urban Dictionary; take your pick among the various definitions. That is to say that the new stop-motion animated series is unsurprisingly NSFW and definitely not for kiddos. If you didn’t know that, perhaps you should check out the trailer for the series before plunking the little ones down in front of the silly series because it is 100% not for them. What it is, however, is the horniest stop-motion animated comedy series ever to be set in a medieval fantasy landscape.
Crossing Swords takes aim at the Dark Ages and all the appropriate (and inappropriate) comedy mined from that setting. It hails from co-creators and writers John Harvatine IV and Tom Root, with direction from Harvatine IV, and more than a little help behind the scenes from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios co-founder Seth Green. The Robot Chicken team brings their particular expertise in not just stop-motion animation but also clever character work, compelling storytelling, and laugh-out-loud comedy to bear on the Hulu Original, and that alone makes Crossing Swords absolutely worth the watch.
On the other side of the camera — or voice-acting booth, as it were — are folks like Nicholas Hoult who stars as Patrick, “a good-hearted peasant who lands a coveted squire position at the royal castle.” But like the best comedies, Patrick’s plan to achieve his hopes and dreams of becoming a knight of renown are suddenly skewed thanks to the existence of overly horny kings and queens, rival squires, mythical monsters, deadly plagues, and even his own family members. Crossing Swords is heavy on the gross-out, sexed-up, over-the-top comedy, but there’s also a solid arc for Patrick and his pals to play with and grow into in this premiere season. That’s the bow the ties up this solid, visually interesting, and delightfully lewd package.
Even if you’re not on board with Crossing Swords despite knowing that the Robot Chicken folks are involved, I’d suggest checking it out if you’re a fan of contemporary fantasy comedies like Matt Groening‘s Disenchantment and/or Simon Rich‘s Miracle Workers: Dark Ages. Crossing Swords has the storyboard-driven approach of the former with the tongue-in-cheek, trope-flipping format of the latter. But it’s also entirely its own thing. Robot Chicken, SuperMansion, and The Shivering Truth are all excellent examples of soft-work stop-motion animation; Crossing Swords opts for a harder medium by working with wooden dolls for their characters. You can actually see the wood grain, the strokes of paintbrushes, and the intentionally faded and patchy spots denoting sun-bleached and worn-out clothing or graying hair. It’s important to remember that, in all forms of stop-motion animation, artists and animators are literally creating and building individual pieces, manipulating them by hand, and taking snapshots frame-by-frame in order to put together an episode.
The amount of work is insane, and today’s stop-motion animators have gotten so good at it that sometimes the finished product looks flawless; looking at you, LAIKA. Crossing Swords is squarely in this camp since it’s easy to forget that Patrick & Co. are wooden dolls brought to life one image at a time, but the creative team also keeps some of those “flaws” in the design to give the show a rough-and-tumble look. It’s why the animals — from horses to dragons — have wheels for legs and feet/hooves, and why the show’s copious amount of things set on fire use practical “smoke” and “flame” effects to get the point across. It’s at once a throwback to classic stop-motion animation techniques and a bold push forward artistically, one that embraces the process, warts and all.
Or should I say genital warts and all. If you’re still reading at this point, you’re probably wondering when Crossing Swords gets horny. I’ll say: Almost immediately. Once Patrick and his quest to become a knight are introduced, it’s basically a series that’s always on the precipice of breaking into an all-out orgy. And I’ll be the first to admit that seeing the characters’ hilariously spherical boobs or comically tiny dicks and balls never stops being funny. It’s childish, but there is something just so damn humorous about these little wooden dolls not only airing their private parts in public but the fact that a team of artists had to create them in the first place and make sure they were consistent from scene to scene. That’s artistry, folks!
In between kings and queens running off with mistresses and sidepieces, and when characters aren’t embroiled in orgies or fleeing from equally horny and naked monsters from myth and legend, our hero Patrick is put front and center, normally to clean up one of the king’s messes with an increasingly frustrated populace. Patrick almost always makes things worse. And as horny as this show is (you do not want to eat a peach from the mythical maze), it’s equally gleefully indulgent when it comes to violence. Keep in mind that though this violence may be gory, it’s far from realistic. So if a character happens to get skewered in an iron maiden, an entire group of kittens gets set aflame, or a folk hero gets unceremoniously dumped into a murder machine, it’s okay to laugh. It’s more than okay, it’s encouraged, because these are simple wooden dolls brought to life by the creative(ly diabolical) artists behind the scenes and the very talented voice actors who lend them their spirits for a time.
Crossing Swords may just be the heir apparent to Robot Chicken, an original stop-motion animated series that doesn’t lean on pop culture awareness (save for a few clever jabs here and there) but rather derives both comedy and drama from well-developed characters and outlandish fantasy cut-ups. Whether you love the well-intentioned Patrick or prefer his miscreant siblings, whether you hate the royal family and side with the rabble or think that the king and queen are simply misunderstood, you’ll find a lot to love with this cast of characters. As far as new, creative, original animated series go, Crossing Swords is one of the year’s best.
Also starring Adam Ray, Tara Strong, Tony Hale, Luke Evans, Seth Green, Alanna Ubach, Adam Pally, Yvette-Nicole Brown, Maya Erskine, Breckin Meyer and Wendi McClendon-Covey, all 10 episodes of Crossing Swords arrive on Hulu today. Put this one on your watch list!
Dave Trumbore is Collider’s Senior Editor overseeing Games, Animation, and all those weird Saturday-morning cartoons no one else remembers. Test his trivia IQ on Twitter @DrClawMD