Like everything else in 2020, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts has been a huge surprise none of us saw coming. Unlike 2020, however, this Netflix animated sensation from DreamWorks knows when to say goodbye, and it does so with a bang. If you think you’ve seen everything this wonderful, colorful, and optimistic show has to offer, then think again. This season is even more ambitious in its themes, plot, and action, cementing Kipo as a modern classic of animation and one of the best cartoons in years.
Season 3 picks up shortly after the events of the previous season, with Dr. Emilia (Amy Landecker) hellbent on getting rid of every single mute on the surface out of a belief that it’s humanity’s rightful place to be at the top of the food chain. Of course, she’ll have to get through Kipo (Karen Fukuhara) first. Our favorite mega jaguar-transforming, karaoke-singing burrow girl will need some serious help to take down Emilia, and her plan involves gathering all mutes in Las Vistas, and create the Human Mute Ultimate Friendship Alliance — or HMUFA for short — to make the surface a peaceful place for all. Of course, prejudice runs rampant among both humans and mutes, and it’s harder to make them work together than Kipo realizes. Thankfully, Kipo is not alone, with Wolf (Sydney Mikayla) always ready to save the day in the most badass way, while Benson (Coy Stewart) and Dave (Deon Cole) provide the funniest comic relief.
Where Season 2 looked inward and focused on Kipo’s journey of self-discovery as she came to terms with her newfound mute powers, Season 3 strives for a bigger scope involving the brewing war between mutes and humans and the question of when hopefulness and optimism become naiveté — if Season 2 felt at times like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, then this season is War for the Planet of the Apes. There is epic action, beautifully animated by Studio Mir, but there is also a lot of heart and timeliness in the show’s exploration of bigotry. Sure, Kipo has managed to become friends with nearly every creature she comes across, even forming a bond with the maniacally evil Scarlemagne (the still delightful Dan Stevens), but Dr. Emilia is a different kind of threat, one that rules not with fear but through fanaticism.
We’ve noted before how timely Kipo feels for 2020, but this season feels like it was made just last month. While Scarlemagne still feels like a cartoon villain with a god complex, Emilia is a more terrifying threat that feels at home in the times we live in — even if she’s still a bit one-dimensional. Emilia’s subjects are not mind-controlled, nor are they threatened into collaboration. They simply believe Emilia when she says that humans rightfully belong on the surface, and that mutes should be eradicated to return things to their natural order.
Even though this is still a show for kids, Kipo doesn’t shy away from drawing direct parallels between Emilia and real-world people who rely on fear to spread their message of hate, and how easily people fall for it. It’s not just dimwitted brutes like Greta or Zane who are easily manipulated by Emilia’s message, but even everyday people Kipo has known since childhood like a former schoolteacher. Bigotry spreads fast, and sometimes you can’t reason with everyone and make them realize their mistakes, the show argues, and it’s a pretty bold thing to say in a kids show. For every human that joins HMUFA, there will always be more people who simply refuse to stop being hateful.
And yet, Kipo‘s greatest strength remains its main character and her wild optimism. This is Kipo, after all, the burrow girl who has become friends with Humming Bombers, Umlaut Snäkes, Dubstep Bees, Timbercats, Fitness Racoons, and even Thea Otters, so there’s no way she’ll let something as idiotic as bigotry and fanaticism stop her. Even if the show at times feels overly optimistic, it always keeps its core audience in mind — kids. Watching Kipo remain so sure in her ability to make Emilia become a good person in 2020 feels a bit disingenuous, but the show reminds you at every turn that its message is not meant for adults who already have prejudices and biases built into them. The show is directly addressing kids who may see all the anger and resentment in the world, but don’t understand why people can be so cynical. Though Kipo has trouble getting the mute groups to join HMUFA, she is way more successful at getting the mute kids to play together in peace and harmony, because they don’t see or care about what their parents think of other mutes. They simply see a new friend to play with.
That being said, this is still a colorful and funny show, and Kipo never lets its message get in the way of its vibrant and cheerful tone. Though this season doesn’t introduce many new mute groups — with the very notable exception of a narwhal K-pop group — this season focuses more on the different factions interacting, with fantastic results. You’ll never believe how much you needed to see a jamming session between banjo-playing cats and hard-rocking snakes until you see it happening. And as always, Benson and Dave continue to be the show’s comedy MVPs, always ready with a perfectly timed visual joke.
Meanwhile, the animation remains as stunning as ever, with this season bringing even more mega mute action to the forefront. If you’ve been binging The Legend of Korra on Netflix, you know what Studio Mir is capable of, and they’ve only gotten better since then, with grand fights involving multiple kaiju-sized mutes and dozens of regular sized mutes and humans fluidly moving around trying not to get trampled by a giant corgi.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts always stood out among other post-apocalyptic stories because of its relentless optimism, and even when facing its biggest (and timeliest) threat, the show manages to teach a valuable lesson all while rocking out with one of the best TV soundtracks in years. In the end, this final season of Kipo lives up to its title, and if more people watched this show, we could end up in an age of wonder(beasts).
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is streaming now on Netflix. For more, here are the best kids shows currently on Netflix.