Review: Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Rarely is there a show that hooks you from the very beginning. Sometimes it’s the catchy music, the colorful visuals, or the snappy voice acting. Sometimes it’s all that and more. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts debuted on Netflix in January of 2020, produced by DreamWorks Animation Television and brought to wonderful, energetic life by Studio Mir – the same animation company that breathed life into The Legend of Korra and Voltron: Legendary Defender. Recently wrapping up its second season, Kipo boasts a strong story, passionate voice acting, and impeccable character design. Not only that, it also consists of an incredibly diverse cast both onscreen and behind the scenes.

Kipo tells the story of a world far in the future, when humanity has been forced underground by “mutes” – mutated, intelligent animals that have since taken over the surface world. Nature has reclaimed civilization, and humans live in small community “bunkers” just trying to survive. Kipo, a young girl from one such community, suddenly finds herself alone on the surface after being forced to flee her bunker when it is attacked by a massive, six-armed Mega Mute monkey.

Having lived her whole life underground, she finds herself in a wonderous but unforgiving  world. After a series of mishaps while exploring her new surroundings, Kipo encounters fellow human Wolf, hardened by her own years of survival on the surface, and Wolf agrees to accompany Kipo to a secondary bunker where her father and friends must have escaped to. Along the way, the duo encounters a number of friends and adversaries including the human/mute con artists Benson and Dave, suit-wearing Mod Frogs, rockstar snakes, and axe-wielding Timbercats.

But what really marks Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts as a step above other shows aimed at a young audience is its handling of redemption, and lack thereof. Many recent shows, from Avatar: The Last Airbender to Steven Universe to She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, have had incredible, multidimensional villains built up throughout the plots as the ultimate evil to be defeated – but the protagonists of these shows all seek to find nonlethal ways of reasoning with or appealing to the last speck of good in the villains they believe still remains. Kipo is no different in that regard, as Kipo herself defeats nearly all of her opponents through her infallible positivity and conviction that everyone deserves kindness and forgiveness – except, in its second season, the writers aren’t afraid to show that some people can’t be forgiven so easily, and that Kipo could actually be wrong.

It’s what makes the show’s message so powerful and so much more grounded and relatable. Kids are often more aware than adult writers give them credit for – they can recognize when certain mature themes are being dumbed down to soften the blow, but as a consequence, the message being carried is softened, as well. Kipo understands this, and delivers on its message with a definitive season finale; but it doesn’t completely dismiss the idea that people can’t ever be redeemed, just that it takes more time and effort that a typical cartoon’s condensed timeline.

Perhaps season three will deliver even more on this premise. Until then, check it out on Netflix for yourself!