Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

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Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

An apocalyptic wasteland has never looked so adorable.

That’s part of the problem, of course. When 13-year-old Kipo is literally swept out of her home “burrow” (most humans have taken to living underground) and finds herself on the surface of this future dystopian world, she’s overwhelmed by its color and beauty and all-around cuteness. But no matter how huggable the giant rabbits look or how nattily dressed the frogs might be, that doesn’t change the fact that most of ’em want to kill you.

“I’ve eaten plenty of adorable,” surface survivor Wolf tells Kipo. “And there’s lots more adorable that’s tried to eat me.”

Yeah, Kipo? You’re not in Kansas anymore.

Teenage Wasteland

Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts—based on Radford Sechrist’s whimsically surreal webcomic Kipo—indeed feels a little like a modern take on The Wizard of Oz. (And Sechrist has said as much.) Kipo’s own version of Toto is a four-eyed, six-legged pig named Mandu. She’s joined by a bevy of helpmates: cynical Wolf; the more trusting and music-minded Benson; and Dave, a mutant bug that sort of works like an ADHD phoenix, constantly aging and regenerating as the story flies along. Together, they’re all trying to learn how to live safely above ground—easier said than done.

To do this, they’ll have to do more than traipse through a field of poppies. Kipo and her pals will have to deal with well-dressed Mod Frogs; flannel-wearing, axe-wielding Timbercats; wolves that specialize in astronomy; and, of course, the fearsome, evil, Scarlamagne. He’s a mandrill (formerly known as Hugo) with a penchant for 18th-century garb, piano music and (thanks to his mutant pheromone power) the ability to turn any primate or human into a mindless slave. And that’s exactly what he plans to do: rule the world as master over the humans and mutated humans (the “Mutes”).

Yep, it’s all quite dangerous. But Kipo and her pals are always ready for a challenge.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Rating

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is rated TV-Y7, which means Netflix thinks that it’s suitable for anyone 7 years old and older. But we might want to pump the brakes on that thought for a minute.

First, there’s the vibe of the show itself. Kipo is witty and weird. Like Adventure Time With Finn & Jake (and plenty of other clever, somewhat subversive cartoons), Kipo’s appeal—and some of its humor—skews toward a broader age range. The show just feels older, in other words—and it plays older, too.

For example, this is a world where lots of things are out to destroy our heroes, in one form or another: Everything may look pretty whimsical, but the underlying darkness of the world can’t be ignored. And some scenes could potentially feel pretty scary or disturbing for younger viewers.

Then you’ve got Benson, a guy who comes out as gay in Episode 6 (to the initial disappointment of the romantically inclined Kipo, though she quickly rallies).

While gay characters have become pretty common and almost expected in made-for-kids TV shows, some say that Benson’s coming-out moment is significant. “Despite the fact that LGBTQ representation in all-ages programming is better than ever, no one has actually uttered the words ‘I’m gay’ in an all-ages animation series,” writes Petrana Radulovic for Polygon.  “Too many animated children’s shows will dance around character sexuality, showing characters in love but being afraid to explicitly use the word ‘gay.’” says Laura Dale for Syfy Wire.

While Benson’s sexual orientation isn’t critical to most of the show’s story arc and rarely comes up, it’s another element that may give many parents additional pause when it comes to Kipo.Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is certainly creative, engaging and fever-dream clever. But it, like its own surface world, comes with plenty of caveats and a few dangers. It’s not Kansas. It’s not even Oz.

Episode Reviews

June 12, 2020: “Heroes on Fire”

Kipo and her pals work together to free humans and “mutes” (mutated humans) trapped in a colosseum by the evil Scarlemagne. Kipo also tries to find a way to help her mom, now a mutated mandrill, return back to her human form.

Kipo and her friends fight off evil creatures; they punch, kick and throw baddies around as they themselves get thrown around. A large monkey is sprayed with a toxic gas. Dangerous liquid gold nearly scorches humans trapped in a colosseum.

A small creature electrocutes Kipo to free her from “mind control.” Kipo mutates into a scary mega-jaguar.

Benson, Kipo’s male friend, shares a romantic moment with another young man (a love song plays in the background as the two lock eyes).

Jan. 14, 2020: “Burrow Girl”

A “mega-quake” sends Kipa careening out of the safety of her burrow and into the strange, dangerous surface world—a dystopian wonderland that’s been under the influence of serious mutative influences for about 200 years. There she meets another girl whom she calls Wolf and who, despite her hard-bitten cynicism, agrees to try to help Kipa make her way back home.

Kipa and Wolf’s biggest danger is a sharply dressed amphibian that Wolf calls a Mod Frog. (His most serious weakness seems to come in the form of ink stains on his suit.) The head Mod Frog and his cronies pursue Kipa and Wolf in a breakneck chase, one that’s terminated when Wolf shoves a scorpion stinger in the frog’s head. (It’s not lethal, but Wolf notes the frog will suffer a headache and possibly some memory loss when it wakes up.)

A gigantic mega-bunny comes barreling after Kipa (after she pets the animal’s children). Wolf traps Kipa’s pet pig, Mandu, and prepares to eat it before the pig makes its escape. Wolf warns Kipa to stay out of “death ivy,” indicated by a number of animal corpses littering the grove. (A huge moth lands on the ivy and promptly expires.) We see a flashback to Kipa’s watery trip out of the burrow—swept through what look to be huge sewer pipes via a rushing river of water. Kipa’s shirt exposes some tank-top straps underneath.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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