Welcome to the Cuphead show!
No matter where you go or what you see, adaptations are generally going to be risky business. Stories that work as a book or a video game or a comic or a movie may not translate well to another medium. I would argue that the Cuphead Show is actually in the lower risk of that train of thought, but only in the hands of a capable director. Thankfully the show had such a creator behind it.
Cuphead is a 2017 video game produced by Studio MDHR and directors Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. A hardcore platforming shooter, Cuphead gained notoriety due to its intense difficulty and had quite a following thanks to its stylistic design. The characters and world are all based off of early animations from the 1930s to 1960s with very surreal characters and animation style. A world where everything is seemingly sentient, from cups to vegetables and clocks and everything in between.
The cartoon spin-off came out on Netflix on February 18, a season consisting of 12 episodes at 15 minutes per episode. The second season is already slated for later this summer. And I’m happy to say that the show is fantastic, even if I don’t have much to say about the show itself.
The Cuphead Show feels like it could have released at any point in the last ninety years and nobody would be any the wiser. Where the video game plot had Cuphead and Mugman collecting souls for the devil, the cartoon takes those characters and throws them into a world where they simply exist. Cuphead (Tru Valentino) and Mugman (Frank Todaro) are two kids who live with their caretaker Elder Kettle (Joe Hanna). The episodes mostly consist of the duo getting into mischief or some misunderstanding leading to a series of crazy circumstances.
The world they live in appears directly out of the 1920s, with no modern aesthetics to speak of. Cuphead and Mugman have to deal with things like painting the fence, going to the circus, getting home in time to listen to their favorite radio show, protecting Elder Kettle’s garden, and simply playing with a hoop and a stick. The devil (Luke Millington-Drake) is a recurring villain, utilizing cronies like King Dice (Wayne Brady) to forward his goal of stealing Cuphead’s soul. Like an episode of Merry Melodies, Cuphead can be consumed without any pre-existing knowledge. Cup boys good, character that doesn’t like them bad and you don’t have to feel bad if they get comically injured. Got it?
I think the only character from the game to have a voice was the onion, that being his crying. The voices chosen for Cuphead Show characters are probably mostly along the lines of what you’d expect. Cuphead and Mugman are very Bronx-Italian sounding, Elder Kettle sounds like your average Disney grandpa, King Dice is smooth talking, the devil is mischievious, Porkrind is the gruff gravely voice to compliment the eyepatch, and Chalice sounds like a Betty Boop type.
It is to Cuphead’s benefit that the show is about spoon deep. The creators didn’t build a vast world for the viewer to get lost in, they recreated the Saturday morning cartoons of the past. And in a world where every show seems to feel the need to have some deeper message or political statement, it’s refreshing to see a cartoon that is just that. A cartoon. Two characters getting into trouble and somehow getting back out of it by the time the credits roll. It is utterly stupid, slapstick, goofy, it has musical numbers, and it is true to the roots of the spirit of the game’s theme.
The Cuphead Show may be a shock for hardcore fans of the game, as the show is definitely geared to be viewable by a younger audience (there is no swearing or gambling, even King Dice has been shifted to hosting a TV game show instead). But it is a fantastic show. It’s just over too soon.