Possible Spoilers ahead!
Because I grew up in the 1980s, I feel like I grew up in an era where cartoons were at their best. Not just the Saturday morning ones ether, all the shows I watched after school were pretty damn good back then.
As demand for more cartoons increased in the 80’s, tv studios turned to Japan for animated shows which could be redubbed and edited for American audiences. Among those shows was “Beast King GoLion” which you probably know better as “Voltron: Defender of the Universe.”
The Voltron series still has a huge fan base, even after three decades, so when Netflix partnered up with DreamWorks Animation for an updated version of the classic Voltron series, the fans were excited. I on the other hand was a more nervous than anything, which was surprising because I always liked the vehicle Voltron more than the lion version. I know, gasp! how dare I? Blah, blah, blah.
Anywho, the new Netflix series is called “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” and it comes courtesy of executive producers Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos, who are best known for their work on the Nickelodeon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and its follow-up, “The Legend of Korra.”
I never watched any of the Avatar shows, but I gotta tell you “Voltron: Legendary Defender” blew me away. The new show was so much more than I ever expected or hoped for from an animated series in 2016.
Legendary Defender‘s roughly 70 minute premiere, “The Rise of Voltron”, moves along at a brisk pace, quickly establishing the cast of teens who later become the pilots of Voltron’s five lions: Keith (Steven Yeun), pilot of the Red Lion, Lance (Jeremy Shada), pilot of the Blue Lion, Hunk (Tyler Labine), Yellow Lion, Pidge (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Green Lion, and their leader, Shiro (Josh Keaton) in the Black Lion. Those who remember the original Voltron cartoon may notice some variations in the new line up, but for the most part, “Voltron: Legendary Defender” sticks fairly close to the original show.
The premiere contains a ridiculous amount of exposition, something the old show never had. But it works well because it reminds older viewers and introduces new ones to the world of Voltron. The good news is that the episode never feels bogged down by all the information that is thrown at you, and it manages to find organic ways to explain whatever it is the audience needs to know.
There’s a perfect blend of action and humor, including exchanges where the group are just as shocked as anyone by discovering a giant, flying, robot lion in the middle of nowhere. One of the reasons this worked so well is because of the friendships that are quickly established between Lance, Hunk, and Pidge, as well as the friendly rivalry between Lance and Keith, and the mentor bond between Keith and Shiro.
Also along for the new adventures are Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks), ruler of the Kingdom of Arus, where Voltron was created, and her advisor Coran (Rhys Darby). For her part, Allura serves primarily as a resource of information and (maybe) leadership for the pilots. For now at least she’s not piloting a lion of her own, but if I remember correctly, in the old show she wasn’t a member of Voltron right away. And oh yeah, they even brought her mice back.
From a design standpoint, “Voltron: Legendary Defender” is a sleek and modern looking show. As a comic fan, the new character designs remind me a little of Steve Skroce and Jeff Matsuda, which I really liked.
Everything else looks better than it ever did on the original show, I’m talking about the characters, their uniforms, the lions, and Voltron itself. The action sequences are just spectacular, playing up the agility and grace of the lions (they move like big cats). We even get to see each lion get a moment or two to shine on their own. I also liked the idea that the lions choose their pilots, and are bonded to them in a way.
And yes, we do get to see the big guy in the premiere, complete with a great looking combination sequence which comes after a few, very funny attempts at forcing the combination to happen.
As I mentioned before, the premiere episode covers a lot of ground, taking us all the way from the discovery of the first lion to Voltron’s return, it also includes a couple of lingering mysteries for the series to explore in its first season, like The opening flashback where Shiro and a crew of astronauts are abducted during an exploration mission, resulting in Shiro spending time as a prisoner of King Zarkon.
Anyways, the first episode of “Voltron: Legendary Defender” firmly establishes the world wherein this new adventure takes places, and this series is certainly a welcome take on this classic cartoon, and one that should appeal to fans both new and old. And thank you Netflix for making me feel like a kid again!
“Voltron: Legendary Defender” final score: 10