[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts Season 1.]
When Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts burst onto the scene earlier this year, the animated series delivered action-packed adventures, truly supportive friend and familial relationships, and the most bumpin’ soundtrack we’ve heard since Spider-Verse. I’m happy to say that, in Season 2, those highlights continue. Radford Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff bring another batch of hypercolor, hyperactive episodes to Netflix on June 12th. You should probably clear your calendars and make a day of it, or at least a fun Friday evening, because Seasons 1 and 2 are the one-two punch of uplifting, feel-good fantasy that we could all use right now. My review follows below after a brief catch-up and well-deserved cast-and-crew shout-out.
Following the Season 1 finale, all is not well on the surface. With the burrow people under Scarlemagne’s mind control and her father his prisoner, Kipo must quickly learn to master her newly-discovered mute abilities in order to save them. As she and her friends split up on a dangerous rescue mission, Kipo’s journey of self-discovery unearths mysteries of the past that change everything she thought she knew.
The cast features Karen Fukuhara (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power) as the enthusiastic and curious “Kipo;” Sydney Mikayla (General Hospital) as “Wolf,” a weapon-wielding survivor who knows the ins and outs of the surface; Coy Stewart (The Blacklist) as the happy-go-lucky “Benson;” Deon Cole (black-ish) as “Dave,” a talking insect who has the jarring ability to suddenly age a full life cycle without warning; and Dee Bradley Baker (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as the adorable mutant pig “Mandu”. Sterling K. Brown (Frozen 2) returns as Kipo’s father “Lio Oak;” Dan Stevens (Legion) as the power-hungry “Scarlemagne;” Jake Green (The Boss Baby: Back in Business) as mod frog “Jamack;” and Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black) as Timbercat “Molly Yarnchopper.” Amy Landecker (Transparent) joins as the mysterious “Dr. Emilia.”
One big departure from Season 1 comes in the storytelling style of Kipo. Season 1 felt like an open-ended adventure in which our heroes were just trying to find their way through the incredibly crazy and unpredictable surface world, all while getting to know each other better. Kipo had befriended Mandu, who was being hunted by Wolf when they all came together for the first time; Benson and Dave had been best buds forever but actually steal Wolf’s prized weapon when they first meet Kipo’s crew. Over those first 10 episodes, they unite as a group to stand up against the Mod Frogs, Newton Wolves, and the machinations of Scarlemagne, and it was all great, unpredictable, wildly musical, manic fun. That spirit continues in Season 2, as does the creative freedom to explore burgeoning same-sex relationships in a positive manner, but the storytelling is a bit more linear.
Now that Kipo & Co. have a specific goal with a specific endpoint — track down Scarlemagne and rescue Kipo’s father Lio and the other imprisoned people — the mystery of what’s going to happen next is muted somewhat. That’s not to say the episodes are boring or predictable by any means — Who among us could expect Kipo‘s particular take on goats, otters, crayfish, or even fungus? — but we have a better idea of just where Kipo’s journey will take her than we did in Season 1. That’s bound to happen any time a story starts to move into its second act after all the introductory setup is done. Season 2 manages to keep things fresh with new characters, plot twists, changing allegiances, and a return of some familiar faces, but what it does exceptionally well is two-fold: Unveiling Kipo‘s mythology and doubling-down on its social commentary.
The mythology unfolds in interesting ways: A lot of Kipo’s mute make-up is shared with audiences as Kipo discovers her strengths and limitations herself in real-time. But there’s also a series of flashback sequences told in reverse order that are metered in throughout the season. They revisit Lio and Song’s relationship and scientific career just before Kipo’s birth, revealing important factors that will ultimately and literally change the landscape of their world. We learn the most about Kipo and the world around her in these scenes, but they come with the added bonus of both humanizing certain characters — be they flawed or virtuous or, more likely, somewhere in between — and establishing who the true villain of the piece really is.
This is where Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts digs into social commentary a bit more. Season 1 had some loose philosophical ponderings when it came to surface-worlders vs burrow-dwellers, and humans vs mutes. Season 2 makes that conflict much clearer. Mutes look down on humans, humans look down on mutes, and violent and ugly clashes result because of their differences. Sadly, this is just as relevant today as it has been throughout human history. So it shouldn’t be lost on viewers that Kipo’s status as human-mute hybrid has her standing with one foot in each world, giving her both the strengths and weaknesses of both. It’s also worth mentioning that her squad is comprised of humans and mutes alike, all of whom overcame their own misgivings in order to work together towards a common good.
Kipo’s super-positive, outgoing, and friends-and-family-first nature has allowed her to turn enemies to friends, be they Timbercats, Mod Frogs, EDM Bees (okay, maybe not the EDM Bees) or Umlaut Snäkes. “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” as Abraham Lincoln (of all people to quote in a cartoon review) put it. So sure, Kipo may possess an incredible power she’s only just starting to understand and control, but her innate ability to make friends from enemies along the way will ultimately be the saving grace of the “burrow vs surface” conflict. However, as the closing moments of the season reveal, that conflict is far from over; in fact, it’s just getting started.
Season 2 of Kipo and the Wonderbeasts is just as imaginative, magical, positive, and fun as Season 1. The cast does a fantastic job of bringing their colorful characters to life, especially Fukuhara’s vivacious title character, Mikayla’s shy and stubborn Wolf, and Stevens’ delightfully unhinged Scarlemagne; they’re even better when they’re all singing together. The incredible soundtrack continues to be the best of 2020 in any medium, thanks to Daniel Rojas and the super-talented artists who collaborated on this show; the music really does heighten the already epic, action-packed scenes, taking the whole piece to a new level.
Kipo is a welcome series in the void left by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power; I just can’t wait to see what they do next!
Dave Trumbore is Collider’s Senior Editor overseeing Games, Animation, and all those weird Saturday-morning cartoons no one else remembers. Test his trivia IQ on Twitter @DrClawMD