The realm of animation has been particularly thriving over the last handful of years, even as the rest of the entertainment industry seems intent on writing the medium off as juvenile. But for every Rick & Morty or Harley Quinn, there’s a show that feels like it should have a much more attention than it likely does. A show like Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have a decent-sized fanbase, but more people were turned onto its greatness closer to when it was winding down rather than right from the jump. As its second season comes to a close this weekend, Disney’s The Owl House feels like it’s close to winding up in the latter category, which is a shame, given how good it’s always been, and has continued to be great with its sophomore season.
Created by Dana Terrace, The Owl House begins with a standard setup, as teenage misfit Luz Noceda winds up in the magical realm known as the Boiling Isles. As a big fantasy nerd, Luz is delighted to learn that magic and monsters are real, even more so when she meets the Isles’ resident prankster Eda and her pet monster, King. An outcast in her own right due to a curse that transforms her into a literal owl lady, Eda takes Luz under her wing, both to teach her how to be a witch in her own right and also eventually find a way to get Luz home.
All shows live and die depending on their characters, and it’s especially true for the ones geared towards (or starring) kids or young adults. If they’re too grating or not fun to spend time with, then it’s a kiss of death. Fortunately, Owl House’s characters are quite charming and engaging, with the mostly teen cast managing to feel authentic, and the adults being equally competent while emotionally maladjusted. Everyone’s a winner across the board, with the standouts being Luz’s classmates Willow and Gus, along with Eda’s sister Lillith and Hooty, a demon attached to the titular owl house. It’d be hard not to find a favorite amongst them, and even the show’s various villains are hateable in the best kind of way.
Like most shows, it takes some time for The Owl House to really find itself after its strong pilot. While the first handful of episodes are entertaining in their own right, an episode where Luz, Eda, and King swap bodies is where the show really finds itself. Instead of having each of them resolve their own problems before returning to their original bodies, Eda puts the trio back in their original bodies before doing a body swap on the people around them so the three leave as everyone else fights one another. It’s a fun episode that highlights how playful and mischievous the show can get, and the ones that follow run with this even further. When the show allows its characters to sling magic around and get into all sorts of chaotic action, or even just for sheer fun, it becomes exhilarating to watch.
Disney has a strong family friendly image that hovers over everything they do, and the shows or films that manage to break out of that mold even slightly come across as more revolutionary than they likely are. While Owl House doesn’t have any mind blowing gore or ghouls on the level of Doctor Strange, it has a sinister edge all its own. A giant dragon made entirely out of fingers stands out because of the way it just casually exists in the world without much attention being drawn to it. Other times, the strangeness of the Boiling Isles is used as a clever, if horrifying gag, such as everything to do with Hooty or school lockers that eat students.
In many ways, Owl House follows in the footsteps of previous Disney alum Gravity Falls. But one area where it eclipses its spiritual predecessor is that it consistently ratchets up the tension, even in episodes meant to serve as emotional rest stops before the plot kicks up again. While the first season was largely breezy, season two opts to ramp up the stakes for Luz and her friends in a significant way. A late game season two episode set in the mind of the show’s chief villain, Emperor Belos, puts Luz and eventual ally Hunter in such physical and emotional danger that it feels like a real relief when they finally escape at the episode’s end, even as it ends on a real bleak note for them both. The last handful of episodes have been dropping character and plot revelations with such effectiveness that it’s easy to forget the show isn’t getting the chance to continue on like it and its creators would very much like to.
Despite its momentum being noticeably cut off at the knees, The Owl House is still worth watching, if only because it’s impressive how much it’s been able to pull off with its short existence. It’s shaping up to be one of Disney’s best animated series in recent years, if not ever, and it’s best to realize that now rather than after it’s already come and gone.
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