To learn more about her mysterious origins, heroine Kipo and her companions seek out a group of goats, who are said to possess divine knowledge. It’s the typical fantasy setup of heroes seeking out the wisdom of an all-knowing sage, only in this case, the goats are a batty group of sisters whose prophesying power comes from their globby, homemade cheese.
Such is the duality of DreamWorks Animation’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, a fantastical post-apocalyptic world full of vibrant, funky, and hilarious characters and places juxtaposed with a plot that touches on themes of humanity and prejudice.
The second season of Kipo, out now on Netflix, expands upon the quirky world, which is full of vibrant animals known as Mutes, capable of talking, thinking, and building their own society. The first season saw Kipo separated from her underground human community, known as the Burrow, and sent across the surface in search of them. The second season picks up right after the first left off: Kipo and her friends must rescue her Burrow from the clutches of the royalty-obsessed mandrill, Scarlemange. Adding to the complexity of the situation, Kipo has only now learned that she’s part Mute, and grapples with her emerging powers and their origins.
The twist offers a nuanced look at the nature of animals and humans, asking big questions about who the “bad guy” really is. But it’s still Kipo, meaning the drama is all interspersed with just as many delightful moments as in the first season.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for the second season of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts]
While the early episodes spent time honing the characters and fleshing out their dynamics, the second season dives deeper into worldbuilding and lore without losing heart. The first season of Kipo largely took place on the surface world, with Kipo encountering the various Mutes for the first time, and learning about the different factions of mutant animals in step with the audience. But bigger questions about how humans operate in a world full of Mutes, and what the other groups of them are even doing, still lingered.
Kipo’s quest to learn about her mutant powers leads her to discover more about her past, and how she’s tied to the egomaniacal Scarlemange. In season 2, the mandrill is turned from a one-note cackling villain into a more interesting character, tied to Kipo’s scientist parents and the human community they came from. His desire to control humanity now has a personal edge to it. The introduction of a second villain complicates matters even more. Several moments this season lead to jaw dropping revelations, but looking back it’s clear how they were seeded in from season 1.
Kipo shifts a bit away from the wild toybox elements of its first season, exploring the way humanity fits into the zany post-apocalyptic world. This means a plot that’s more grounded in the reality we know, full of laboratories and scientific experiments, and a group of human scientists bent on reversing the mutation. But for fans of the Timber cats and rock n’ roll snakes, there are still plenty of kooky, out-there creatures to meet, like shrimps who run a premier brunch destination and group of thespian otters who put on shows for other creatures (they’re known as the Theotters ... get it?)
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is becoming a more expansive show, but at the same time, creator Rad Sechrist and his writing team have focused on the character relationships. Season 2 primarily focuses on the relationship between Kipo and her father, and her desire to learn more about her late mother. Kipo’s friends — aspiring DJ Benson, fearsome warrior Wolf, and smart-talking Dave the Bug — still play important roles, but the dynamic is more familial. Shifting the focus to Kipo and her father never feels like a sacrifice; after all, season 1 only touched on Benson and Wolf’s backstory, leaving room for greater depth. Kipo spent the first season in search of her father, the snippets of their relationship given via backstory. Thrusting their relationship to the forefront makes Kipo’s motivations to reunite with him more clear and allows her to come to terms with some heavy backstory elements by discussing it in person.
As with the first season, the fight scenes executed by the animators at Studio Mir are impeccable, utilizing the innovation of the characters, creatures, and world to their full advantage. At one point Kipo and Wolf go against a set of Death Stalkers, giant scorpion creatures that track heartbeats, a certain moments of the battle are depicted from the Death Stalkers’ point of view, where they see the two characters as red pulsing heart rates. Like last season, the show’s music serves to augment these already exhilarating scenes, with a tense battle set against fast-paced French hip-hop as one of the standout moments.
Threaded throughout Kipo is the importance of friendship and forgiveness, themes common in all-ages animation, but nonetheless handled with the utmost heart, sometimes interrogating the notion of forgiveness when it falls flat. As Kipo dives deeper into her mutant side and her powerful abilities, she risks losing touch with her humanity — a fate, we learn, happened to someone else earlier. But she still puts others before herself, her idealistic views sometimes clashing with her father and Wolf’s more pragmatic approaches. Like the first season, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts balances heavier themes with moments of fun. The serious moments in season 2 are weightier than those in season 1, but it’s the balance of humorous light-hearted moments that continues to make the show stand out.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is currently streaming on Netflix.
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