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Cuphead game creators hoped the show wouldn’t turn Cuphead into Hannibal Lecter

And talk about their plans for future crossovers with the game

Cuphead, Elder Kettle, and Mugman laughing in their living room Image: Netflix
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

Cuphead creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer found their world turned inside out when they landed a deal with Netflix to produce The Cuphead Show!. Gone was the “shoot-from-the-hip style” they embraced for Cuphead’s boss fights, replaced with the very methodical storyboarding that comes with making an animated series.

In the game, Cuphead squares off against various bosses in an effort to collect their soul contract on behalf of the Devil. The Cuphead Show! allowed more nuance for the characters and the plotlines to bounce off each other in zany ways only animation could allow. The differing styles mean that neither of them sees a lot of crossover happening between the game and the new Netflix show — at least for now. “As it is, we’re finishing up the DLC, which was its own planned entity,” Jared says. “We’re not at that place of thinking, what exactly is going to be in future games, but I guess we’ll have to decide when the time comes.”

But the Netflix series does open up the possibilities for the new takes on Cuphead to exist in a kind of parallel universe. Characters could be reimagined, taken out of their locales, and put into new situations against the twin protagonists, Cuphead and Mugman.

“[We want] that ’80s style arcade game that is really fast. We’re actually thinking, What can we cut from the story? What can we remove from the dialogue to speed the player along to the game sections?” Chad says. “And on the show it’s like, no how do we build upon these characters?”

Cuphead - GIF of eyeball boss StudioMDHR Entertainment

While Chad and Jared only served as advisors to the Netflix show — hashing out what characters should or shouldn’t do — they were excited to see what their characters could be outside the confines of the adversarial positioning of the video game.

When working with Netflix’s writers they found only a few areas that required much by way of explanation. Hilda Berg was not, in fact, a robot, as the Moldenhauers conceived her; the audience didn’t need to know why Mugman and Cuphead were living with Elder Kettle.

“I’m not a huge fan of backstory — which doesn’t mean there isn’t backstory! But like, I like some stuff to still have that air of mystery,” Jared says.

“I always go back to Silence of the Lambs for some reason, where it’s like, Hannibal Lecter is so much more interesting, when you’re not sure about every aspect about him. But the minute you make 20 more sequels […] It’s like all of a sudden, this character disappears.”

Cuphead and Mugman cower from ghosts Image: Netflix

And so we get Cuphead, Mugman, and many of the game’s cast of characters all bouncing off each other (sometimes literally) across the Inkwell Isles. It may seem odd that The Cuphead Show! is most reminiscent of kid’s cartoons — with almost no winking nod to an adult in the room — when it’s based on a notoriously difficult video game.

But, if asked, the Moldenhauers will once again remind folks that the whole Cuphead world is based on their passions from when they were kids — “It’s way easier than everything in the ’80s!” — and they wanted the show to have the same vibes.

“We always kind of have it in our minds to make our games for everyone,” Chad says. “Not necessarily saying that the difficulty or you know, how many hours you have to put in is for everyone. But the idea that the theme works well for everyone.”

The next level of puzzles.

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