GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI -- A Tonally Confused but Fun Adventure in the Horror-Comedy Classic's Universe
Review by Sean Boelman
The new animated series Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai wowed audiences at Annecy last year with an early preview. You might be hoping that this show is the Gremlins prequel we didn’t know we needed. Although that might not be the case, because it’s hardly necessary in any way, it’s cute and fun enough to be worth watching.
The show is set in China in the 1920s as young Sam Wing — the antique store owner in the original movie — goes on an adventure with Gizmo the Mogwai. It’s an origin story for the Gremlins franchise, and while it can certainly be argued that it really doesn’t add much to the lore, it’s still a fun time.
One of the biggest questions viewers may be asking with this series is who exactly it is made for. The answer to that question is a lot more complicated than it may seem. Stylistically, it feels like a Saturday morning cartoon, which would imply it’s perhaps too kiddie for adults nostalgic for the original movie. On the other hand, it has some moments of menace and (cartoonish) violence that are perhaps a bit too much for younger viewers. The result is a show that exists in an odd middle area.
Ultimately, it’s almost best to evaluate the show independently of the original, with the exception of the lore. This show shares very little in common with Dante’s horror-comedy classic, instead opting for a more fantasy-inspired, Amblin-esque adventure set in 1920s China. In many ways, the show is more reminiscent of something like Indiana Jones than Gremlins.
The show boasts an impressive voice cast full of legends in the Asian and Asian-American communities. The lead role is voiced by young actor Izaac Wang (Good Boys), who is charming beyond belief. Wang is supported by a phenomenal ensemble, including James Hong, Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong, and (in guest roles) Randall Park, Sandra Oh, George Takei, and Bowen Yang.
Matthew Rhys is also impressively sinister as the series’s villain, and he is clearly having a boatload of fun acting the part. Nonetheless, Rhys unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb — being one of the show’s few examples of whitewashing. (The sidekick character, played by Gabrielle Nevaeh, is another prominent instance.)
Of course, the real star of the show is the lovable Gizmo, and while original voice actor Howie Mandel didn’t return to the role, A.J. LoCascio does a solid job of voicing the creature. It helps that the animation for the character — and the rest of the Mogwai — is gorgeous, but so too are the settings.
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is not the Gremlins we remember, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s also likely not to be of much interest to younger audiences due to its unusual tone. Still, it’s a pretty good show, and hopefully it can straighten out some of its kinks in the already-greenlit season two.
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai streams on the service that will then be known as Max (but is still known as HBO Max for the next week) beginning May 23, with new episodes streaming subsequent Thursdays. All ten episodes reviewed.