Review by Jonathan Berk
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World didn’t do well upon release, but has since become a beloved cult film. The 2010 adaptation of the Bryan Lee O'Malley graphic novels (and the books themselves) have found quite the fanbase, as well as their detractors. Netflix’s new animated series Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, directed by Abel Gongora and co-written by O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski, brings back the now-superstar-studded cast from the film to voice the characters as the story is revisited and reimagined.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party. After their first date, he is made aware that he must defeat her seven evil exes if they are to continue dating. But this time, things get even more complicated.
The show looks fantastic. The original graphic novel was black and white, which makes the fact that Ramona changes her hair color on the regular an interesting choice (though the graphic novel was later re-released in color). The show chooses not to pay homage to the novel's original absence of color, and is instead vibrant. The pacing is far less frenetic than in Wright’s film, which at first made the show feel a little less propulsive. However, as the episodes move forward, the show establishes itself as its own thing — not just an animated version of Wright’s film or O’Malley’s books.
Both the film and the books are extremely referential, and that is continued here. Of course, it’s been 13 years since the film came out, so the cultural touchstones and attitudes of the world reflected within the film must be updated. These updates make the familiar story feel fresh. The change in format to an episodic series also allows for more exploration into the story and its characters. Fans will likely find some areas of this to resonate more than they did previously, while other areas they loved may feel slighted — or simply missing.
One prominent element from the film that is also present here is the music. There are new songs throughout the show, and they may not click for the audience's musical tastes compared to those in the film -—or, perhaps, the opposite could be true. The show features original songs and score by Anamanaguchi (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game) and Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton). There are some earworms present in the series, and the score sets the right tone.
The fact that everyone involved with the original film is back makes this all the more impressive. Most of the cast was relatively early in their respective careers then, and most of them have now gone on to be big stars in one way or another. Their collective love for the project is evident in their performances, with each of them doing something quite special for the show.
At this point, we have seen so many stories told, then told again, and told yet another time. Often, they are so similar or feel so inferior to their predecessors that audiences are left scratching their heads as to why they just gave more of their time and money when they could have just rewatched the one they loved.
There was also that run in the ‘80s and ‘90s, where it seemed any blockbuster could be adapted into an animated series. Beetlejuice, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Police Academy, and even The Toxic Avenger were among many to get adapted to a kid-friendly cartoon series. Of course, Jurassic Park and Fast and the Furious have both recently been given the same treatment.
In both versions of this reuse of IP — whether a “new” version or a different medium — it often feels like nothing more than a studio cash grab. There is no doubt that Netflix expects this show to be a huge success after the fandom that has developed for Scott Pilgrim over the last 13 years. However, the show doesn’t feel like that at all. It's funny and familiar, while somehow doing its own thing that feels completely honest and befitting of the characters. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a great example of allowing the IP to evolve and grow, rather than just rehashing what came before it.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off will be on Netflix on November 17. All eight episodes reviewed.