Disenchantment’s biggest middle finger to fairy-tale tropes comes midway through the first episode, when Princess “Bean” Tiabeanie (Abbi Jacobson) refuses to marry the prince she’s been contracted to by her father. But the subtler subversions are more satisfying. Bean’s getting-ready routine involves not bluebirds and singing mice, but leeches, one for each cheek to give her a healthy glow (“Whores rouge, ladies leech,” Bean’s maid says, cheerily). Hansel and Gretel aren’t innocent orphans, but sadistic wretches who do much worse than eat an old lady’s dream house. Bean’s magical companion isn’t a godmother or a genie, but a literal demon who encourages her worst impulses to drink, gamble, and wreak havoc on the kingdom.
The new Netflix animated series from Matt Groening is The Simpsons’ creator’s first new show in almost two decades. If Futurama, his 1999 sitcom set in the 31st century, used the future to explore the ever constant frailty of the human condition, Disenchantment uses the past. Set in Dreamland, a kind of Game of Thrones meets Hans Christian Andersen fantasy world, it’s populated with elves, gnomes, giants, ogres, fairies, and mermaids. But the gag is the same. The landscape is less garishly drawn than The Simpsons and Futurama: It’s a world that evokes the pastel-colored illustrations from children’s books, even though Groening’s signature bug-eyed style remains unchanged. The question is, with so many Groening-inspired innovators having created their own animated worlds since then, does it still feel relevant?