Disney's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a slick, stylish break from the MCU and all its baggage
The Disney Channel's new Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur cartoon from executive producers Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, and Steve Loter is a kids' show in the sense that its story about a girl fighting crime with her pet dinosaur is aimed squarely at a younger audience. For all of its super sci-fi whimsy and jokiness, the series knows better than to talk down to its viewers, which is one of the main reasons why its music-forward exploration of things like gentrification and trolling work so well.
Watching Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, you can tell that it's the first co-production between Marvel Studios and Disney's in-house TV animation arms and see how its narrative stylings have been influenced by the studios' live-action superhero projects. But as burned out on MCU fare as you might be at this point, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur's very focused on doing its own thing, which makes it feel like one of Marvel's most inspired comic book adaptations.
Based on Marvel's 2015 Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comics series from Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, and Natacha Bustos, the new Disney Channel show tells the slightly updated origin story of Lunella Lafayette (Diamond White), a 13-year-old genius from Manhattan's Lower East Side. When she isn't skating around and helping out at her family's roller rink or effortlessly getting perfect grades at school, she's usually busy tinkering in the secret laboratory she's built below the apartment building she lives in without any of her neighbors knowing.
Whether it's nuclear-powered popcorn machines or fuel-efficient jetpacks, most everything Lunella builds works (almost) flawlessly. But when Lunella attempts to replicate one of her idol's most famed experiments one day, something goes very wrong with the build, and she inadvertently summons a hulking, red Tyrannosaurus rex (Fred Tatasciore) from the far-flung past into her present-day life.
Though it easily could have been a straightforward "educational" series solely focused on framing STEM mindsets as a superpower, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur takes the much more scenic and interesting route as it paints a vibrant picture of the world Lunella lives in. Lunella doesn't just build miniaturized power grids for fun or because her homework isn't challenging enough. She does it because she loves the knish shop down the street and the Black barbershop next door, and she knows that nobody else is going to help those businesses as the rest of her neighbors deal with rolling blackouts that only ever seem to affect their neighborhood.
Both in terms of tone and narrative focus, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur feels very cognizant of the MCU's existence and of its own comic book origins. But it sits very comfortably outside of and away from any established continuities in order to keep Lunella and Devil front and center as New York's heroes. The Avengers are out there somewhere; it's just that they never show up in the LES where people like Lunella and her best friend Casey (Libe Barer) live. Lunella and Devil share a special bond, but here it's because they can understand one another's speech, and the show very pointedly highlights that alone as being something that makes them both special.=
White is pitch perfect as an effervescent, yet sometimes awkward teen getting into the friendly neighborhood superhero game unbeknownst to her loving mom Andria (Sasheer Zamata), dad James (Jermaine Fowler), grandmother Mimi (Alfre Woodard), and grandfather Pops (Gary Anthony Williams). But it's White's performance coupled with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur's score from executive music producer Raphael Saadiq that really gives you the full picture of who the show's Lunella is -- a Black girl super scientist whose brilliance has been shaped by her multicultural community.
Every facet of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur's musical production, from the stripped-down tracks playing beneath each episode's eyecatches to the big, bouncing numbers blasting as Lunella's battling power-hungry villains, is meticulously crafted -- which you can immediately hear. But in moments when Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur slows the action down to let animation studio Flying Bark Productions lean into the simpler, Saturday morning cartoon side of things, you can also feel how the show's music is always there working to make Lunella's world feel like a place that's full of art.
Very similar to Disney Plus' Ms. Marvel before it, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur looks and feels like the future Disney and Marvel should be building toward as they court a newer, younger generation of superhero fans. But for all of its Marvel trappings and sight gags means for comic book fans, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur often plays a lot more like Dexter's Laboratory by way of Cardcaptor Sakura -- a lighthearted, stylish action-adventure with enough swag to warrant a rewatch or two.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur premieres on the Disney Channel today, and episodes start hitting Disney Plus on February 15th.
Correction June 9th, 6:15 PM ET: An earlier version of this review incorrectly listed Titmouse rather than Flying Bark Productions as being behind Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur's animation. We've updated the piece, and regret the error.