“Voltron” is back – a phrase that in some readers will inspire a deep, rumbling thrill as it opens a Prousteian wormhole back to a sugared-cereal, don’t-you-have-any-homework, why-are-you-inside-on-a-sunny-day, low-resolution, 4:3 3:4 or is it 4:3? aspect ratio childhood. For others, not so much.
In its quest to conquer as much of the universe as the wires will reach, Netflix has engaged DreamWorks Animation in a revival of the 1980s space-robot franchise, now titled “Voltron: Legendary Defender,”, “Voltron:Legendary Defender of the Universe” whose 13 episodes go live to binge or not to binge Friday. They’ve slapped on a fresh coat of digital paint, turned up the sound and assembled a cast that includes Steven Yeun, Tyler Labine, Bex Taylor-Klaus and Rhys Darby, familiar from the live-action world, along with Jeremy Shada (the voice of Finn on “Adventure Time”), Kimberly Brooks and Josh Keaton, whom you are as of yet more likely to have heard, in cartoons or video games, than seen.
Is it good? Sure it is. Does it better its predecessor? (Or predecessors – for “Voltron” has been revived before, as recently as Nicktoons’ 2011 “Voltron Force,” and before that for the clunky, 20th-century CGI of “Voltron: The Third-Dimension.”) Your cherished memories aside, that is a bar set low. So, yes, it does better them – by quite a lot and, at the same time significantly, not by too much.
That is to say, for all its improvements in form and content, it has not sacrificed fundamental candy-colored cheesiness for fashionable dark modernity; like the latest “Star Wars” movie, the one that not everybody hated, it is old-school in a new school uniform.
In its first hour at least – all that has been released as of this writing for review – the new version more or less follows the lines of the opening episodes of the 1984 original, which was adapted without the aid of translation from two Japanese series, “Beast King GoLion” and “Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.” A ragtag team of space cadets (Yeun, Shada, Labine, Taylor-Klaus and Keaton) is called upon by an elf-eared extraterrestrial princess (Brooks) and her counselor (Darby) to find five giant robot lions that joined together will form the five-times-as-giant humanoid robot Voltron, the only defense against King Zarkon (Neil Kaplan) and an evil alien race set on galactic domination.
“They’re not exactly the best and brightest the universe has to offer,” says the princess to the counselor of their new champions.
“No, but they’re all we got.”
Made by a team associated with Nickedlodeon’s anime-inspired “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra,” it is much handsomer than any previous iteration, more dimensional, with a delicate and fluid line and a palette that subtly shifts with the changing light; the wider screen and sharper focus allows for more detail and a greater sense of scale – those mechanical cats look darn huge. At the same time, it’s more character-driven (even the machines have personalities – “the green lion has an inquisitive personality … the yellow lion is caring and kind”) and more overtly comical. (Rhys Darby’s in it, did I mention? And Tyler Labine?)
There will be flatulence.
And, yes, there will be space mice.
Voltron: Legendary Defender infobox 6/9/16
‘Voltron: Legendary Defender’
When: Anytime starting Friday
Rating: TV-Y7 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 7 with an advisory for fantasy violence)
From days long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes Netflix Original Series VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER. DreamWorks Animation reimagines one of the most popular fan-favorite shows of all time in this all-new comedic action-packed show from executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra, Avatar: The Last Airbender) and co-executive producer Lauren Montgomery (The Legend of Korra).In this all-new Voltron series coming to Netflix this year, five unsuspecting teenagers are transported from Earth into the middle of a sprawling intergalactic war and become pilots for five robotic lions in the battle to protect the universe from evil. Only through the true power of teamwork can they unite to form the mighty warrior known as VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER.The series will be available to Netflix members in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Nordics, Benelux, France and DACH beginning June 10.