Netflix announced a new cartoon series today: The Cuphead Show! Based off Studio MDHR's 2017 side scroller Cuphead, the show is expected to "expand on the characters and world of Cuphead, with animation style inspired by the classic Fleischer cartoons from the 1930s," according to the press release.
No release date has been announced for The Cuphead Show! Studio MDHR told IGN that the game will not simply be a re-telling of Cuphead. "The game told its story," Cuphead co-creator Jared Moldenhauer told IGN. "The cartoon will tell its [own.]" Chad and Jared Moldenhauer are signed on as the executive producers for Studio MDHR's involvement; CJ Kettler will do the same for King Features. The Cuphead Show! will be produced and drawn by folks over at Netflix Animation, executively produced by Mickey Mouse Shorts' Dave Wasson and Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling's Cosmo Segurson.
After its release in 2017, Cuphead was widely praised for its blend of seriously hard gameplay and stunning animation. It went on to sell four million copies and won 20 major awards, according to the press release. Chad Moldenhauer also told IGN that the show would “stay as far away from [computer-assisted] puppeteer animation as possible,” opting instead for the hand-drawn aesthetic that made the game garner so much attention to begin with.
But that aesthetic also led some to criticize Cuphead and Studio MDHR for whitewashing the racist history of Fleischer-style art.
In a piece titled "Cuphead and the Racist Spectre of Fleischer Animation," critic Yussef Cole wrote for Unwinnable that the game's visuals " are weighed down by the history that brought them into being, despite the developers best efforts at stripping them of the more overt caricatures that are rife in cartoons for most of the first half of the 20th century."
When asked about the Fleischer style’s use of racist stereotypes and whether Studio MDHR was attempting to say anything about America’s own history by using them, Cuphead producer and lead inking artist Maja Moldenhauer told Rolling Stone that “[it’s] visuals and that's about it. Anything else happening in that era we’re not versed in it. Blame it on being Canadian."
As Cole points out, though, some players cannot easily escape the implications or baggage of the style.
"By sanitizing its source material and presenting only the ostensibly inoffensive bits, Studio MDHR ignores the context and history of the aesthetic it so faithfully replicates,” he writes. “Playing as a black person, ever aware of the way we have historically been, and continue to be, depicted in all kinds of media, I don’t quite have that luxury. Instead, I see a game that’s haunted by ghosts; not those confined to its macabre boss fights, but the specter of black culture, appropriated first by the minstrel set then by the Fleischers, Disney and others -twisted into the caricatures that have helped define American cartoons for the better part of a century."
Jared Moldenauer told IGN that the show is "in the beginning processes." It's unclear how or if Netflix will contend with or address any implications from art of the era. Netflix has not responded to VICE's request for comment by publication time. Chad Moldenauer did mention to IGN that the show will be "safe for kids, but written so there are also things that adults find funny and appeals to a wider audience."