It’s hard to find someone my age or younger whose childhood wasn’t made better by a DreamWorks Animated film. Like come on, this production company created some of the most iconic animated franchises of the past 30 years. Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and even films such as The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, and Chicken Run. These films and so much more defined a generation of young children, who probably like me, can quote one or more of these films from title cards to credits. So it shouldn’t be a shock that I jumped at the opportunity to review Curses!, a new DreamWorks series making its debut on Apple TV+ today.
The ten-episode first season focuses on siblings Pandora and Russ, along with their mother Sky, as they work together to stop a decade-old curse that haunts their family. Created by Jim Cooper and Jeff Dixon, Curses! is executive-produced by John Krasinski, a well-known comedian, actor, and director. Bringing life to this cast of characters is Lyric Lewis as Sky Vanderhoven, Andre Robinson as Russ, Gabrielle Nevaeh as Pandora, along with Rhys Darby, James Marsters, Robert Englund, Reid Scott, and legendary Rhea Perlman. Curses! Is easily another hit for the animated powerhouse, with a story with tons of heart, and just the perfect amount of scare for you and your children. Continue on for my full thoughts on Curses!
[Warning: Spoilers and Impressions from Apple TV+’s Curses! Are below!]
A decades-old curse begins this Apple TV+ series
Curses! wastes no time to set up the problem that pushes the narrative of the series forward, beginning with a flashback. While the story of Russ and Pandora takes place in modern times, their problems begin generations earlier, due to the actions of their Great Great Great Grandfather (Englund). Cornelius takes a treasure he wasn’t supposed to due to his greed, bringing about a curse that impacts every generation from his point on.
Russ, the tech-savvy older brother, and sporty Pandora are unaware of the curse upon their family. However, it doesn’t take long into the first episode for them to stumble upon the problem at hand and their lives are forever changed. The curse takes the form of their stone father, Alex (Scott), and not in a recreational way. He’s literally been turned to stone as if he stared at Medusa for too long and paid the price.
The discovery of their father as a statue nearly throws the siblings into emotional ruin, but together with their mother, and mystical helpers Stanley (Darby), a wooden idol of sorts, and Larry (Marsters), the skull of a long-dead pirate, they set out to set things right. Not only to stop the curse before it also turns them to stone but to hopefully reverse the effect it had on their father, restoring them to life. Can the Vanderhovens complete their task before time runs out? Or will the curse that has plagued the Vanderhoven clan claim two more victims?
Curses! embraces a tried and true formula
After establishing the premise of the series, Curses! Uses a similar formula that many children’s series utilize. Each episode focuses on a new problem that the family has to figure out, which will hopefully bring them a step closer to solving the overarching issue. For many series this way of storytelling is boring and tiresome, looking at you Supernatural. It’s why procedural series are popular and can grow old quickly; it’s the same thing day in and day out.
However, Curses! doesn’t fall into the same pattern that ultimately makes me dislike the format. Instead, the series uses each episode to continue building on the lore and the legends that the artifacts stem from. It takes the formula and uses it to its advantage, creating an engaging story that drags you in regardless of the packaging it comes in. It also helps that the characters are interesting, especially the ones who aren’t human. It gives me Legend of the Hidden Temple and Indiana Jones vibes, mixed with Carmen Sandiego.
It’s clear that this series is aimed at a younger audience, so the utilization of this formula makes perfect sense. It’s easily accessible to children, for which predictability is important for better engagement. But as an adult, I didn’t feel tired of the series, in fact, and perhaps in spite of it, I loved every episode of this series. Whatever those behind the Curses! is doing, it’s definitely working, as they have another hit on their hands.
The positive and negative of Curses!
The writing for the series is similar to a lot of other DreamWorks projects. By no means is it groundbreaking, however, the story weaved throughout the ten episodes is fantastic. For a children’s show, it doesn’t spend too much time spoonfeeding small bits of information over and over but instead trusts the audience it’s aimed for to be able to follow along. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a bit of spoonfeeding, but that’s to be expected a bit from a series like this.
On top of the writing, the animation was incredible and a bit different from that of recent DreamWorks projects. The series has a more comic book feel, with the background of many scenes appearing drawn in or done in the style of pop art. The movement of the characters is reminiscent of claymation, such as that of Coraline or The Nightmare Before Christmas. However it’s clearly animated, so it’s an interesting effect. It definitely sets the tone as scarier, as all old-school claymation films do.
Speaking of tone, Curses! does a great job of balancing the light-hearted adventure narrative with that of the darker, spookier moments. It’s apparent that this series is meant to be an entry into horror for a younger generation but does so in a way that isn’t traumatizing or overly scary. As someone who has come to love horror as he’s gotten older, I think I would have appreciated a series like this when I was younger.
Curses! Is leagues above many children’s shows that are on streaming or television, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any problems. There are periods of the story that are a bit slow. It’s easy to pick up your phone during these times and the next thing you know, you missed something important. So it’s important to stay keyed into the series even if it’s a moment that slogs on for a beat too long.
Final thoughts on this new DreamWorks project
Overall, I think Curses! is a great series that’s arriving just in time for Halloween. While not every child might enjoy this, if you’re interested in action adventures with a hint of spooky, this is the right time to turn on for your family, after trick-r-treating around the neighborhood!
Curses! Is now available on Apple TV+. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you’ll be checking out this series.