Matt Groening talks ‘Disenchantment’ and branching into new-ish territory

A still from 'Disenchantment,' Matt Groening's latest offering. Netflix

Matt Groening‘s latest animated creation, Disenchantment, is a far cry from The Simpsons, and while it’s closer kin to a show like Futurama, it still stands on its own.

True diehard Groening fans will be familiar with his early comic strip work, Life in Hell, and if forced to compare, Disenchantment is most on par with that early work. It has a dry humour, and for the first time in many, many years Groening has the luxury of introducing and expanding upon brand-new characters.

READ MORE: Paul Walker’s brothers open to playing his ‘Fast and Furious’ character again

Disenchantment takes place in the “crumbling medieval kingdom” of Dreamland, where viewers follow the misadventures of hard-drinking princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson), her elf companion Elfo (Nat Faxon) and her very own personal demon Luci (Eric André). While the laughs don’t come as regularly as they do in Springfield, the fantasy show has a certain magnetism to it.

Story continues below advertisement

Global News spoke with Groening over the phone about Disenchantment, the inspiration behind it and his creation “rules” that ended up being broken anyway.

Global News: Why place the show in a fantasy world? Was this something you had in your head for a while?
Matt Groening: I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, yeah. Back in high school, I used to draw a little comic strip for my friends, called Tales of the Enchanted Forest, which had talking animals and all that fun. I’ve always loved talking animals … in fact, I used to think that I would only ever draw animal characters. Life in Hell, for example, has the talking rabbits.

We can safely say I branched out from that. [Laughs] It could’ve been any genre [that I explored now], but to me, fantasy seemed the most rich. It resonates with people right now in pop culture, but it also resonates, to be more pretentious, in another way, through fairy tales and fables that we all grew up with. I’ll never forget reading the psychoanalysis of fairy tales when I was a kid, in which the author pointed out that the evil stepmother wasn’t really the stepmother, but instead the stand-in for the evil mother. I’ve always taken fairy tales seriously ever since.
Disenchantment takes the tropes of fantasy that we’ve been surrounded by all our lives, from Snow White to the latest Disney princess movie, and turning them on their heads. These are fairy tales for people who don’t want the corn. [Laughs]
Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Terry Crews accused of harassment in $1M lawsuit by ex-social media manager

Or the cheese?
Or the cheese … but I will say that we’re going to choke you up! It may seem like dark comedy, but we’re going to go places that are quite moving. Just to warn people.

There were tender moments of sentimentality that caught me off guard. It’s dark yet uplifting, and both Elfo and Bean are searching for freedom.
It’s always fun to have flawed characters who are incomplete and who complete each other in a more ambiguous way. Luci, the personal demon of Bean, is definitely a part of that trio. I thought, symbolically, it would be fun to explore the idea of all the bad thoughts that are there, in each of our heads, telling us to do the bad things. For me, it’s just … having another cookie instead of working out. [Laughs] I thought it was neat that the bad voices in your head telling you to do the wrong thing are actually manifesting in a little being with a pointy tail.
The ULULU Company for Netflix

For Disenchantment, are the majority of the voice actors pillaged from The Simpsons or your other shows?
No, we have a lot of new voices on the show. The three main characters, I’ve never worked with those actors. Abbi Jacobson from Broad City, absolutely brilliant, great improviser. Eric André, from The Eric André Show, again — fantastic talent and great improviser. Nat Faxon, who has the distinction of winning an Oscar for the screenplay of The Descendants, is wonderful as Elfo.

Elfo says some very bad things sometimes, to the point where we were like, “Do we even put that in the show?” [Laughs] They’re supported by … almost the entire cast of Futurama is in this show, and I’ll be damned, before this thing is over, I’m going to get all of them on here.
Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Aretha Franklin dead: Queen of Soul passes away at age 76

What do you anticipate fan reaction to be to this show, and do you care? People get nervous when Mr. Groening moves into new territory.
Two things: one, I want to give a lot of credit to everyone I collaborated with, including animation, writing, voice acting and music. Secondly, I have no idea what the reaction is going to be; of course, I care too. I want people to like it.

If anything, the older I get, the less I’m interested in the zaniness. I’m more interested in real emotion and exploring that. Although there are a lot of goofy sight gags and some pretty broad jokes, we’re going for a moving series of stories that will perhaps … break your heart? Maybe? We’ll see. We realized we were able to do that on Futurama, so I thought, OK, let’s see if we can do it on this new show.

When we — myself and Josh Weinstein [executive producer] — first started talking about pushing this out, we said let’s plot this like a drama and then add jokes. I think it’s good. We made certain rules like “no puns,” which of course we ended up violating here and there [Laughs] … and no parody. Which we did here and there too. [Laughs]
Story continues below advertisement
It wouldn’t really be your comedy if it didn’t break the rules a little bit.
I have a personal pet peeve in literary fantasy. What is up with the apostrophes in names? Forget it! It’s so annoying. You’re making up words anyway, so why add the apostrophe? So: no apostrophes. We stuck to that rule. [Laughs]

What can your longtime fans expect from Season 1 of Disenchantment?
I hope they’re going to hear jokes they haven’t heard before, and stories they haven’t seen before, and maybe from moment to moment, even though the characters look the way they do, they might fall in love. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll forget they’re watching a cartoon.

‘Disenchantment’ is available for streaming on Netflix on Aug. 17.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
Story continues below advertisement

Sponsored content