Episodes 1, 5, and 6 were screened for this review.
Lunella (Diamond White) is the perfect role model for any child who aspires to greatness. She is a 13-year-old genius with a secret underground lab, loves her family and culture, and, most importantly, wants to make a difference in her predominately Black and Brown community. Of course, the pint-size heroine is by no means perfect. However, Lunella is willing to learn from her mistakes and grow into the superhero she needs to be. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is one of the most unapologetically Black animated series on the Disney Channel since the premiere of The Proud Family. Along with its straightforward structure, funky fresh beats, and graphic animation style, the cartoon advances the medium by celebrating Black girlhood in all its complexities.
Based on the characters from the popular Marvel comics, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur follows 13-year-old super genius Lunella and her lovable pet dinosaur Devil (Fred Tatasciore). After accidentally transporting the hotdog-obsessed Tyrannosaurus into the modern world, Lunella teams up with the red apex predator to become the dynamic duo: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Together, they protect the Lower East Side (LES for short) from petty criminals and dastardly supervillains. Unfortunately for team Moon Girl, they have a lot of work to do as daily power outages and burglaries force businesses to close shop. To make matters worse, Lunella’s parents are at risk of shutting down their skating rink for good.
Will the Avengers save the LES from its reoccurring blackouts? Nope. They have more important things to do, namely halting the premiere of another paint-by-numbers feature film. Thankfully, Lunella has her brilliant brain, trusty gadgets, and ferocious sidekick to help her find the source of the outages and, God forbid, prevent her loved ones from moving to New Jersey. She even has her manager and newly minted best friend Casey (Libe Barer) to provide killer costumes and social media followers. Lunella may not have the Hulk’s brawn or Peter Parker’s spider sense, but she has something they neither have: Black Girl Magic.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur pays homage to the traditional “monster of the week” structure popularly utilized in cartoons of yore like Sailor Moon and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Similarly to the aforementioned series, the three episodes available for review feature a different fiend for Moon Girl to defeat, such as the electrifying Aftershock (Alison Brie) and the all-powerful, all-knowing Beyonder (the multitalented Laurence Fishburne). This story structure works since it allows young viewers to follow the episodes with ease. Instead of focusing on complicated plot threads or unearned twists, viewers can sit back and enjoy the zany animated fight sequences between Moon Girl and her opponents.
Interestingly, each obstacle Lunella faces is an opportunity for her to learn a valuable life lesson. In Episode 5’s “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” Lunella reveals to her family that her natural hair broke off after she dipped it into a homemade superpowered hair-strengthening serum. During the scene, Lunella’s grandmother, Mimi (Alfre Woodard,) and mother, Andria (Sasheer Zamata,) gently comfort her as they discuss how society refuses to value natural Black hair. According to Mimi, people tend to judge what they do not understand, so they tell Black women and girls that their natural hair is “sloppy, unkempt, unprofessional, or even ugly.”
Even though those words ring false, they have the ability to make Black women and girls feel insecure about their appearance. Sometimes their self-doubt can manifest into harmful actions, like when Andria tells Lunella that she once damaged her hair with a perm. To counter that narrative, Lunella’s mom explains that Black hair is “Versatile, textured, beautiful, political, powerful, bold.” The world may not understand Lunella’s hair. However, it is her job to love her hair, no matter what anyone says. As Mimi remarks, “To love your hair is to love yourself.” This message is powerful because it gives children, especially Black girls, a pathway to acceptance.
Moreover, the musical numbers in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur are a treat for kids—and their parents. As the show’s executive music producer, Raphael Saadiq (former singer of the multiplatinum group Tony! Toni! Toné!) approaches the songs with style and finesse. Consider the show’s terrific theme song, “Moon Girl Magic,”: the retro-inspired funk song, with vocals by White, immediately transports viewers into Lunella’s colorful world with its upbeat and joyful tone. Each episode also features a catchy tune that deserves its own Spotify playlist. Hopefully, Disney will see the merits in Saadiq’s work and release a Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur album after the release of its pilot episode. These songs are a bop!
However, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’s biggest asset is its production design and animation. Thanks to the creative minds at Flying Bark Productions and Titmouse, the cartoon’s style will make older audiences nostalgic for the heydays of The Power Puff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Freakazoid! Like those three animated shows, the cartoon includes bold lines, vibrant colors, and fast-paced animation. Lunella’s character design also takes its cue from American artist Margaret Keane, known for painting figures with oversized heads and wide eyes, and New York City’s graffiti art. By incorporating these elements, the designers create a version of the LES that appeals to the eyes.
Lunella’s existence gives Black girls hope in a world that makes them feel insignificant. No matter what challenges come her way, be it rude comments about her natural hair or villains hellbent on destroying the LES, the superhero overcomes them due to the support of her family and friends. Along with its easy-to-follow episodic structure, the Disney Channel animated series soars partly due to its well-crafted music and designs. Even if Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur only lasts one season, this cartoon will have a lasting effect on children’s television.
Feature image courtesy of Disney Channel
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Season 1 premieres on February 10 on Disney Channel. The first six episodes will release on February 15 on Disney+.
'Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur' - 10/10