Amphibia: Anne or Beast?
August 1, 2021 10:15 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

In a land of sentient amphibians and their many predators, vagrant One-Eyed Wally runs into the town of Wartwood claiming to have seen a monster. Young frog Sprig Plantar disobeys his grandfather to go look it, but it's not a beast at all: it's 13-year-old Anne Boonchuy, a human from another world.

Amphibia (on various Disney services and Hulu) is an interesting show. Like other current-day adventure cartoons such as Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, a lot of it is sitcom-like, self-contained stories, but by pieces they add up to a bigger story, and ultimately it goes to surprising places.

Amphibia currently has two complete seasons. Season Three begins October 2021. Like Gravity Falls, the show was intended from the start to be of a limited duration.

The characters:

Anne Boonchuy is self-centered at first, but becomes more considerate through her constant life-threatening adventures in Amphibia. She has a cellphone (without signal) that never seems to run out of battery (which is explained!), and an almost-bottomless backpack full of Earth stuff (not explained). She becomes a surrogate member of the Plantar family, and their relationship is the heart of the show.

Sprig Plantar is a young frog with a sense of adventure, and Anne's first real friend. He kind of goes overboard when he gets hold of an idea.

Polly Plantar is a fierce pollywog who sleeps in a bucket. Essentially, she's a rubber ball with arms and a tail. She doesn't let being legless stop her at all.

Hopadiah "Hop Pop" Plantar is head of the family and the kids' grandfather, surrogate in Anne's case. He's a poor farmer who sells vegetables in town. He takes care of the kids due to Sprig and Polly's parents getting eaten by herons when they were young. He butts heads with Anne sometimes due to their different cultures.

The shape of the overall story so far:

Season 1 is mostly about Anne getting to know the Plantars and the citizens of Wartwood. A story also develops about Sasha, a friend of Anne's from Earth, who was also sent to Amphibia but to another place. They reunite, to some consequence, at the end of the season.

Season 2 starts out with a trip by Anne and the Plantars to the city of Newtopia to find out about the music box that sent Anne and her friends to this world. There, they find Anne's other friend Marcy, who has been there all the time, and meet King Andrias, ruler of the land.

Andrias discovers information about the music box, called the Calamity Box, in his castle's library, and tells Anne that it doesn't work because its gems have lost their power. Anne and the Plantars return to Wartwood to prepare to travel to three temples to recharge the gems. At those temples, each of the three girls completes a trial to recharge one of the gems, then they return to King Andrias for a momentous final episode of Season 2.

We already know a bit about Season 3, but to mention it here would be a huge spoiler....

Why write up Amphibia for Fanfare? It's fun, it's often hilarious, it has tremendous heart, and it has a similar style to Gravity Falls in art, humor, and continuity. (It outright references Gravity Falls in a couple of places!) Where it falls short is a lot of early episodes feel like one character has to wear the Stupid Hat this week to cause that episode's conflict and moral, although that diminishes later. It's made for kids, but the writing is sharp enough that adults can enjoy it too, which is one of my favorite kinds of shows.
posted by JHarris (9 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One-Eyed Wally is a minor character who appears in a number of episodes.
Sprig's pollywog sister Polly makes adorable noises when she eats candy.
Note, Anne is missing a shoe. She wears only a sock on that foot for six months.
Anne hasn't eaten in a while, but Sprig introduces her to edible mushrooms. That and vegetables must be all that Anne eats until she develops a taste for insects.
In this episode, Anne has probably been in Amphibia for a few days, sleeping in a cave. We see the inside of that cave in a later episode.
At the end of the episode Anne takes out a mysterious music box, the means by which she was sent to Amphibia. She came with two friends, but she doesn't yet know where they are or even if they came with her. We meet them later.
Anne has a cellphone that, although it has no signal, only runs out of charge once despite frequent use, but there sort of is a reason for that.
The reason that Anne cannot leave the valley containing Wartwood is winter snows. In fact, Anne would probably be more resistant to cold than the frogs, being warm-blooded, and later we find out she had a wool jacket in her backpack all along. It is far to go, though.
The first four episodes of Amphibia (this, Best Fronds, Cane Crazy, and Flood, Sweat, and Tears) take place on consecutive days.
If Anne seems to be a bit stronger than you would expect a 13-year-old girl to be, there may be a story reason for that, but we don't find out about that for two seasons....
Predator of the episode: preying mantis.
From the backpack: Anne's cellphone.
posted by JHarris at 10:22 AM on August 1, 2021

BTW, if I may suggest someone else write up The Owl House and CentaurWorld? I already do two shows, and may end up finishing Amphibia....
posted by JHarris at 10:25 AM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also, watch carefully. When Anne holds up the preying mantis's claw, the dots of her eyes glow blue slightly.
posted by JHarris at 12:28 PM on August 1, 2021

Oh, and I missed it, also in the backpack: the music box itself.
posted by JHarris at 12:32 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

This series is a favorite, and I'm glad you are calling it out. It is definitely for kids, but enjoyable for adults too. The first season in particular can have a "lesson of the episode" feel, but I love the world building (mushroom lights, giant snails to pull carts) and Anne's found family getting closer as time goes on, and her growth feels earned as the series progresses.
posted by gudrun at 6:31 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

One thing Amphibia does sometimes is the Gravity Falls trick of having morals while also referring to them, which helps a bit, that the characters have enough self-awareness to see that it's going on.
posted by JHarris at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Amphibia is one of our favorite shows. I had to dye a shoe so that my kid could dress as Anne for Halloween last year. She still wears her SJMS shirt all the time.
posted by eckeric at 4:02 PM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's great yes, it's really grown on me. I can recognize the elements that presumably have to be there for kids cartoons right now (obvious morals, certain stock jokes, hypercompressed storytelling), but there are also episodes with really sharp writing. I think it picks up more in Season 2, though.
posted by JHarris at 5:45 PM on August 2, 2021

(For what I mean, check the episodes Grubhog Day and Family Fishing Trip, those seem to be on the better end of S1. Both were written by Michele Cavin.)
posted by JHarris at 5:47 PM on August 2, 2021

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