Kristina Elyse Butke
Magic & Mayhem: A Review of "The Owl House" Season One
I had never heard of The Owl House before until my sister recently recommended it to me, and kindly added me to her Disney account so I could watch it. And luckily, it's not region blocked in Japan, so I was able to (although season two is currently unavailable). It came highly recommended due to its diverse representation among race, gender, and sexuality, as well as being neurodivergent-coded and having metaphors for chronic illness, whether mental or otherwise. This is on top of being a fun story about a human girl who wants to be a witch...and as you know me, I love stories about magic. I had to give this one a try.
Luz, a self-assured teenage human girl, accidentally stumbles upon a portal to a magical new world where she befriends a rebellious witch, Eda, and an adorably tiny warrior, King. Despite not having magical abilities, Luz pursues her dream of becoming a witch by serving as Eda's apprentice at the Owl House and ultimately finds a new family in an unlikely setting.
-- Disney Plus
Story: At its most basic, The Owl House is a portal fantasy about a girl (Luz Noceda, played by Sarah-Nicole Robles) who wants to do magic. It's also a story about how she has trouble fitting in because she's imaginative, spirited, and is different from others. That's the big theme of The Owl House--being different (or divergent) vs. "normal" (or conforming). We explore this not only with Luz but with multiple characters and situations throughout the show.
In the beginning of the series, Luz is in the principal's office for getting a little too creative and enthusiastic (and maybe a little destructive) at school. Her teachers, her principal, and her mother Camila (played by Elizabeth Grullon) are all exasperated by her behavior and interests. Camila decides to enroll her daughter in a summer camp (literally named Reality Check) for three months to get Luz in line, and watches Luz discard her unique interests in the trash (for example, tossing her favorite book about the witch Azura into the garbage).
On the day she's supposed to go to camp, Luz follows a mysterious, trash-grabbing owl to a portal to the Demon Realm, and she ends up in the Boiling Isles, styled after the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch. The Isles are the skeleton of a fallen Titan (pretty cool, right?) and there, Luz meets Eda (played by Wendie Malick), also known as the Owl Lady, and her demon companion, King (played by Alex Hirsch) …and a whole slew of many other characters.
Once Luz learns that Eda is the most powerful witch in the Boiling Isles, she decides she wants to learn magic. While Eda's tutelage is unconventional, Luz finds out there's a magic school on the Isles known as Hexside, and she does what she can to enroll, making friends, rivals, and wreaking havoc along the way.
Meanwhile, as I mentioned before, the themes of conformity and divergence come up repeatedly throughout the show. There's even a prison on the island called The Conformitorium where the more unique members of society are tossed in and locked away. Eda herself is wanted on the Boiling Isles and constantly threatened with being thrown into this prison...and Eda is someone who definitely, and repeatedly, rebels against conformity.
While these themes definitely make sense as something pre-teens and teens would be interested in (creator Dana Terrace said Disney executives noted the audience "skews older") I think it appeals to a wider swathe of viewership--like anyone who has, at any point, struggled with being different and feeling like an outsider who has been told to conform and get a reality check. On top of that, given the show's inclusivity and coding, this is a series that is truly meant for everyone.
The themes the show employs, along with its sense of humor (and a little bit of the macabre), make a great show that has been very fun to watch.
Our show's heroine, Luz, is Dominican, bisexual, and possibly coded as having ADHD. To me, she seems like a perfectly normal teenage girl, but maybe that's because I too was "weird" growing up, had a wide array of interests, and wanted to learn everything about everything. Luz struggles with being "normal," has her head in the clouds, and is full of wild fantasies due to an active imagination.
But Luz is so much more than this. She's heartfelt, genuine, optimistic, and take-charge. She has integrity when she deals with her friends and loyalty to Eda. She tries to see the best in all people, like with how she won't give up on Amity (who starts the series out as a bit of a bully). Luz is a great character to follow through the series and I think she's entertaining and makes some of the funniest facial expressions! I really enjoy watching her onscreen.
EDA and KING
Eda (played by Wendie Malick) is my favorite character because I identify with her the most. She's like a more mature Luz when it comes to dealing with the issues of conformity, expressing yourself, and rebelling. Now, Eda exasperates Luz quite a bit, but it seems Eda has learned the lessons Luz is going through in the series already, and is looking on those situations with the knowledge of someone who's "been there, done that." Much of what she has to say, despite some odd deliveries and dispersing of wisdom, comes from experience. I think she's actually a great mentor for Luz when it comes to learning magic and learning about life, despite Luz not always being enthusiastic about their partnership.
Probably what drew me to Eda right away, besides the fact that she is an older character, is her curse. Cast on her by her sister, there isn't really a cure for it and it is something Eda has learned to live with--she takes an elixir regularly to keep her monster owl form at bay, but sometimes it resurfaces--and the way the show handled this, and Eda's discussion of it, right away I thought of my own mental illness. It's really well done. I don't know if it's a metaphor for mental illness, or chronic illness specifically, but the way Eda describes it nonchalantly as something she's always dealt with and will continue to really spoke to me on a deeper level. This show does that--you can find yourself within it and somewhere, out of nowhere, it'll just connect with you in a way you don't expect. I don't know how else to describe it.
As for King, played by Alex Hirsch, he's just an adorable and fun little fluff of a demon who constantly deals with being underestimated for his size and cuteness, and is called "King" because he claims he was once the King of Demons. We haven't really gotten much about that this season, so I'm assuming we learn more in season two. Anyway, I don't have much to say about his character, only that he's an entertaining addition to the Owl House.
Also voiced by Alex Hirsch, Hooty is the owl of the Owl House, living in the door (not exactly a door knocker, but kind of like one). There's not much to his character but I find him hilarious. I learned he was originally a bad impression of Mickey Mouse but the creator, Dana Terrace, liked it so much, the voice was kept. I'm glad. I think Hooty's voice is really funny and Hooty seems to just get more deranged-sounding and hyper as each episode continues.
WILLOW and GUS
Willow (played by Tati Gabrielle) and Gus (played by Isaac Ryan Brown) are Luz's friends at Hexside. Willow is bullied despite being a brilliant witch with plant magic, and Gus has a fascination with humans and is good at illusion magic--so good that he was admitted to Hexside at a young age (he's only 12 and pretty much in high school. At least, I think Hexside is a high school). Anyway, Willow and Gus have very different personalities but are great friends to Luz. Gus is definitely the more excitable of the two and I think he provides comic relief, while Willow is a calmer force. I like both characters.
Amity (played by Mae Whitman) is a bit of a complex character because she starts out as the antagonist and a bit of a bully and know-it-all, but as the season continues, she begins to make up for her past actions and reveals herself to be a good person, despite having made some bad choices with how she treats other people, like her former friend, Willow. I've delighted in seeing Amity's crush on Luz bloom ("She can be so stupid, which I love... I mean hate! In any case, she needs you right now, which is sweet... I mean, I hate it and it's dumb!") and I was glad we got to see Luz and Amity together at the Grom (Hexside's version of the prom). I'm glad to see Amity working hard to be a better person, and that's what makes her an endearing character to me.
Animation: I don't have much to comment on with the animation. I'm used to Japanese and Korean animation, which I find beautiful, and I wouldn't call this show "beautiful." But it's well-animated, bright and colorful, expressive, and definitely weird. Take a look at the Boiling Isles, for example:
That's a pretty strange landscape! And I have to give a shout-out to the oddball monsters, too. I guess the style is to be expected from a creator who was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. It's all bizarre, but it works.
Voice Acting: Everyone is well cast. I think my voice acting VIPS are Sarah-Nicole Robles, Wendie Malick, Alex Hirsch, and Mae Whitman, though, for range and expressiveness. Plus, they're given a lot of great lines to say, which helps!
Low Points of the Season: Hmm...I couldn't really find a low point to this show.
High Points of the Season: As a writer I got a kick out of the episode where King becomes a bestseller ("Sense and Insensitivity").
There was a lot of goofing on the industry, and perhaps a little snark that got me twitchy when one of the characters says they're going to self-publish, but overall it was a good episode that appealed to my writerly senses and also developed Luz and King's friendship more.
Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed watching The Owl House. It's not my favorite series, but it's up there as a great experience with a lot more going on underneath the surface of the story. Greatly inclusive and welcoming, I think this show is for all viewers--you can find something of yourself in the story and characters as you watch, and I think that's the show's greatest asset. I'm disappointed Season Two, which is airing in the US, is not available for streaming in Japan yet, so it's going to be a while before I review the next part of the series, but I hope you're looking forward to it. It sounds like things get a little darker and deeper as the show continues, and I'm excited to learn more about characters' pasts and the conflict growing even further...plus, the power of friendship! Da-Duh!