'Skull Island' Review: A Girl and Her Dog
Brian Duffield developed and wrote the series, starring the voices of Mae Whitman, Benjamin Bratt and Betty Gilpin, now streaming on Netflix.
Now Streaming: As plucky heroine Annie says early, "You're safe here. That's what people say before they die."
The first animated production in the so-called MonsterVerse is also its most family-friendly, which doesn't mean, however, that children of all ages should be invited to gather around the television and watch the eight-episode series.
Indeed, people die in practically every episode, sometimes in icky, bloody fashion, often without having any emotional effect on other characters, which probably accounts for its self-imposed TV-14 rating. Brian Duffield, who developed the show and wrote every episode, is a Hollywood veteran; his credits include Spontaneous, Love and Monsters, Underwater and The Babysitter, none of which were especially family friendly. The series features his pungent, dark sense of humor, though it's been restrained in service of the story, with an emphasis on dealing with loss with the family unit. (To my relief, it also has a minimum of profanity, which litters far too many 'adult animation' titles on Netflix.)
The aforementioned teenage Annie (Mae Whitman, child actress turned seasoned performer and veteran voice talent) has grown up entirely alone on an island, with only a wild animal, or 'dog,' as her companion. She's a true wild child, with a ferocious sense of self-preservation and fierce loyalty. And, yes, she favorably reminded me of Madison Russell, played by Millie Bobby Brown in both Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
Charlie (Nicolas Cantu) and Mike (Darren Barnet) are similar-aged teenage best friends who end up marooned on Skull Island when their ship sinks, along with Charlie's explorer father Cap (Benjamin Bratt). The island is where they, along with Annie and her 'dog,' encounter Irene (Betty Gilpin), the leader of another group with their own agenda.
The first two episodes are action-packed as they introduce the leading characters, who come into immediate danger from a giant squid in the ocean, only to be met with a myriad of creatures on the island that are all looking for their next meal. Not until Episode 3 do we meet the most famous inhabitant of Skull Island, which leads to revelations in Episode 4 that place the series in the aforementioned MonsterVerse.
The 2D animation favors a traditional look. The characters and creatures are well-designed and animated, though the 2D animation can't truly capture the giant size of its most famous character, in comparison to his environment. He doesn't really stand out, as he does in live-action, even though he's animated there by different methods.
What captivated me about the series was, first of all, the exceptional writing by Brian Duffield, who unfolds layers of his characters progressively, amidst the series' action-first priorities. They are based on friendship, loyalty, and deep emotion, with humor sprinkled in to leaven the mood. It also helps that the episodes keep under 30 minutes each, which makes it frightfully easy to binge all eight episodes. Here's hoping that more will be coming. [Netflix]