20th Century Fox had a hard time in the 2010’s, trying to get their hands on a YA adaptation that would set the box office (and their revenue!) alight. After the failed Eragon film and plans for future sequels, the studio turned to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, even employing the same director as the first two Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus. While the first film had mixed reviews and a modest box office, the second film failed both critically and financially, forcing the studio to shelve the plans for the rest of the series and park it. The 2019 Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox, along with all of its IPs has seen the House of Mouse dive deep into the archives to attempt to breathe new life into the existing properties and regrettably hasn’t landed a big hit to date. Fortunately, this adaptation of Percy Jackson & The Olympians is the best reboot of Fox’s IPs by fixing a lot of the mistakes the movies made. The first one is allowing the author of the books to write the script for the series. Allowing the creator of this world to bring the world to life faithfully has paid off in spades. This goes hand in hand with the casting of the young actors who look like they are actually 13 years old and will be allowed to grow into their roles as the series (hopefully) moves forward.
The first episode involves many setups and introduces the characters and who they are. So if you have read the books and seen the previous movies, you already know what you are in for. Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) is an only child to Sally (Virginia Kull), who fell in love with an unknown god and was forced to raise Percy on her own. On a field trip, Percy has a run-in with a school bully and his teacher that forces his lineage to the surface. He is taken to Camp Half-Blood, a refuge for demi-god children to learn the ways of the gods and how to exist in the human world with the powers they possess. His best friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri) is a satyr and protector. who is trying to hide him from his maths teacher (Megan Mullally), who is not what she appears to be. Once Percy and Grover are safely in the camp, they meet Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries), who helps Percy discover the identity of his father, and which house he is to stay in at the camp.
After spending some time with the 12 houses at the Camp, which represent the 12 Olympians in Greek mythology, Percy is chosen by his father to go on a quest to retrieve Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt and rescue his mother, who has been captured by Hades. Along for the ride are Grover and Annabeth, who must travel across the country to reach the Underworld, with a lot of obstacles in their way. Godly beings and ancient Greek myths are hiding in plain sight, all trying to stop the demigods from reaching their goal. It’s this, mixed in with the discovery of who these teenagers are, and who they are destined to be, that keeps the episodes engaging. This show is clearly aimed at the tween market, it does however have an endearing quality that makes it appealing for all ages the more it progresses.
Visually this series surpasses most Disney + shows and to be fair the two previous films. The traditional style of Greek gods and monsters helps bring this world to life and make it feel authentic, as opposed to the cartoonish attempts in the previous film versions. Camp Half-Blood feels like a summer camp from childhood, with all of the rustic wood and outdoorsy cabin structures for accommodation and of course is set on a glorious lake. A lot of attention has been at integrating the Greek world with the modern world. Mullally’s fury transformation is breathtaking and the upgrade on Medusa from the previous movie version is proof that sometimes less is definitely more.
With stellar visuals, it really does come down to the incredible casting that is on display here. Scobell’s take on Percy is updated for Gen Z. His frustration with not knowing who his father is, and only wanting to find out why he didn’t care is compelling. His struggles with his diagnosis of ADHD and how that messes up his ability to learn when fully realised that it is actually because of his Greek heritage is portrayed perfectly. Jeffries delivers a home run as Annabeth. While it would be easy to compare the character to Hermione from Harry Potter, there is a fierceness and warrior-like take on her performance that puts her on the same level as Percy. Simhardi’s take on Grover serves as the balance between Percy and Annabeth, quite often the peacemaker of the group, trying hard to keep everyone focused on the mission and how they will be getting to their next checkpoint. The production team struck gold with this trio and I can’t wait to see them evolve as this series goes on.
A special shoutout does have to go to Jason Manzoukis for his brief but memorable appearance as Dionysus aka Mr D. The subtle blend of comedy amongst the tween angst and self-realisation is played at the exact right moment and is enough to lift the mood. Seeing Mullally outside of a comedic role was a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one at that. Expecting a Karen Walker-style quip or musical number about female genitalia seems a world away from her performance here and it’s a welcome one at that.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians is a complete triumph. If anyone wants to adapt a series of novels that failed previously, this should be the pillar of what to look to. Employing the original author to helm the script and having control over the casting and production seems to be the magic ingredient here. The natural blend of the Greek mythical world and the current one is built seamlessly, allowing for the more fantastical creatures and characters to fit right in. Percy Jackson & The Olympians is a god-send and sets a new standard for streaming series.
You can stream Percy Jackson & The Olympians from December 20 on Disney + with weekly episodes.
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