Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur makes a lot of obvious changes to the comic book series by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, aging the titular hero up from nine to 13 and removing all of her connections to the deep comics mythology of the Kree and Inhumans. But the most powerful change seen in the series pilot, “Moon Girl Landing,” is just how happy and comfortable in her own skin Lunella Lafayette (Diamond White) is. Rather than presenting the comic version of the character – an anxious, misunderstood genius desperate to find a place where she can really demonstrate her brilliance – the show anchors Lunella deeply in her community, creating an empowering tale that thematically and stylistically emulates Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
A charming introductory musical number takes on the appearance of an animated comic strip, popping with vibrant colors as Lunella skates through New York’s Lower East Side and quite literally sings the praises of her diverse neighborhood. But when its beloved small businesses – including the roller rink Lunella’s warm multigenerational family runs – are threatened by a rash of mysterious blackouts, Lunella suggests calling in the Avengers only to be told that the superheroes both have bigger fish to fry and also don’t really go below 14th Street.
It’s a clever way to distinguish the tone and stakes of this kids show from the higher-powered stories of the rest of the MCU. It also draws attention to the neighborhood’s vulnerability. Much like in Vampires vs. The Bronx, a dark if goofy force threatens to rip apart the fabric of the community and it’s up to some plucky kids to bring everyone together to fight for what they have.
That means it’s time for Lunella to use her considerable intellect and Dexter’s Laboratory-style science lair to save the day. When Lunella accidentally opens a portal while attempting to decipher the notes of a missing super scientist, she’s joined by a red tyrannosaurus with the personality and proclivities of a loyal dog. Lunella’s social media and marketing-obsessed classmate Casey (Libe Barer) pretty aptly describes Devil Dinosaur (Fred Tatasciore) as Clifford, and he’s expressively animated as mischievous and gleeful as he stomps around on the hunt for hot dogs.
Lunella quickly gets the idea to combine her brains and her new friend’s brawn, and the 45-minute premiere follows all the classic origin story formula as she finds a crucial friend and ally in Casey, puts together a costume pulled straight from the comics, experiences some early successes followed by some big setbacks, and eventually saves the day.
None of that is surprising – this could easily be a child’s intro to the superhero genre — but they’re well executed. Lunella is very much following in the mold of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as she gets cats out of trees, and even the stakes of her biggest challenge are entirely grounded. The world isn’t in jeopardy if Lunella fails to stop the electricity-stealing villain Aftershock, who’s voiced with maniacal glee by GLOW and Community star Alison Brie. Her family might just face the horrible fate of having to move to New Jersey. (The repeated fourth wall-breaking refrain of “No offense to Jersey” is the episode’s best gag.)
But by spending so much time building up the Lower East Side and the quirky people who live there, the episode makes a case that the neighborhood’s unraveling would be akin to the end of a world. The New York of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur has the same colorful and musical vibrancy found in Into the Spider-Verse. While the show’s characters might not be as well realized and its fight scenes aren’t as dramatic, it’s admirable that the team behind it is trying so hard to emulate the pinnacle of modern superhero animation.
Loosely based on the Marvel comic of the same name, the premiere of Disney’s ambitious animated series Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur tells a charming if predictable superhero origin story geared towards kids. But while it relies on well-established genre story conventions, the upbeat soundtrack and colorful animation might also win over older fans looking for something similar to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.