For Cuphead creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, seeing their characters come alive on television is beyond just exciting — it’s an out-of-body experience.

“There’s almost no words for it… it blows our minds,” Chad tells IGN. “I can’t quite tell you what it’s like because when I watch it, it almost feels like I’m watching it but I’m outside my body watching it… It’s crazy, we can’t even conceive that this first indie game we created is now this super high-quality, fun Netflix show.”

The Moldenhauer brothers’ dreams of creating a television show reminiscent of the golden age of animation dates back years — well before Netflix approached them with the idea to adapt the Cuphead video game into a cartoon show, and even before development of Cuphead started over a decade ago. The dream goes back to when they were just two kids parked in front of the television watching cartoons.

While many of us grew up on contemporary cartoons, the Moldenhauers grew up on the true classics from the 1930s. We’re talking characters like Betty Boop, Bimbo, Popeye, and countless others from the era. It was from this inspiration that the Moldenhauers created Cuphead: the 2017 run-and-gun video that looks and sounds just like those classic shows. Now, their characters have made the jump to Netflix with The Cuphead Show.

The Cuphead Show is a product made in 2022, but it feels like it’s been plucked straight out of the 1930s and modernized with color and new animation technology. The upcoming Netflix show based on the video game serves as both an homage to the characters and concepts from the Cuphead game as well as spiritual successor to many of the earliest and most influential cartoon shows ever created.

The new show follows the misadventures of brothers Cuphead and Mugman as they visit various locations across Inkwell Isle — the same location seen in the Cuphead video game. Many side characters and bosses from the game return, but they’ve been fleshed out with new personalities and relationships to fit the television format. The series emulates the formula of classic cartoon shows, with snappy, 10-minute episodes, a focus on cartoon violence, and an animation style that’s instantly reminiscent of Popeye and Mickey Mouse.

The show seems to have successfully captured the core elements of the game and classic cartoons. We called the show “amazing” in our review, saying, “The Cuphead Show captures the essence of the popular game, giving fans old and new a surreal, exhilarating, chaotic, and all-around fun throwback cartoon with memorable characters and stunning animation.” It makes sense, then, that the show’s executive producers and writers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the era of cartoons they’ve lovingly brought back to life.

“When creating the game we watched a ton,” Chad said. “It’s ongoing. There was a point where you start your day or end your day watching a ton of cartoons…You build this weird encyclopedia of knowledge that’s only useful if you’re making Cuphead.”

“If you’re gonna have breakfast why not watch a cartoon or two. If you’re gonna have supper why not watch a cartoon or two,” Jared adds.

How Cuphead draws inspiration from the game

Chad and Jared are the creators of Cuphead and developers of the original game (the syllables in Moldenhauer are what inspired the name, Studio MDHR). They served as Executive Producers for The Cuphead Show, alongside Cosmo Segurson, Dave Wasson, and CJ Kettler. IGN had a chance to speak with both Moldenhauer brothers and Segurson about the process of creating a show that borrows so much from the golden age of animation.

The lead inspirations for The Cuphead Show are cartoons from Fleischer Studios and Silly Symphony. Fleischer Studios was founded in 1929 by the Fleischer brothers, and it served as the main competitor with Walt Disney throughout the 1930s. The studio created cartoons starring characters like Betty Boop, Bimbo, Popeye, and Superman. Bimbo — a pup who is Betty Boop’s main love interest in the cartoon series — is a personal favorite of the Moldenhauers.

Silly Symphonies was produced by Walt Disney during the 1930s, and the series features over 70 musical short films. The inspiration is clear in The Cuphead Show, as most episodes have a big, feature musical number in addition to the bombastic theme song.

Both Segurson and the Moldenhauers have a love for this era of animation that dates back to their childhoods. Segurson says he used to watch Popeye cartoons at a Saturday film festival in Los Angeles for hours on end, which jumpstarted his complete obsession for the 1930s animation style. Meanwhile, Chad and Jared say bargain bins at video stores played an instrumental role in introducing them to the style they’ve successfully emulated with Cuphead.

“This is all even just tied back to when we were younger,” Jared said. “The 99 cent VHS bins were so prolific, you could find them anywhere, and it was cheap enough that you could nag your mom and dad to be like, ‘maybe we can get an extra cartoon.’ They just didn’t happen to be the cartoons of the era. So we ended up with a stockpile of Silly Symphonies, ComiColor, Fleischer Studios things, and that stuck with us.”

Still, the Cuphead universe carries its own personality despite its strong ties to other animation influences. One of the most entertaining parts of the show is how it plays around with Cuphead and Mugman’s literal cup-shaped heads, with fun moments like a bowling ball landing on the top and cracking the cup, or the characters grabbing each other by the handle on the back of their head to yank them along. Physical interactions and cartoon violence tell the story in The Cuphead Show, which was very important to the writers.

“Because they are cups with handles we are able to play with the physicality of it all,” Segurson said. “I think one of the main goals of the project was to do sequences that involve humor and relationships that do not rely on dialogue. That was really really important to me.”

The creators also turned to the game to gather inspiration for how the characters would interact in the show. There’s not much plot or dialogue in the Cuphead game — much of the characterization comes from facial expressions and animation. However, there was one key shot the writers of The Cuphead Show used to help define the relationship between Cuphead and Mugman.

“In the game there is that storybook sequence before you start playing, and we really analyzed that,” Segurson said. “Some of that characterization of Cuphead and Mugman in particular comes from one drawing that’s in that little storybook at the beginning, when Cuphead is at the gambling table and Mugman is looking scared. That kind of told us a lot.”

In the show, Cuphead certainly comes across as the headstrong, impulsive, decisive brother, while Mugman is the timid, scared, dorkier sibling. While the dynamic is reminiscent of classic fictional sibling relationships Mario and Luigi, the Moldenhauer brothers also say Cuphead and Mugman are lightly based on themselves, with Chad’s personality taking root in Cuphead, and Jared’s in Mugman.

“There’s a lot of love and joy”

Beyond the core relationship at the heart of the show, many of the game’s bosses and side characters make an appearance in the show. From the Devil taking center stage as the show’s primary antagonist, to boss characters like King Dice, Ribby and Croaks, and the Root Pack getting more time to shine, fans of the game’s aesthetic and characters will find a lot to love about the show. But the most passionate fans of all are the Moldenhauer brothers themselves, who can’t believe what their little creations have turned into.

“There’s a lot of love and joy,” Jared said. “It’s like watching your children grow up. It’s like you’re so proud of every little step and the way that they grow. From the game, to some vinyl figures, to some posters, and now they’ve grown into a television series. So to go through the whole process and see where they finally end up, and having such a talented team at Netflix bring them to life, it’s like magic.”

The Cuphead Show hits Netflix on Friday, February 18. And, the game’s DLC, Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course, is coming this June.

As for what’s next for the world of Cuphead?

Chad would only say, “You’ll have to wait until we announce five years too early for our next project!”

Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN. You can find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.


Source: IGN Video Games All
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