From the onset, TRON: Uprising has a lot going for it. The animated series boasts a truly impressive cast of actors lending their voices to the denizens of the Grid – as well as a look and feel that pushes the series beyond the normal animated fare currently on television.
Unlike programs such as Young Justice, Green Lantern: TAS or even Disney XD’s recently launched Ultimate Spider-Man, TRON: Uprising is working with an underdeveloped mythos in a world that has been briefly explored by film narratives intent on seeing human characters escape from the confines of the Grid, rather than explore it. While initially narrow in its scope, TRON: Uprising does offer an intention to peel back the layers both feature films left largely untouched. And for people who were expecting more from TRON: Legacy, this animated program certainly seems ready to fit the bill.
For starters, Uprising looks amazing and the character design is truly fantastic. But does that mean the series has anything more to offer than something pretty to look at? Well, yes and no. Unlike its feature-film predecessors, Uprising has some extraordinary action and dynamic fight choreography (such as a disc battle atop a speeding train with illuminated signs whizzing past). Here, in the world of computer animation mixed with traditional cell shading, the light trails of the speeding machines and the highlights of everyone’s suits play against the simple, monochromatic black of the rest of their bodies. Uprising’s character design is its biggest attribute; it is distinctive and stylish, and it works. Each character is defined either by broad shoulders or impossibly long legs (or a combination of the two), which serve to accentuate their bizarrely lanky, yet decidedly fluid bodies.
Every character has a unique, slightly alien look to his or her design. The main character, Beck (Elijah Wood), feels like the quintessential hero – barring a slight resemblance to Morrissey – while the majority of his male acquaintances seem to have more of an outlandish, one-of-a-kind quality to their faces. Meanwhile, the female character design is where the aesthetic really defines itself. Mara (Mandy Moore), Paige (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Perl (Kate Mara) have their personality seemingly defined by the composition of their faces. Mara is bright, adventurous and optimistic, while the other two maintain a more sinister, dangerously alluring appeal – one obscures half of her face with a slightly androgynous hairstyle, and the other is one step away from becoming a smoldering femme fatale.
The lion’s share of the credit for any early success of Uprising is due to art director Alberto Mielgo, and character designer Rob Valley – the artist behind the equally impressive Gorillaz music videos. If some of the character movements and body styles seem familiar, it’s because Valley also worked on MTV’s Aeon Flux, which the producers have claimed was an influence on Uprising from the start.
But Uprising’s design isn’t limited merely to the “programs” we are meant to form an attachment with. The show’s aesthetic allows the creators to offer some new designs and tricks that weren’t seen before in either of the previous films; namely, that of frenetic action set pieces illuminated by the walls of light cycles or simply the luminescence of each individual’s body suit. In one particular sequence, Beck and fellow prisoner Cutler (Lance Reddick, Fringe) are tethered to one another and must do battle with three light cycles for the pleasure of a massive audience and the series’ main antagonist, General Tesler (Lance Henriksen). The sequence is thrilling and moves at a good clip (this is a half-hour program, after all), but it also works to shrug off the mostly languid approach to action both of the feature films had.
Beyond looking great, what does TRON: Uprising have to offer fans of the series? Well, initially, the thought of watching what would ultimately be a failed revolution against Clu (Fred Tatasciore) might come across as somewhat pointless. After the pilot episode ‘Beck’s Beginning’ and now the series premiere, however, Uprising has developed into the familiar, but still quite alluring tale of a seemingly ordinary individual rising to meet his destiny. The story is so simple, effective and inviting, that it causes one to wish the premise of Uprising had become the plot for Legacy.
The series is now set to develop its own mythos that ties into the already established lore of the TRON universe. What’s interesting is that without a truly human component (i.e. either of the Flynn boys) acting as the stranger or sage of the Grid, the programs are allowed to go about their own storylines. They are free from having to deal with an interloper desperate to escape the confines of their world, and that serves to make each program all the more interesting. No longer are they background characters, obliviously carrying on while a tyrant and a human battle for the future of their world; they are now active participants in the future of the Grid. Perhaps this view is a tad over-ambitious for a series like Uprising - but to be honest, in two half-hour segments, an animated program has managed to craft a more intriguing premise filled with more distinctive characters than were found in Legacy.
Throw in a rich, moody score by Joe Trapanese that is at once reminiscent of Batman Begins while still very much embedded in the TRON universe, and TRON: Uprising is shaping up to be a memorable addition to a series many had thought long past its prime. As it stands, TRON: Uprising may afford fans an exploration into the possibilities of not only the Grid, but of the larger TRON universe as well.
TRON: Uprising airs Thursdays @9pm on Disney XD.