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The Hawks' Herald

The Student News Site of Roger Williams University

The Hawks' Herald

The Student News Site of Roger Williams University

The Hawks' Herald

The problem with Percy Jackson on Disney+

All is not well in the realm of Greek heroes and media gods…

Pushing past the exhaustively repetitive debate over the necessity of reboots, let us assume for a moment that the new(ish) “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series on Disney+ is a welcome and logical next step after the widely panned 2000s movies that drew upon the same beloved book series the new show is based on. Yes, we want original material too, and yes, Disney relies a little too much on remakes these days, but what franchise superfan can say no to a book-accurate screen adaptation?

For a while, none of them. The fanbase of Rick Riordan’s middle-grade saga about Greek mythology and modern demigod heroes crosses age demographics, drawing the loyalty of young adults and kids alike– and all any of them could talk about before the show’s release was their excitement for Disney’s adaptation. The idea was to make up for the heavily criticized 2010 and 2013 film adaptations of the first two books in the series, which drastically aged up the characters and deviated so heavily from the source material that viewers needed a microscope to find traces of the original plot. Needless to say, book fans were desperate for a redemption arc.

Riordan’s literary saga (which now extends far beyond “Percy Jackson”) was published by Disney-Hyperion and the earlier movies were distributed by 20th Century Fox, now owned by Disney, so the House of Mouse was the obvious choice to produce this latest iteration. The content, too, seems to align perfectly with Disney’s media sweet spot: a fantastical adventure, young and lovable characters, and a healthy helping of family-friendly humor. The company even brought Riordan onto the project as an executive producer and co-creator. And when the 13-year-old breakout star of Netflix’s “The Adam Project,” Ryan-Reynolds-in-miniature Walker Scobell, was cast as the titular Percy, fans could not be happier; throw in child actor Leah Sava Jeffries and newcomer Aryan Simhadri (along with a handful of celebrity cameos) and Disney had itself a surefire hit.

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Sort of.

The pilot episode of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” was viewed 26.2 million times in its first three weeks of streaming, earning it a spot in the top five season premieres of 2023. The series has garnered over 110 million hours of streaming in the four months since, according to Disney+. But while the reception of “Percy Jackson” sits at a net positive, the series is far from the lauded gift from the content gods that the company may have hoped for.

Many fans have expressed disappointment over the show’s lackluster pacing and low energy compared to the book series. Of course, it would be impossible to entirely live up to the idea that fans have built up in their imaginations (some of whom have had over a decade to ponder the possibilities), but with the original author onboard, one would hope a bit more of the books’ spirit could make its way through.

“Percy Jackson,” much like “Harry Potter,” is a series often credited with getting kids interested in reading. Its action-packed scenes, relentless wit and colorful cast of characters (many of whom are neurodivergent) have done the impossible: convince Gen Z sixth graders and former iPad babies to concentrate on a bunch of words with no pictures. The books are fast-paced and fun enough to hold the attention of all kinds of kids, not to mention endearing enough to hold the loyalty of those kids once they have grown up. Entertainment like that used to be Disney’s bread and butter– appropriate for children but of a high enough quality to satisfy their parents and siblings as well. If you create a piece of media correctly, it can transcend age gaps; just look at the internet’s latest darling, “Bluey.”

But this new “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” much like a lot of modern “for kids” content, seems to have missed the message. While the show is far from infantile or overly mature, it never quite seems to figure out who it is actually for. The creators are too aware that their age demographic is a wide one, struggling to fully commit to either end of its audience. Knowing that the previous movies were seen as too “old,” they steer away from blatant the aging-up of characters or any mature content, but there is a distinct lack of lighthearted fun in its place.

In a possible effort to avoid “immature” jokes or childish humor, much of the banter has been left out; in the books, quips fly thicker than demigod campers’ arrows, but the series often leaves viewers desperate for a laugh. Those laughs are needed to break the monotony caused by a lack of action. No one can fault the show for not having the budget for more of the latter, but one can’t help but think they could have used a little of that money spent on the Lin Manuel Miranda cameo for a couple extra fight scenes.

Despite all this, “Percy Jackson” has been renewed for a second season on Disney+, giving its writers the rare chance to learn from their mistakes. Rather than walking the very middle of the middle ground, perhaps the team will take a chance and make the story their own, allowing their child actors to exhibit higher energy and making room for a few more laughs– if one thing is for sure, there is no age limit on a bit of fun.

 

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Nicole Kowalewski, Arts & Culture Editor

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