Vox recently made a video about how “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” forced animation to evolve. And by “animation,” I am specifically talking about American animated films. So, animation largely used to be hand-drawn and two-dimensional in nature (and it’s my favorite form of animation, with stop-motion being a close second). But after the success of “Toy Story,” 3D-CGI animation became more popular. As is customary in the entertainment industry, every other studio started to replicate the “Disney-Pixar look,” thereby straying away from surrealism and focusing more on realism. Then, in 2018, “Into the Spider-Verse” hit theaters, and the animation in it literally looked like a comic book in motion, filled with thought bubbles, action lines, expressionist backgrounds, and exaggerated character models. Its success meant that audiences didn’t just want the “Disney-Pixar look.” And that’s why we’re getting animated films like “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “The Bad Guys,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and the topic of today’s discussion, “Entergalactic.”
Created by Scott Mescudi (or Kid Cudi) and Kenya Barris, directed by Fletcher Moules and written by Cudi, Ian Edelman, and Maurice Williams, “Entergalactic” follows Jabari (Kid Cudi), an up-and-coming artist who has been hired to work for Cosmic Comics. He gained popularity by graffiting his original character, Mr. Rager (Keith David), and now he has moved into a swanky apartment in Manhattan to turn Rager into a comic book series. That’s when he comes across his ex-girlfriend, Carmen (Laura Harrier), and they show signs of being attracted to each other. But his best friends, Jimmy (Timothée Chalamet) and Ky (Ty Dolla $ign or Tyrone William Griffin Jr.), advise him to keep her out of his life and move forward. After hooking up with her, though, he realizes that he doesn’t have enough space in his life for Carmen, and he asks her if they can just be friends. Soon after that, he comes across his neighbor, Meadow (Jessica Williams), while she’s holding a noisy party, and sparks begin to fly.
Although the name suggests that there’s something cosmic involved, “Entergalactic” has a fairly simple story. Jabari thinks that he isn’t ready for love again because his ex still looms heavily over his life. He has a new job which, as described by one of his colleagues, Len (Arturo Castro), is bright, light, and white. So, as a Black man himself, Jabari is afraid that he is going to lose the rawness of the character, Rager, he has created in the process of making his own comic. He is clearly struggling to strike a balance between his personal time, time spent with his friends, and his working hours. And when Meadow comes into his life, and he becomes a part of Her’s, things start to mellow out. Even with the little conflict he faces, courtesy of Carmen, it’s resolved fairly easily because it seems like the point of the movie is to show a misunderstanding like that is merely a hiccup in the journey that these star-crossed lovers are on.
However, the fact that there’s not much conflict and the story largely revolve around Jabari and Meadow, as well as the stories being told by the people in their lives, isn’t a critique against “Entergalactic” at all. That’s exactly what it wants to be. It wants to show us that Jabari, Meadow, Ky, Jimmy, and Karina are trying to have a pretty simple and chill time. Even the ones who are a little chaotic – Carmen and Reed (Christopher Abbott) – don’t seem to be overly vindictive in nature. They all come off as humane, real, and, most importantly, relatable. And this groundedness is aptly contrasted with the visual style, which is so expressionist, emotive, and diverse. Keep in mind, it is reminiscent of the aesthetic of “Into the Spider-Verse,” but at the same time, it’s nothing like it. The movement of the virtual camera, the color palettes, and the general pacing at which the characters communicate aren’t all that kinetic. It feels like Fletcher, Mescudi, and their team just want you to sit down with them and vibe out.
There are two in-movie reasons for it. Firstly, the protagonists smoke weed. Secondly, “Entergalactic” moves to the beats of Mescudi’s tunes, which are all quite calming, atmospheric, and conversational, because the movie is a celebration of Mescudi’s genius. The most memorable one is “Angel,” as it plays over the scene where Jabari and Meadow actually see each other. They crossed paths a couple of times before that moment. But that is the first time Jabari locks eyes with Meadows and is blown away by her whole aura. And the way the beats, the lyrics, the visuals, and the narrative complement each other, you’ll not only want to fall in love like that, but also wish this becomes you and your significant other’s song. “Willing To Trust,” “Do What I Want,” and to be honest, everything in here is fantastic and made all the more special due to Fletcher’s direction, Carole Kravetz Aykanian’s editing, and the gorgeous artwork created by DNEG Animation and all the artists in the VFX and animation departments.
With all that said, I don’t want to give the impression that “Entergalactic” is a wholly mellow ordeal. It often breaks the overall momentum of the film to do some of the craziest things your eyes have ever seen, while also giving you a peek into the characters’ minds. For example, when Ky explains why one should never hook up with their neighbor, his story essentially becomes about how he hooked up with an attractive girl. So, the animation veers away from its usual style and mimics the art style of all those risqué adult comics that are found on websites that ask you if you are over 18 years or older. If you know, you know. Again, when Downtown Pat (Macaulay Culkin) tells his story about falling in love with a girl who later robbed her, the animation mirrors prehistoric caveman drawings. And when Jabari dreams about the death of the old Mr. Rager (which is Mescudi’s personification of a destructive mindset he says he used to have) and the emergence of a new Rager, the animation becomes a cross between the video games, “Mirror’s Edge” and “Superhot.”
The character designs in “Entergalactic” toe the line between looking exactly like the actors who are voicing them and looking nothing like them at all. If you don’t look up the cast list or recognize any of the voices, you’re going to get an idea that the film features Mescudi, Jessica Williams, Chalamet, Ty Dolla $ign, Laura Harrier, Vanessa Hudgens, Christopher Abbott, Keith David, Arturo Castro, and Macaulay Culkin, but not be overly distracted by it. However, as soon as you see those names, the similarity between the artwork and the voice actors is the only thing that you are going to notice. Okay, they don’t give Chalamet’s Jimmy his iconic hair. Apart from that, everyone looks very recognizable, and that automatically enriches the viewing experience. Mescudi and Williams get the most amount of voice time (is that the voice acting equivalent to screen time?), and they are excellent. And so is everybody in the cast. I wish the film had more of Keith David interacting with Mescudi to establish how different they are. Also, it’s cool to learn that Maisha Mescudi (Scott’s real-life elder sister) plays Ellie, Jabari’s older sister.
In conclusion, Kid Cudi’s debut single, “Day ‘n’ Nite,” which was released all the way back in 2009, was full of hand-drawn animation and rotoscoping. Now, he’s here in 2022 with “Entergalactic.” So, it’s gratifying to see how he has not only evolved in terms of his music but has also kept his penchant for telling stories through animation alive as well. In addition to that fact, it is highly likely that “Entergalactic” is going to end up being one of my most rewatched movies of all time. It has the perfect amount of escapism, calmness, romance (even though I don’t think I’m romantic), and visual comedy, all of which are accompanied by some of the best music I’ve heard all year. And that is the exact combination of elements that I need to get through this year (and every other year that lies before me). I would’ve been happier if this had been released on the big screen because it’s so good. But, hey, we make do with what we have, and what we have is a lo-fi masterpiece.