Starring: BD Wong, James Hong, Matthew Rhys, Ming-Na Wen, AJ LoCascio
Plot Summary: “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” takes viewers back to 1920s Shanghai where the Wing family first meets the young Mogwai called Gizmo (AJ LoCascio). Voiced by Izaac Wang, Sam Wing (future shop owner Mr. Wing in the 1984 “Gremlins” film) accepts the dangerous task to take Gizmo home and embarks on a journey through the Chinese countryside. Sam and Gizmo are joined by a teenage street thief named Elle (Gabrielle Nevaeh), and together, they encounter—and sometimes battle—colorful monsters and spirits from Chinese folklore. Along their quest, they are pursued by a power-hungry industrialist named Riley Greene (Matthew Rhys) and his growing army of evil Gremlins.
When I think about movies that truly tapped into a sense of wonder and excitement as a kid, two titles come to mind: Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and the zany and satirical Gremlins. Joe Dante hammered home my love of cartoon-style mayhem and monster movies, which was all wrapped up into one goopy concoction. Beetlejuice is getting a long-awaited sequel next year, and Gremlins finally has a new installment in the form of an animated series.
Yet, I think I was scared. Even though nothing will take away my love for the original Gremlins and its better sequel (yes, come at me), I still craved a worthy follow-up. Thankfully, that’s exactly what you get and so much more. In a truly stunning scene, the series opens on all kinds of different Mogwais roaming free in a green and lush environment. We don’t know if it’s on Earth or, like the novelization, an alien planet. But before we can really get used to things, a furious action scene breaks out, which in turn neatly sets up the core conflict.
This leads us to one of the main points with this newest installment, which is worldbuilding. For such a beloved IP, Gremlins only has the two movies and some novel tie-ins. This leaves so much room to truly expand the story and the mythos. The showrunners really craft a well thought out world that feels grounded, yet, like the original films, just under the surface of reality is completely magical and breathtaking. That’s the thing, this show truly does have a sense of whimsy and wonder whilst also not shying away from some good old kinder-trauma. For example, the main big bad, named Riley Green (Matthew Rhys), unhinges his jaws to literally swallow someone’s soul. It is a moment that does make you cheer some, if only for the fact that rarely do you see kids’ media going as hard on some good old fashioned nightmare fuel.
The colorful cast of characters and new villains are also incredible, and each could easily get their own spinoff someday. For those of you wondering, this is a serialized show, so you will need to watch each episode in order to understand the story. The animation style is highly stylized and, while some may find it jarring, it serves the show quite well. What we get is a charming mix of CGI animation, which still retains this hand painted cell animation quality. The scale and scope of the CGI is very impressive as it gives it a fuller glimpse into this whimsical world.
The voice acting is top notch with James Hong (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Big Trouble in Little China) giving an effortlessly stellar performance. Hong is a living legend, and his presence here really cements this as something very special. Ming-Na Wen plays Fong Wing, and BD Wong plays her husband Hon Wing. Like Hong, Ming-Na-Wen and BD Wong do a fantastic job at bringing these animated characters to life. Newcomer Izaac Wang really proves he can hang with these veteran actors and is impressive in how natural his performance is. Secrets of the Mogwai also has an incredible supporting cast that includes Bowen Yang, Sandra Oh, Randall Park, and even Zach Gilligan, who played Bill in Gremlins 1 and 2. Of course, we can’t forget Gizmo, who is voiced by AJ LoCascio. LoCascio does a great job at highlighting the cute and sassy nature character.
In a landscape seemingly dominated by cashing in on your nostalgia, it’s a rare and beautiful thing when we get an excellently done re-imagining of a classic IP. Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is a magical and fast paced thrill ride that greatly opens up the world that Joe Dante created.
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai will premiere on Max on May 23, 2023.
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is a magical and fast paced thrill ride that greatly opens up the world that Joe Dante created.
Big film nerd and TCM Obsessed. Author of The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema from Schiffer Publishing. Resume includes: AMC’s The Bite, Scream Magazine etc. Love all kinds of movies and television and have interviewed a wide range of actors, writers, producers and directors. I currently am a regular co-host on the podcast The Humanoids from the Deep Dive and have a second book in the works from Bear Manor.