Tron: Uprising, an arrestingly-captivating new animated original series on the Disney XD channel, brings viewers back into the grid with the dynamic visuals, electrifying music and gripping storytelling that rekindled audiences with digital dazzle in Tron: Legacy.
Set between the original Tron and Tron: Legacy, Tron: Uprising focuses on mechanic-turned-renegade Beck (voiced by Elijah Wood), a deft programmer living in the stunning Argon City. Beck’s free-thinking society is soon threatened by the menacing General Tesler (Lance Henriksen), one of the evil CLU’s cohorts, who aims to take charge of the metropolis. Once his friend is “derezzed,” or the Tron version of someone being killed, Beck avenges his death by disguising himself as believed-to-be-dead hero Tron and inspiring a revolution. In the intense prologue special, “Beck’s Beginning,” we see this as almost an origins story, provided with heavy exposition to better understand the characters and storyline.
The revolt starts with Beck exploding a giant statue of CLU – haven’t we seen that type of upheaval before? – and then we see science-fiction play out in full force. Tron is not deceased. He is alive! The thick-voiced Bruce Boxleitner reprises his role as Tron, enlisting Beck to lead others in this fight against oppression. “Show everyone that as long as Tron lives, there is still hope,” he tells the young guy, unsure of his own abilities. Once Tesler and his brigade recruit “volunteers” for the perilous games in the coliseum, the game entirely changes. This is just the treacherous initiative Beck needs in order to fully-commit to his game-plan of fulfilling the desires of Tron. And so begins the uprising.
In the most recent episodes aired, a two-part thrill ride that explores Beck’s mission, Tron trains the rebel in the secluded canyons he calls home. Lightcycle races and deep conversations are punctuated by Beck’s eventual capture to fight in the coliseum. He partners with another commanding programmer, Cutler, to escape this threatening territory. Meanwhile, a sub-plot involving Beck’s friends Zed (Nate Corddry) and Mara (Mandy Moore) focuses on naïve Zed falling for an alluring girl named Perl in a night-club. Soon Perl steals Zed’s boss’s lightcycle, and it’s up to the two friends to retrieve the bike.
What makes Tron: Uprising such a dynamic piece of “programming” is its high production value, mixed with quality in nearly every aspect of the show. Whereas Legacy suffered from overly-complex ideas that went unresolved, Uprising has the advantage of delving into more of the back-story. Placing this series’ timeline in between the two films was an intelligent design, as we can now follow what is happening at a more comfortable pace. Nevertheless, the rhythm to Uprising is always fast and surprisingly-compelling.
Like a joy ride, thrills and spills are interposed with some quieter moments, but somehow the excitement manages to continue at the same rate – no matter the speed. The characters display more depth than meets the eye. Each looks distinctly-different, with variations of the glowing suits, and the voice talent is top-notch. Boxleitner’s role as the imposing Tron, though limited, brings the necessary authority, while Wood delivers as protagonist Beck. Despite the solid casting, at times it seems like action scenes take over dialogue portions. That is where Legacy and its film predecessor succeeded most, and Uprising is no exception.
While this may just be an animated television show, it almost feels like a vigorous mini-series. Credit the fantastic art direction for much of that, as every vista signals “wow” moments. From the scenes set against the mountainous hideaways to the towering landscapes, the attention to detail stuns the eyes. The kinetic atmosphere, full of glows and rays that radiate the murky landscape, possess fantastic imagery. In one scene Beck temporarily takes cover from CLU’s army by hiding in a pile of snow. That looked neat. In another, he and Cutler are locked together and forced to battle against their opponents in the shiny, massive coliseum, an additional example of the painstakingly-developed stylized look. Everything here seems thought-out for the right reasons.
Similarly, the musical score stresses intrigue and amazement, elements that made Legacy so astounding to the ears. There’s good reason why, as Joseph Trapanse, who composes the score for Uprising, served as arranger for Daft Punk’s music in Legacy. Certain cues carry from the film to the series, but some discrete rhythms cycle in for good measure.
Each of the already-aired three episodes – or rather, the prologue special and two-part episode – moved at a brisk pace, never lingering too long on one action scene or set-piece. Integrating computer-generated imagery to characters that are more-or-less two-dimensional (though they are contextually “rounded” characters) add great depth to this world, known for being multi-layered and vibrant. Some elements fail to work as intended, as the club scene was more laughable than amusing – again, this is a children’s show, so some leeway is expected. Dialogue clichés appear several times each episode, most notably when Beck and Tron converse. Perhaps some of the silliness and whimsy carry charm in an otherwise-bleak environment.
I cannot remember the last time I watched a “cartoon series” where I was continually in awe and engrossed by everything that filled the screen. Disney has long aimed to develop a franchise for boys, and with Pirates of the Caribbean fading in appeal and many other wannabe versions of that brand’s appeal failing, Tron may be Disney’s best hope. Well, that is, in conjunction with the Marvel properties that they are leveraging in full force on Disney XD. This possesses practically all of the components of an entertaining action series, with magnificent vistas, stimulating skirmishes, interesting characters and even some subtlety when the scene requires. Whether the forthcoming episodes retain this high energy and extreme stimulation remains unknown, but Tron: Uprising has already demonstrated a dedication toward superior creativity and value. Guesses are that we’re all want to remain on the Grid for many cycles to come.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Join me again next week for another edition of Disney In Depth!