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TV Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender 1.1 “The Rise Of Voltron”
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Voltron: Legendary Defender
Season 1 Episode 1: “The Rise of Voltron”
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, Kihyun Ryu, Eugene Lee, Steve In Chang Ahn
Written by Tim Hendrick, Joshua Hamilton, May Chan
Starring Tyler Labine, Jeremy Shada, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Josh Keaton, Steven Yeun, Rhys Darby, Keith Ferguson, Kimberly Brooks
Netflix
Premiere date: Friday, June 10th, 2016

When I was a kid there was no greater 2-hour block of TV than 3:00 – 5:00 after school on FOX. It was 4 straight kickass cartoons, all of which launched me into action figure glory. The shows were She-Ra, He-Man, Thundercats, and Voltron. As for Voltron, memories of my Dad dashing around Brooklyn to various Toys R-Us locations in an effort get me all five lion toys that together would combine to form Voltron. In my house phrases like “I’ll form the head”, and “Form blazing sword” were common speak. Nearly 30 years later, Netflix has brought the series into its growing array of original programing with an 11-episode opening season that premiered on Netflix just this week. The show features the voice talents of Tyler Labine (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil), Jeremy Shada (Adventure Time), Bex Taylor-Klaus (MTV’s Scream), Josh Keaton (Green Lantern: The Animated Series), and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead).

Spoilers for episode 1 of Voltron: Legendary Defender

The names you may remember from childhood, Lance, Hunk, and Pidge are three young aspiring space explorers. In a training simulator, Lance (Shada), Hunk (Labine) and Pidge (BTK) argue their way to simulated space death. To prove they can bond as a team, they sneak out and find Pidge on the roof scanning the universe with homemade equipment. He informs them of impending alien activity and that all across space, one word keep getting repeated… Voltron.

Soon a ship crashes and inside is formerly kidnapped pilot Shiro (Keaton). He has a new metallic arm and is quarantined away, raving about aliens. Shiro is a legend at the academy, and Lance will lead to team to rescue him… but not before rogue pilot Keith (Yeun) shows up. Soon all 5 are together and make a daring escape. Once safe, Shiro continues to mention the word “Voltron” as the thing the aliens were looking for. They use some makeshift tech to find a sort of Voltron pulse, and soon they’re falling down caves and face to face to with the blue lion. They quickly get a collective vision of VOLTRON, the giant sword wielding robot in outer space. Lance takes the lead, jumping into the pilot seat, and blasting into space to immediately duel with one of King Zarkon’s ships.

The lion leads Lance and the team through a wormhole, and towards its home planet Altea, where it takes them to a castle. They walk through the cavernous palace before entering a control room, where soon the royalty wake up (for the first time in 10,000 years). Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks) informs them that Zarkon defeated her people, and is searching for Voltron to conquer the universe. Zarkon (Neil Kaplan) gets wind that the blue lion returned home and builds an army to recapture the lions.

Allura welcomes the challenge of her old foe, and tells the group that the lions pick their partners. Shiro gets the black lion, for he is a born leader. The green lion goes to Pidge because it’s inquisitive and daring. Yellow to Hunk for his mighty heart, and ability to put the needs of others before his own. Red goes to the temperamental pilot who is quick to fly with his instincts, and that’s Keith. They split up to gather their lions across the galaxy.

All but the red lion are gathered, and in order to get it they might go to the belly of the beast, an alien ship out to destroy them. We learn that Shiro was captured with two other pilots, who were Pidge’s father and brother. As they go off to find them, Keith locates and earns the respect of the red lion. Shiro shows off some impressive fight skills… we don’t exactly know how he got them. They return with the four lions right in time as Zarkon’s assassins show up. Shiro gets his black lion and there’s only one thing left to do…

“I can’t believe this!” – Keith

“How are we doing this?!” – Lance

“We formed Voltron!” – Pidge

I’m a LEG!” – Hunk

The show has some genuinely funny moments, especially the interaction between the team. Hunk stands out as my favorite throughout the episode, mainly because he reminds me exactly of Tyler Labine in Tucker & Dale, and his natural charisma carries well into cartoon form. And the space pilot who gets air-sick is kinda hilarious. I am also a huge fan of Bex Taylor-Klaus from her work on Scream, and Pidge’s struggle with confidence and acceptance translates well too.

While it occasionally gets a bit sophomoric with the humor, it totally plays on the nostalgia for people my age and older (I’m 34), and appeals to a younger audience as well. Watching Voltron form in a mirror of the way he did in the original cartoons, while my kids sat next to me was all sorts of awesome. I am glad that all the rest of the episodes in the season are only 23 minutes, as the 70 minutes did feel too long at times.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is streaming on Netflix now, free with monthly subscription.

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