I never came across the early Carmen Sandiego computer games in the 80s, but I was in college when the PBS series Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? debuted in 1991 and I have vivid memories of watching it in my dorm every day after class. I was only vaguely aware of the various cartoon spinoffs and subsequent computer games that followed throughout the 90s, and never had any great sentimental attachment to the character. So I greeted the news of a new cartoon series on Netflix with mild curiosity at best. The early teasers I saw looked interesting, and I liked the look of the character designs, but I didn’t have terribly high expectations going in.
This week my kid and I watched all nine episodes of the first season of Carmen Sandiego, and it has quickly shot to the top of our list of Most Awesome Animated Shows. With Gina Rodriguez voicing the titular character and Finn Wolfhard voicing her hacker pal Player, the new series reimagines Carmen Sandiego as a kind of globe-trotting Robin Hood, stealing historical treasures back from the villainous V.I.L.E. and returning them to their rightful owners, all while keeping ahead of the superspies of ACME who are hot on her heels. The character designs by Chromosphere’s Kevin Dart (whose work I raved about on my blog ages ago) are gorgeous, the animation by DHX Media is fluid and lively, and the music by Lorenzo Castelli and Steve D’Angelo is note perfect. It is a jet-setting superspy thriller with great action and genuine laughs, and with a healthy dose of educational content in every episode.
Since watching the series I’ve acquainted myself with the backstory and lore established through the various game shows, computer games, and cartoon spinoffs, and was surprised to learn just how much the new series draws from the earlier iterations, including the return of Rita Moreno (who voiced the character in the first cartoon adaptation in the early 90s) in a key cameo role. In terms of cartoon reboots, this is on par with the new DuckTales series in terms of creating something that feels fresh, new, and relevant while being constructed almost entirely out of elements that had already been established in earlier versions of the franchise. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and we can’t wait to see the second season!