The State of Animation: ‘Entergalactic,’ a dreamy mix of hip-hop and unforgettable visuals

Oct. 20, 2022, 9:47 p.m.

Welcome to “The State of Animation,” a column about the wonderful world of cartoons. Animation isn’t just for kids: it’s a medium that allows for ample creativity and is continuing to grow in popularity. From groundbreaking animated movies to dark cartoon comedies, I’ll be showing you a bit of everything. I’m Kristofer Nino, a lifelong fan of animation here to help you find your next animated show to binge and to prove that cartoons are for everyone.

Hip-hop, hookups with exes, nonstop parties, raging hangovers and late-night bike rides through New York City. Is this what you’d expect to see in an animated show?

From the mind of rapper Kid Cudi, “Entergalactic” is an adult animated television special that exceeds expectations, marrying dreamlike visual sequences with a fantastic soundtrack and surprising authenticity. It’s a mature love story set in New York City that follows an artist named Jabari and his romance with Meadow, a photographer living next door. Released on Netflix, this stunning special premiered on Sept. 30 alongside an album of the same name. 

Despite some clichéd rom-com moments and other minor issues, I’d still argue that “Entergalactic” is a must-watch. It takes a sweet story and elevates it with some of the best animation I’ve seen.

The show follows a graffiti artist named Jabari (Scott Mescudi, also known as Kid Cudi), who’s secured a new job as a comics artist. One night he meets Meadow (Jessica Williams), a rising photographer who steals his heart. Over the course of the special, we watch their romance unfold in the sprawling backdrop of the Big Apple. 

Looking at any frame of the special, you’ll immediately notice some differences from typical animation. Handled by DNEG Animation, “Entergalactic” is reminiscent of “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” in its blending of 2D and 3D animation and creative use of a slower frame rate. Because of this mashup of animation styles, the special gains an otherworldly atmosphere in some scenes.

Rather than taking an intensely realistic approach, this special focuses on a distinct, fantastical style. Brush strokes are visible on backgrounds, while bold colors swirl and sharp compositions chart each scene. The effect is that “Entergalactic” looks both unique and nostalgically familiar, echoing the traits of comic books or stop-motion animation.

Furthermore, the animation stands out because of its willingness to balance a grounded city atmosphere with larger-than-life spectacles. Each scene is designed intricately. Watching it, one feels like they’re right in the heart of New York, walking alongside Jabari as he dodges cars, tags billboards and pets bodega cats. In fact, DNEG Animation downloaded a 3D map of Manhattan and rebuilt parts of the city for this project. DNEG’s efforts make the setting feel like a real living, breathing city.

Yet despite its realism, “Entergalactic” truly is “galactic.” In it, everyday moments quickly morph into whimsical sequences shrouded by stars and cosmic formations. In one moment, Jabari is barging into a loud party; in the next, he meets Meadow and the entire screen is lit with the swirling colors of galaxies. 

The visual landscape transforms to emphasize Jabari’s emotions. Cartoons might come to life or characters might start floating toward space. The result is a breathtaking effect that intensifies every mood.

“Entergalactic” is a great example of how animation is a medium versatile enough to tackle adult stories. Sometimes glamorous, but often authentic, it explores the worlds of everyday adults and isn’t ashamed to be mature: characters get laid, indulge in drugs, party too hard and stumble to work hungover. At times, the explicit nature of the story does feel excessive — a couple of the sex scenes stretch on too long, and one in particular (involving Ky, voiced by Ty Dolla Sign) is exceptionally vulgar. However, I can’t fault the special for pushing at animation’s limits, especially since it caters to adult audiences.

All of the adult escapades and animated sequences in “Entergalactic” also flow through the current of Kid Cudi’s unmistakable music. In some ways, this special feels like a vastly extended music video for the album. Each of the songs accentuates Jabari’s infatuation, heartbreak or despair with ethereal instrumentals and intimate lyrics. Everything is in sync, and Kid Cudi’s songs work to cooperate with the plot rather than dominate it. 

Sometimes, we get scenes where characters contemplate and zoom through life, propelled by a chill soundtrack. While some might find these longer musical moments to be dragging, I personally found them to be a refreshing chance to indulge in the meshing of visuals and groovy beats.

My only gripe with the special is with its characters. Don’t get me wrong: the romance that blossoms between Jabari and Meadow is sweet. Although they sometimes fall into clichés, the actors deliver great performances that feel natural and hilarious. However, beyond the two leads, many minor characters fall flat, despite being played by some of the biggest names in Hollywood: Timothée Chalamet, Vanessa Hudgens, Jaden Smith: the list goes on. As fun as it is to see Chalamet voice a goofy pothead or have Smith’s character skateboard onto the screen to talk about relationship issues, a lot of these characters simply feel more like set pieces, never reaching emotional depth. 

“Entergalactic” is an overall success in my book. Aside from a couple of hiccups, it forges a path forward through adult animation with its decision to embrace stylistic animation over purely realistic or cartoonish aesthetics. It’s a special full of incredible music and animated moments that will surely surprise. I highly recommend giving this one-of-a-kind rom-com a watch.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Kristofer Nino is a writer for the Arts & Life section. contact arts 'at' stanforddaily.com

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