Marvel’s new animated series brings with it lots of heart, catchy tunes, and an adorable fire-breathing T-Rex.
The story follows 13-year-old Lunella Lafayette (Diamond White), a science whiz who lives with her family in the Lower East Side. When constant blackouts continue to plague her neighborhood and put her family’s roller rink in danger, she takes it upon herself to try and solve the problem by emulating her hero, the mysterious, vanished scientist known as “Moon Girl,” whose body of work will help her build an independent power grid for the Lower East Side. Because things are never as simple as you think they’re going to be, her early efforts to solve the problem wind up creating a whole new issue — namely, the arrival of a giant, fire-breathing T. Rex via time portal. While terrified at first, Lunella quickly sees the advantage to her prehistoric pal, who serves as the brawn to her considerable brains.
Also helping Lunella out in her mission to improve the lives of those living in the Lower East Side — because superheroes like the Avengers rarely venture so far south — is Lunella’s new best friend Casey (Libe Barber). Every bit as socially adept as Lunella is shy, Casey is the only one in Lunella’s life who knows about her alter ego, and acts as Moon Girl’s social media manager. Though their friendship might have started through Casey’s desire to grow her social media following and Lunella’s attempts to keep her secret identity a secret, throughout the series the two develop a very sweet, strong friendship.
Given its aim at younger viewers, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur operates very much on a “case of the week” basis, with Lunella confronting a different supervillain in each episode. But the series is not strictly about defeating the bad guys, as it is also very much a story that tackles very real issues around growing up, with storylines that would not be out of place in a non-superhero setting. What makes the whole thing work so well is the way it combines the superhero side and the real-life side of things so seamlessly. Instead of Lunella’s conflict with her peers or her family revolving solely around trying to keep her Moon Girl identity a secret from them, it often feeds directly into whatever supervillain problem Moon Girl is trying to solve.
One of the more powerful examples of this is in the season’s fifth episode, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” which follows Lunella trying to create a chemical that will change the appearance of her hair ahead of picture day, and instead turning her hair into a vengeful, independent being (voiced by Jennifer Hudson no less). The premise of the episode, at least as far as the styling of hair goes, is one that White says the series drew from her own experiences growing up. Much like any story with a fantastical element, the heart of the story works best when it is true, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is absolutely packed with heart.
As a whole, the show feels like something of a spiritual successor to both The Powerpuff Girls, with its over-the-top villains and very stylized action-oriented animation, and Phineas and Ferb in the way it approaches creative children and the fantastical solutions they concoct to their problems. Like Phineas and Ferb, Moon Girl also features child protagonists who are intelligent and tech-savvy, and overall feels very modern while still keeping a timeless quality about the whole thing. Yes, Casey is on social media a lot, and yes, issues that are getting a lot more rightful attention now than in years past (gentrification, Eurocentric beauty standards, etc) are raised in this series as well.
But the series never crosses that jarring line of trying so hard to be relatable to kids that it winds up dating itself in just a few short weeks. The writers and performers trust in their story, and in the relevance and relatability of Lunella’s life that they let that do the work for them. It’s clear from the first episode that the people of the Lower East Side love and embrace Moon Girl and all she does for them, a sentiment that easily carries offscreen as well. With Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, audiences who aren’t used to seeing themselves as the hero onscreen now also have a superhero they can call their own.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur premieres on Disney Channel on February 10.