Bingeing This Show Almost Broke Me — The Observation Deck: The Owl House
Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations
It has been a while since talking about anything non-Japanese animation related. Not necessarily because of a lack of interest but more a lack of having watched anything new. The last thing now was my review of Vox Machina from March of last year, and since then the second season has come out. So, yeah, it has been a minute.
Out of curiosity and boredom, as most shows tend to appear on my radar nowadays, something reminded me of the existence of The Owl House. At that point, I quickly grabbed my parent’s Disney+ account and sat down for a few episodes. However, this show was…different somehow. A few episodes soon turned into a few more which eventually turned into viewing the entire series in just three days. Even while sitting down to write this, it is not entirely clear to me why the series had this much pull, so this review will be as much about revelation as it will be about evaluation.
For those who have not stumbled across it like a portal to another dimension, The Owl House is an animated series written and created by Dana Terrance and tells the story of Luz Noceda, a young girl whose oddball personality makes her feel like a bit of an outsider. On the morning she was supposed to go summer camp at her mom’s behest, she chases a strange owl into an even stranger house, one which holds a portal to another world. Luz then isekais herself through the portal in order to get her stolen book back and is suddenly in the presence of the Boiling Isle’s most powerful witch Eda, the Owl Lady.
Fantasy Has Never Been More Fun
Fantasy, especially animated fantasy, has always been pretty hit or miss for me. It is a genre space that requires a good amount of work to do well, and if any part of it feels off it can kinda ruin the whole experience. The previously mentioned Vox Machina does a good job at this, but it also had the advantage of existing in the D&D framework and incredible voice work via its source material.
Though it likely was not working with the same budget as Vox Machina which had an insanely successful Kickstarter campaign, Terrance does manage to create an incredibly fleshed-out and infinitely fascinating world within The Owl House. This is even despite the series ending early though that discussion will come a bit later.
For starters, the show’s setting takes place in a world in which demons and witches exist and use magic. Most of said magic is divided up into nine covens, schools which all people who use magic must become a part of in order to focus their studies and avoid the danger of becoming too powerful. If that weren’t enough, most of this world exists on the body of a titan, a being so powerful that its presence is enough to generate magical power, which Luz utilizes to cast spells in place being born with the ability to do so.
There are also various magic schools that exist across the Boiling Isles. The most important is Hexside, since a large portion of the story takes place there, but there are others that hold varying importance from episode to episode. The Owl House itself is also an endlessly fascinating place given that it has a living breathing element to it named Hooty, whose antics only get annoying sometimes, but are, for the most part, incredibly funny.
Oh, to Be a Witch
The Owl House is a story that reminds people to embrace their true selves, and nowhere is that more apparent than with Luz. The show’s setup not only introduces a distinctly new world but also gives Luz the opportunity to be someone else, to be the person she could not be in her own world. While maybe not in as desperate a scenario as, say, Harry Potter, her decision to stay combined with the longing looks she gives her copy of Azura, helps build the feelings that pushed her away in the first place. The author also isn’t transphobic, so that’s cool.
Of course, Luz would not get anywhere with Eda, the “wild witch” living out in the forest with her demon pet King. Eda agrees to mentor the young girl because “us weirdos have to stick together,” a sentiment that informs most of the show’s side cast as well. Willow, Gus, Amity, and many others help Luz on her journey, though talking about their arcs for an extended period would be going into spoiler territory.
That being said, while some characters most definitely get more love than others, everyone feels fleshed out by the end of it. Even the minor characters like Amity’s siblings get something of a redemption arc by the time the final credits roll. Despite knowing about the queer elements of the series before going in, Amity and Luz’s relationship was still genuinely surprising and well done. Speaking of,
The Owl House’s Cancellation and Elements of Queer Narrative
Look, the show’s third season wrapped up well enough. It was an epic conclusion to an amazing show and made it memorable. Still, it would be lying to say that the pacing and characters did not suffer for having the finale be less than half of what it likely would have been based on the episode counts of the first two seasons. For example, it is pretty clear that the writers wanted to do more with Hunter and Willow but just did not have the time to, and thus they got a couple of scenes at the end but nothing major. By no means was it bad, just not as good as it could have been.
There is also the big gay elephant in the room, by which I mean the multiple notable examples of queer characters being present and open in the show. Luz being confirmed bisexual over the course of the series is the most prominent example but other characters, such as Raine using they/them pronouns, imply other flavors of gay being present in the series.
In a Reddit post towards the end of the second season, Terrance addressed the situation by saying she “didn’t want to assume bad faith” on the part of those in charge. However, later in the post she also says that she was told The Owl House did not fit the Disney “brand” and that there were problems with “serialization.”
While Covid almost certainly affected production for just about every show, it should also be noted that other things were happening as well. Most notably, the push for the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida by Republicans led by Ron Desantis, along with the general LGBTQ+ cultural panic that has arisen since. These things by themselves do not necessarily equate to evidence of homophobia being the motivating factor. That being said, protecting the Disney “brand” is vague enough to mean a lot of things a Disney executive probably should not say out loud.
Queer narratives are often defined not just by the presence of such characters, but by outsider status and the acceptance of found family, two things which are massively present in The Owl House. At the risk of falling into the “real magic were the friends we made along the way” trope, much of Luz’s journey is centered on the idea of finding people like her and being accepted for who she is. The Boiling Isles, and all of the people she meets there, give that to her.
Regardless of the stated reason, getting rid of shows like these is a damn shame. They often give people a sense of community and identity that is priceless, especially for younger queer people who do not have the option of just leaving homophobic family members. It speaks not just to the show itself but of a larger hate movement against the very queer people these shows are for.
At least for me, the show is not perfect. The audience skewing older for most of its run did not stop it from having some moments awkward moments. Regardless, there is no doubt the team in charge made something special, it is a shame it had to end prematurely. There is love and joy and hope layered into the frames that will definitely keep a place in my heart for years to come.
Have you watched The Owl House? Let me know in the comments.
If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.
As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting the blog on Patreon.
If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!