A word of warning about Hazbin Hotel. It is not a family-friendly program by any stretch of the imagination. It is very much an adult-oriented show that features a high amount of profanity, over-the-top violence, and awfully strong sexual innuendos. As if that weren’t enough, the show is set in Hell where debauchery and degradation frolic freely. Any one who is rather sensitive or very uncomfortable with such subject matter being displayed before them would best steer clear. You have been warned.
Hell has a seemingly never-ending overpopulation problem. The solution Heaven has concocted is to annually send angels to exterminate demons. Desiring a more peaceful resolution, Charlie the Princess of Hell has opened the Happy Hotel. Her goal is to rehabilitate demons so that they may ascend to Heaven. Only the denizens of Hell have absolutely zero interest in becoming better souls, wanting instead to continue to indulge in their sinful vices. But Charlie is determined to make her optimistic dream come true, even if it is a lost cause.
Hazbin Hotel is an independently produced animated series. It has no real major backing aside primarily from what creator Vivienne Medrano has made through her page on the subscription-based crowdfunding service Patreon. To do so, she had to have possessed a delightful visual aesthetic and a fascinating storytelling approach to garner a large enough following to be able to financially amass a talented crew to produce high quality animation for the pilot episode. And that is exactly what Medrano has been able to do, winning over fans with her webcomic Zoophobia and a fan-animated music video to “Die Young” by Kesha that has nearly 50 million views on YouTube to date.
The animation is outstanding. The visual designs are unique and vibrant. The colors flow swimmingly and breathe the kind of life one might see from an animated series on Disney Channel or Cartoon Network. Sure everything looks rather demented and deranged, which is what you would expect with a setting like Hell. And yet there’s a beauty to how they all appear that they’re rather pleasing to the eyes. Each scene contains something appealing to look at, from the splendid characters to the amazingly defined backgrounds. It’s the kind of lovely animation that one can easily find themselves pausing often just so they can examine and appreciate all of the details throughout the frame.
For the pilot episode, Medrano and her co-writers Dave Capdevielle and Raymond Hernandez manage to fit just enough story into 30 minutes to be intriguing. There’s a nice juggling of moving the plot along at a decent pace with introducing a fairly sizable cast of characters. I think how they mapped everything out works quite well as I was absorbed into everything that I often forgot the episode ran for 30 minutes. A lot happens from start to finish, at one point two scenes jump around back and forth in a kinetic fashion that threatens to be too much. Fortunately, everything gets pulled back enough times to let the premise and the core story develop more comfortably.
What really makes the show enjoyable is the characters. Charlie definitely stands out as perhaps the only happy, uplifting soul within a sea of deviants. She is so charming and endearing that you feel for her whenever her positivity takes a hit. Her girlfriend Vaggie is caring and protective while having little patience with everyone else. Angel Dust, the hotel’s spider-like first guest, is so flamboyant and unabashed that he’s appealing even at his most despicable, which is quite often and intentional. But the show-stealer is new business partner Alastor, The Radio Demon. He is charismatic and extravagant with smile-inducing flare while making it subtly clear he is as evil as he’s feared to be.
Bringing these wonderful characters to life is an equally wonderful voice cast. Jill Harris provides just the right tone for Charlie to make her heavenly. Michael Kovach clearly sounds like he’s having a blast going as far over-the-top as he can with Angel Dust. Monica Franco gives a great voice to Vaggie that is a nice counter balance to the eccentricity of the other characters. Edward Bosco, of course, is just magnificent as Alastor. He fits the 1930s radio personality voice perfectly, certainly when aided by the sound effect to make it seem like he’s talking through a old-timey speaker.
A defining feature of the show is that it is a musical comedy. While it would be easy to mimic Danny Elfman given the look and setting, Medrano and her composers Evan Alderete, Gooseworx, and Thomas Ryan adhere to a more classic approach akin to vaudeville. Along with a melancholy rendition of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”, the pilot features a heavy metal infused ballad with the fun “Inside of Every Demon is a Rainbow” and the wonderfully inspired “Alastor’s Reprise” hearkens to the era it pays tribute to. Simply put, the songs are great.
There is of course the worry that the pilot is all that will be produced of Hazbin Hotel. That Medrano was able to fund a full crew to develop a program of high quality it astonishing. Yet there’s only so much that be done with a budget built mostly through Patreon. It took years for the pilot to be released after being first announced. Not to mention maintaining the same or similarly dedicated crew and continuing to produce the animation at such high quality is sure to be a challenge without financial stability. With that said, she has developed a following that was strong enough to get the pilot made. And with the finished product being as good as it is, there’s a chance a bigger audience will build to help increase the financial resources needed to produce more episodes.
Through it all, though, I strongly believe that Hazbin Hotel could possibly flourish into an amazing series. It’s for sure not for families and some will feel uncomfortable with the subject matter. Nevertheless, the outstanding high quality animation for an independent production, excellent characters backed by a wonderful voice cast, and the catchy inspired show-tunes make for a fantastic program well worth checking in to. It’s crazy, it’s strange, and it’s perhaps one of the finest shows of the year. Maybe even one of the best.
Pilot available on VOD through YouTube
Created, Directed, and Produced by Vivienne Medrano