In 2019, Vivienne Medrano released Hazbin Hotel. An independently produced and very adult animated television series pilot that was funded primarily from the subscription-based crowdfunding service Patreon, it would become a breakout success with over 45 million views on YouTube, as of writing, thanks to its high quality animation and delightful characters. As a result, Medrano’s patronage has been swelling, thereby affording her the opportunity to develop more projects, such as the short-form sister series in Helluva Boss. Another has been a chance to revisit a web comic she published while attending the School of Visual Arts New York City, ZooPhobia.
ZooPhobia primarily followed a neurotic young woman named Cameron. Out of desperation for a job, she unwittingly became a permanent resident in a magical world filled with talking animals and mythical creatures. The trouble was that Cameron suffered from a terrible case of zoophobia and was now serving as a guidance counselor at Zoo Phoenix Academy, where the very presence of its students and staff scare her. Medrano began publishing ZooPhobia in 2012, but put the comic on pause by 2016 to focus on her Patreon page and developing Hazbin Hotel. Now able to continue the series some more, she has developed an animated short film in Bad Luck Jack.
Bad Luck Jack is a 12-minute short that seemingly looks that the day in the life of Jackson Wells. Jack seems like any other shy and gentle canine student at Zoo Phoenix Academy. Unfortunately, he is cursed with eternal bad luck. At any moment, a terrible accident will befall him. What’s depressing is that he is essentially immortal. So while he can instantly heal from every wound including dismemberment, he will forever feel pain and be regularly hurt by everything that happens to him. When the curse badly depresses him one day, his best friend Zill takes it upon himself to do what he can to cheer him up and tries to protect Jack from the incoming accidents.
Whereas Hazbin Hotel and Helluva Boss were adult shows that were not family-friendly in the slightest, certainly not when both are set in Hell, Bad Luck Jack is essentially the equivalent to a Disney Channel program like High School Musical. Even with instances of bones sticking out for a few seconds or dismemberment after Jack suffers a terrible accident, it is super tame and actually rather wholesome. There’s virtually no blood as the would-be violent effects are very cartoony in nature, like classic Disney and Loony Tunes. The short also happens to contain hardly any sexual references and lacks profanity, making it far more accessible for families to watch.
It is becoming a signature of Medrano’s to be able to independently develop a production with high quality animation and Bad Luck Jack is no different. The crew she has been able to assemble continue to astonish with such beautiful visual designs. Perhaps because the short is more wholesome than Hazbin Hotel and Helluva Boss that everything on screen is incredibly colorful and vibrant in comparison. And yet Medrano and her dedicated crew take great care to ensure each scene is not an assault on the eyes. All the while maintaining an appealing look that is wonderfully defined and detailed. It’s very easy to pause often just to examine and appreciate.
One does not really need to know much about ZooPhobia to get into and easy follow Bad Luck Jack. Medrano and co-writer Amanda Heard crafted the story to focus pretty much squarely on Jack and keep things simple so that it serves more of an introduction to viewers new to the series. There are sure to be some questions asked that the short doesn’t quite answer, such as why Jack wears a cast if he has instant regeneration, or what exactly kind of creature Zill is supposed to be. Fortunately, they’re not really a distraction to the overall storytelling. I imagine other questions, like why Jack is cursed, would be enough to interest folks into checking out the comic.
The characters do come off as rather stereotypical of Disney Channel troupes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any less fun. Jack may seem like any other shy, kind-hearted teen, but the fact that he will forever painfully suffer makes him very sympathetic. Zill is the good-at-everything best friend with genuine sincerity and humbleness that makes him pleasant. A stand-out is Zill’s girlfriend Kayla, a kangaroo whose Australian accent and vocabulary makes her unique to hear as much as watching her caring nature. There are other characters with defined personalities, but little time is spent on them due to the nature of the story’s focus on Jack and the short runtime.
Speaking of the voices, the cast do a pretty good bringing the characters to life. Bryson Baugus hits the right tones to further add sympathy to Jack, though it’s not hard to imagine he might be channeling his best Tom Holland. Joe Zieja works perfectly fine as Zill. I wouldn’t call it generic as it sounded like he was putting a little spin to the voice so that it would not seem as stereotypical as the personality would be. And it’s quite fun to hear Reba Buhr as Kayla because it’s a voice not normally heard from a love interest of a main character. Certainly unexpected after hearing her singing voice, which is provided by Miraculous star Cristina Vee.
Saying that Bad Luck Jack is like High School Musical is more than just an analogy. Medrano has become publicly known for her love of musicals, so it should be no surprise that there are three catchy songs that are fun to hear. The pop romance duet “Make a Start” that opens the short would very much fit like a glove in High School Musical. “The Curse” makes for a nice teen angst ballad that defines Jack’s character quite well. Those two songs, written by Sam Haft, would be perfect molds for Disney Channel programs, while Parry Gripp’s “Monster Fighting Time” is as delightfully goofy as would be expected, and that’s before the sudden lyrical shift.
Following up on the success of the adult Hazbin Hotel, as well as the equally adult Helluva Boss, it’s nice to see Medrano develop something more wholesome with a return to her web comic, ZooPhobia. Bad Luck Jack is a nice little short and is very easy to follow without needing previous knowledge of ZooPhobia. The characters and story may seem typical of Disney Channel programs, so those not fond of such may not enjoy this. Yet there’s no denying the beautiful high quality animation Medrano and her crew continue to produce. Alongside three catchy songs, Bad Luck Jack is a perfectly enjoyable creature that is fun to watch and not fear.
|Zoophobia: Bad Luck Jack|
Available on VOD through YouTube
Directed by Vivienne Medrano