Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Lost Kingdom Hearts Pilot Is…Actually Really Good

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This past week, an animatic of a pilot episode of a canceled 2003 Kingdom Hearts animated kids show hit the internet thanks to Seth Kearsley, an executive producer on the project. If you were hoping to watch this for yourself, well, Disney was pretty quick on the ball to strike the whole thing down. You know what they say, though, once something hits the internet, it never really leaves. This thing is going to be out there for anyone truly wishing to see it.

And you know what? If you are a fan of Kingdom Hearts, you should really check this out.

Riku and Sora from the Kingdom Hearts pilot

To be clear, this is far from a finished project. This pilot is an animatic, which is just the storyboards for what would be the episode lined up in succession with voice acting and a soundtrack. It is the full episode yet it also is not. If picked up, you could be sure that the final product would have looked significantly better.

That being said, well, this was genuinely a surprisingly well made version of a Kingdom Hearts show. Consider me blown away. I admit that I can be quite the snob about entertainment, and especially television. My snobbishness only increases when something I love is involved and I LOVE Kingdom Hearts. This is especially true of the first game, which would have been adapted by this show, as I practically revere the first Kingdom Hearts as one of the truly great games ever made, and certainly one of the most influential pieces of media of my life.

So when I say this pilot was a pretty strong adaptation of that story, that means it worked past my tendency to snob, as well as my natural assumption that any video game adaptation will suck. I am thoroughly impressed by how this pilot set a foundation to be its own thing while also retaining all the core elements that made Kingdom Hearts so special.

The runtime is only 11 minutes, as you’d expect from a kids show, and that 11 minutes is used to pack quite a bit of essential content in. There is an introduction by Jiminy Cricket to explain the concept of different Disney worlds, the Heartless threat, Disney Castle, and a short dream version of the loss of Destiny Islands to the Heartless. From there, you get a setup familiar to the series. Sora, Donald, and Goofy visit Agrabah looking for Sora’s friends and King Mickey. They run across the Heartless. Riku shows, and unknown to Sora is working for Maleficent. This leads them to the Cave of Wonders, where they come across Genie’s lamp, Riku’s true nature reveals itself, and he is “kidnapped” by the Heartless.

As you would expect from a kids show, there is also tons of action and jokes on top of it as Sora and company battle the Heartless.

It all feels so familiar and faithful to Kingdom Hearts, while also managing to adjust things in new directions. The snark and rivalry between Sora and Riku feels ripped straight from those tutorial sections on Destiny Islands. Riku’s seduction to the darkness alongside Maleficent would seemingly be expanded and feature in each episode. Sora’s spunky positivity and heroism is balanced alongside his sorrow over trying to find his lost friends. Donald doesn’t get much to do, but Goofy’s, erm, goofiness is in full display, but also lets him be effective in a fight.

Most importantly, while obviously having that rushed, somewhat shallow feel that you would especially expect from a cartoon in 2003, it generally feels fun. The action and music look cool. All of the in-between character moments hit the right notes. Some of the dialogue surprised me with how simply effective and foreshadowing it is. The pacing works. There is so much potential here.

So much, in fact, that it kind of makes me sad that this animatic’s lasting legacy is going to be memes in the Kingdom Hearts community, mainly owed to the early, unpolished nature of the art. Don’t get me wrong, I freaking loved it, too. Some of the expressions are absolute classics and the scene where Maleficent yeets Jafar was a gut-buster. Half the fun and charm of this pilot is owed to how rough and weird everyone and everything looks compared to the game.

I would have loved to see a finished product, though. Hidden in this early draft is something Kingdom Hearts fans would have absolutely loved once it was polished up and made ready for air. Most of the original voice actors seemed to have returned for the project, the concept was good, the execution had potential…it feels like a missed opportunity.

With how quick Disney moved to strike this video down, maybe a Kingdom Hearts project of their own is in the works and they don’t want anyone else benefiting in any way from it. Until such a magical (or disappointing) day comes, any fan should check this pilot out. It might be the closest thing to a Kingdom Hearts show we ever see, and I think you will be happy.

Images Courtesy of Square Enix

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