For Cuphead creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, seeing their characters come alive on television is beyond just exciting — it's an out-of-body experience.
“There's almost no words for it… it blows our minds,” Chad tells IGN. “It almost feels like watching it while I am outside of my body. It's hard to describe it. It's insane, it's unbelievable that the first indie game we made is now a super-high-quality, entertaining Netflix series.
The Moldenhauer brothers' dreams of creating a television show reminiscent of the golden age of animation dates back years — well before Netflix approached them with the idea to adapt the Cuphead video game into a cartoon show, and even before development of Cuphead started over a decade ago. Their dream dates back to their childhood, when they were just two young children sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons.
Many of us grew-up watching cartoons today, but the Moldenhauers were raised on classics from the 1930s. This includes characters such as Betty Boop, Popeye and Bimbo from that era. Cuphead is a 2017 run and gun video created by the Moldenhauers from these inspirations. Their characters are now available on Netflix as The Cuphead Show.
The Cuphead Show, a 2022 product, feels almost like it was made today. The Netflix series that will be based upon the video game is both a tribute and spiritual successor to many of today's most important cartoon shows.
The new show follows the misadventures of brothers Cuphead and Mugman as they visit various locations across Inkwell Isle — the same location seen in the Cuphead video game. While many characters and bosses are still present from the game, the show has given them new personalities and relationships that will work well on television. This series is a modern take on classic cartoon shows. It features short, 10-minute episodes and a focus of cartoon violence. The animation style is instantly reminiscent of Popeye or Mickey Mouse.
The show seems to have captured the key elements of the game as well as classic cartoons. In our review, we called the show “amazing”, saying that “The Cuphead Show captures all the fun and excitement of the classic game. With memorable characters and amazing animation, it's a throwback cartoon with a unique, nostalgic feel.” The show's writers and executive producers have a deep understanding of the cartoon eras they have lovingly brought to life.
Chad stated that he watched a lot of videos while creating the game. “It's ongoing. There was a point where you start your day or end your day watching a ton of cartoons…You build this weird encyclopedia of knowledge that's only useful if you're making Cuphead.”
If you are going to have breakfast, why not watch one or two cartoons? Jared continues, “If you're going to have dinner why not view a cartoon or two.”
Cuphead draws inspirations from the game
Jared and Chad are the creators and developers of Cuphead. (The syllables Moldenhauer's name is a result of their creations. They were Executive Producers on The Cuphead Show with Cosmo Segurson, Dave Wasson and CJ Ketchler. IGN was able to talk with the Moldenhauer brothers as well as Segurson about how they created a show that draws so many elements from the golden age animation.
The main inspirations for The Cuphead Show were cartoons from Silly Symphony and Fleischer Studios. The Fleischer brothers founded Fleischer Studios in 1929. It was the main rival to Walt Disney's throughout the 1930s. It produced cartoons featuring characters such as Betty Boop and Superman, including Popeye, Popeye, Betty Boop, and Bimbo. Bimbo — a pup who is Betty Boop's main love interest in the cartoon series — is a personal favorite of the Moldenhauers.
Walt Disney created Silly Symphonies during the 1930s. It features more than 70 short films. The Cuphead Show's episodes feature a huge, feature-length musical number, in addition to the rousing theme song.
Both Segurson, as well as the Moldenhauers, have a deep love for this era. It goes back to their childhoods. Segurson claims that he used watch Popeye cartoons at the Saturday film festival in Los Angeles for hours, which sparked his obsession with 1930s animation. Chad and Jared both believe that bargain bins in video stores were a key factor in their introduction to the Cuphead style.
Jared stated that “this is all even tied back when we were younger.” The 99 cent VHS bins could be found anywhere. They were cheap enough to nag your parents to say, “Maybe we can get another cartoon.” They weren't the cartoons that were popular at the time. We ended up having a stash of Silly Symphonies and ComiColor Fleischer Studios items, which we kept.”
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course Screenshots
Despite its strong connections to animation, Cuphead still has its own identity. It's fun to see how the show plays with Cuphead's and Mugmans literal cup-shaped heads. There are moments when a bowling balls lands on top and cracks the cup. Or characters pulling each other along by the handle on their backs. The Cuphead Show's story is told through physical interactions and cartoon violence, which was very important for the writers.
Segurson explained that because they have handles, it's possible to play with the physicality. “I think that one of my main goals was to create sequences that are funny and that have no need for dialogue. This was really important to me.”
To get ideas for the characters, the creators looked to the game. There's not much plot or dialogue in the Cuphead game — much of the characterization comes from facial expressions and animation. The Cuphead Show writers used one key shot to define the relationship between Cuphead, Mugman.
Segurson explained that there is a storybook sequence that you have to go through before you play the game. This was something that we carefully analyzed. “Some of that characterizations of Cuphead, Mugman, and Mugman come from the one drawing at the beginning of the game. It shows Cuphead at the table with the gamblers and Mugman looking scared. This kind of revealed a lot to us.”
Cuphead is clearly the impulsive, determined, headstrong brother in the show. Mugman, on the other hand, is timid, scared and dorkier. The dynamic is very similar to the classic sibling relationship Mario and Luigi. However, the Moldenhauer brothers say Cuphead and Mugman are lightly based upon themselves. Chad's personality takes root in Cuphead, while Jared's in Mugman.
“There’s a lot of love and joy”
The show also features many of the bosses and side characters from the game, in addition to the main relationship. Fans of the game's aesthetic will love everything about the show, from the Devil as the main antagonist to the boss characters King Dice, Ribby, and Croaks getting more screen time, to the Root Pack being given more spotlight, there is a lot to enjoy. The Moldenhauer brothers are perhaps the most passionate fans, as they can't believe the transformations of their creations.
Jared stated, “There's a lot love and joy.” “It's almost like watching your children grow up. It's almost like you are proud of each step and how they grow. They began with a video game, then went on to make vinyl figures and posters. And now, they have a television series. It's magical to see the process through and to finally see their final product. Netflix has a great team that brings them to life.
The Cuphead Show will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 18. Cuphead: the Delicious Last Course, the game's DLC is available now through Netflix.
What's next in Cuphead's world?
Chad said, “You'll need to wait until five years too soon for our next project!”
Logan Plant is an IGN freelance writer. Follow Logan Plant on Twitter @LoganPlantLoganJPlant.