Wolfboy and the Everything Factory will charm kids who love cartoons [Apple TV+ review]

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Wolfboy and the Everything Factory
Wolfboy and the Everything Factory is the newest Apple TV+ children's show
Photo: Apple TV+

The latest Apple TV+ children’s show, the joyously analog Wolfboy and the Everything Factory, is a celebration of creativity. Will it be the first of the Apple TV+ kids shows to make a splash outside of its subscriber base? Time will tell, but its heart is in the right place.

Wolfboy and the Everything Factory season 1 review

Wolfboy is about to have his first day at school — his first day away from his mother — and he’s got anxiety about it. Mum says everything will be OK, but within minutes he’s being bullied. He runs off into a field and finds a little sentient cloud called Floof.

He thinks he’s found some anomalous event but it turns out Floof is the class project of Sprout the Spryte. The Sprytes are a race of little creatures who live through a portal in another dimension called the Everything Factory in the center of the Earth. The Everything Factory is where all things are created before they’re sent to the surface (hence the cloud-raising experiment).

Having no interest in real-world school, Wolfboy follows Sprout and his older sibling Xandra to the world of the Sprytes and tries to fit in with them. Because once he gets a taste of the outlandish, rainbow-colored Everything Factory, the less he wants to go back to the real world. He’s allowed to stay for now, provided no one ever finds out he’s a human in the world of Sprytes.

Every pirate needs a map

Wolfboy and the Everything Factory review: The new Apple TV+ kids show has a lot of heart.
Wolfboy and the Everything Factory has a lot of heart.
Photo: Apple TV+

The real trouble with this show is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt — who, you may recall, just handed in Mr. Corman, the worst Apple TV+ series to date — is involved. Wolfboy and the Everything Factory was created by Edward Jesse and Toff Mazery (whose work as a visual artist inspired the series). But Gordon-Levitt’s cloying sensibility is keenly felt.

Apparently feeling very creative indeed, JGL has thrown his weight behind this show, and it’s just as derivative, in its way, as the abysmal Mr. Corman. The animation is a cross between the PBS-funded kids shows Gordon-Levitt likely grew up watching (the squiggly lines of the animation, the cute British accent of star Kassian Akhtar) and the very recent and very popular likes of Steven Universe and Adventure Time.

Gordon-Levitt appears in the show voicing a kind of wizard professor type, but the voice he’s doing is obviously his best impression of Tom Kenny’s Ice King from Adventure Time.

All the feels

Wolfboy and the Everything Factory is big on big feelings. (The first episode hinges on an apocalyptic storm halted by the almighty power of a hug from a boy with no self-conscience.) That would feel a little more revelatory if this weren’t the seventh or eighth show to hit on the idea of speaking to kids (and presumably older audiences) about how it’s OK to have feelings and throw temper tantrums and be depressed.

Yes, it’s good that someone decided not to talk down to kids. But presenting that idea anew, after it’s thoroughly saturated the landscape of children’s entertainment, is its own kind of condescending.

“Did you know it’s OK to be upset?”

“Yeah, the last show just told us.”

Wolfboy looks familiar, too

Also somewhat embarrassingly, the design of Wolfboy is quite obviously derived from the design of Steven Universe — red shirt with a gold item in the middle, dark hair, blue pants — to the extent that it feels like the show is daring you to compare the two of them, or fool kids who can’t grab the remote because it’s on a table they can’t reach.

There are worse crimes a show can commit, but it’s a little galling nevertheless, especially when you think of the average budget for an Apple TV+ show. If Gordon-Levitt could afford to rip off Scott Pilgrim for his terrible male angst show, surely they could have spent a little extra cash coming up with original animated character designs.

If you can get over all that, however, Wolfboy and the Everything Factory can be a charming show.

Wolfboy and the Everything Factory on Apple TV+

The entire first season of Wolfboy and the Everything Factory arrived on Apple TV+ on September 24. You can stream all 10 episodes now.

Rated: TV-Y7

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.