Photo: ‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’
The Beginning of the (Dead) End: An Introduction
Once again, it’s time for me to review a piece of Netflix-exclusive animation based on a comic series. Today I’ll be taking a look at ‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’, based on Hamish Steele’s ‘Deadendia’ graphic novels, which was in turn based on his animated short released on Frederator Studios’ Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel. First published in 2018, ‘DeadEndia’ is the story of two teens who work at a haunted theme park, accompanied by their talking pet pug. While I’ve never read the graphic novels themselves, I have seen the original animated short, and can tell that quite a lot changed between it and the show that I’m about to review. All that being said, I’ve been curious about this show for quite some time. I’m a sucker for sci-fi and fantasy adventure-type stuff, and a cartoon set in a haunted theme park seemed right up my alley. But did it deliver? Well…
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The actual synopsis for ‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’ goes a little something like this: A pair of teenagers named Barney (Zach Barack) and Norma (Kody Kavitha) apply for a summer job at a haunted house attraction at Phoenix Parks, a giant amusement park based on actor/celebrity Pauline Phoenix (Clinton Leupp). However, the job opening turns out to be a scam operated by Courtney, a demon who’s looking for a vessel for her master Temeluchus to possess. After subduing Temeluchus, Courtney allows the two to work at the park. From there, Barney and Norma learn more about each other, befriend the rest of the park staff, and find themselves involved in various supernatural events, which in turn are connected to a much larger mystery involving Pauline Phoenix. Oh yes, and Barney’s dog Pugsley (Alex Brightman) gains the ability to speak after a fragment of Temeluchus’ spirit is embedded in him, allowing him to play a major role in the show.
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‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’ – A Pleasant, Supernatural Surprise
As I began my binge-watch of this series, I’ll admit that I had mixed feelings. The setup seemed interesting enough, yet the humor wasn’t really winning me over. However, the more I continued watching the show, the more I found myself able to appreciate what it had to offer. The story got more interesting and the comedy was something I found myself able to overlook, but the big highlight for me was the characters. I love how the two leads, Barney and Norma are characterized; they’re written as two very normal individuals with realistic personal issues that make them relatable. Norma’s social anxiety in particular was something I saw a lot of myself in, as my own social skills admittedly aren’t the greatest. I also have to give major props to the writers for depicting the trans lead character Barney in such a natural and honest way.
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Despite his identity being a significant plot point, it’s not the sole defining feature of his character; he’s just as fleshed out as the other characters on the show are. I also appreciated how the series doesn’t shy away from sugar-coating the matter, as that “significant plot point” I just mentioned involves an unseen incident in which his grandmother was openly transphobic towards him. It’s not a pretty subject at all, but it’s important for kids to learn and understand that the world is not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to LGBTQ+ acceptance, and that there, unfortunately, do exist people who aren’t afraid to voice their negative thoughts toward the community.
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However, my personal favorite character of the series by far is Courtney (Emily Osment). I’m not kidding when I say that I could make the entire rest of this review about her, because I positively adore this character. Courtney’s overall mischievous attitude is super endearing, and her morally ambiguous nature makes her far more than just a quirky supporting role. Sure, she either does or attempts to do some pretty questionable things throughout the series, but her background makes some of her less-than-savory actions understandable to us as viewers. Not only is she a thousand-year-old demon who was obviously negatively influenced by the even greater demon she worked for, but she’s someone who’s been barred from her home in the underworld, which she desperately wants to get back to. The sense of powerlessness that Courtney endures makes her really sympathetic, and I was curious to see where her character arc would lead by the end of the series.
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A Park Worth the Price of Admission
Another thing that really makes ‘Dead End’ work as well as it does is the main setting of the series, Phoenix Parks. It’s a really fun place to explore alongside the show’s characters, and its massive size allows for a certain sense of freedom to explore all sorts of locations within, keeping the series from ever feeling stale or boring. And despite the light horror elements of ‘Dead End’, there’s a certain sense of comfort that the setting brings about; it’s a giant, popular amusement park full of people looking to enjoy themselves. Even when the supernatural threats raise their heads, things never get too dark or scary for this show’s audience. And if this show gets a second season, I won’t have to worry about getting tired of spending time here, as there are still plenty of ideas that can be explored in a location like this.
A Few Assorted Grievances
It’s worth noting that the show’s artstyle might not be something that will appeal to everyone. I’ve spent a decent amount of time among fellow cartoon enthusiasts online, and I’m fully aware that sometimes people can be picky when it comes to artwork. While I don’t absolutely love the overall art direction of ‘Dead End’, I don’t dislike it either, as the cartoonish look of everything suits the show’s tone pretty well.
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One minor issue I did have with the show was that not every story bit hits. I wasn’t a fan of the forced conflict between Pugsley and Barney in the second episode, and later in the series when Norma begins to investigate a mystery surrounding the park’s owner, a few details become a bit convoluted, making it somewhat difficult to be as fully invested in the mystery as I could have been. This problem is especially apparent when it comes to the show’s antagonists; the show seems to have a bit of trouble deciding on who the central one is. It doesn’t help that one of these antagonists was introduced at the last minute (save for a brief bit of earlier foreshadowing), causing them to come across as underdeveloped.
Should You Get in Line to Watch ‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’?
‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’ really surprised me. Despite knowing about the show for quite some time, I wasn’t entirely sure about how much I’d like it or not. However, I actually found it to be really fun. I don’t mind that not every joke lands, as the wonderfully written characters, fun setting, and intriguing story more than make up for it. This is a show that I could see people of all ages enjoying, and I’m very happy I got the chance to watch and talk about it. If you’re into cartoons like ‘Gravity Falls’ and ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’, then ‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’ might just be right up your alley.
Cast & Crew:
Created by: Hamish Steele
Directed by: Liz Whitaker
Starring: Zach Barack, Kody Kavitha, Alex Brightman, Emily Osment
By Austin Oguri
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Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.