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“X-Men ‘97”: No-Spoiler Review of Episode 1

The Disney+ animated show aired at Toronto Comicon

By Monita MohanPublished about a month ago 4 min read
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(L-R): Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

“X-Men ‘97” made its Canadian premiere at Toronto Comicon—fittingly on a Saturday morning, which is a throwback to when the original show was a Saturday Morning cartoon that people would tune in for. The premiere was screened in the Xavier’s Lounge for Gifted Youngsters—two conference rooms transformed into a giant North American living room, complete with bean bags, mismatched sofas, posters stuck on walls, and display cabinets. It was adorable.

Toronto Comicon also set the projection screen at a good height so that people across the room could watch the screening without heads completely obscuring the view. I will say that we had to come very early and stand for an inordinate amount of time to get a decent seat. There were people standing in the back, and I don’t know how much fun they had or if they could see anything if someone taller was in front of them. I understand some experiences are exclusive, but the amount of planning and loss of sleep that goes into enjoying an experience is…an experience in itself.

The Cast of “X-Men ‘97”

(L-R): Jubilee (voiced by Holly Chou), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale), Gambit (voiced by AJ LaCascio), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), and Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

The majority of the original cast of voice actors have returned for “X-Men ‘97”, though there are some changes. Norm Spencer passed away in 2020, and Ray Chase is taking over for him to voice Cyclops. There’s also a new voice behind Magneto, Matthew Waterson replaces David Hemblen, who also passed away in 2020.

Other changes include JP Karliak as the voice behind Morph, replacing Ron Rubin. A.J. LoCascio is Gambit, taking over from Chris Potter. Alyson Court is no longer voicing Jubilee as that role has rightly gone to an actor of South-East Asian origin, Holly Chou; Court does have a role on the show, but doesn’t appear in the premiere and isn’t allowed to reveal her role yet. Catherine Disher’s name is on the cast list, so she may also have a different role since Jean Grey is now being voiced by Jennifer Hale. Among the other actors, Isaac Robinson-Smith is the new voice of Bishop (previously voiced by Philip Akin), and Lawrence Bayne, who was the voice of Cable in the original series, is now voicing the X-Cutioner.

The rest of the returning cast includes Lenore Zann as Rogue, Cal Dodd as Wolverine, George Buza as Beast, Alison Sealy-Smith as Storm, Chris Britton as Mr. Sinister, and Adrian Hough as Nightcrawler.

I did notice that there was no mention of the sudden and unceremonious firing of “X-Men ‘97” creator and showrunner, Beau DeMayo, just a week before the show is scheduled to air. It’s all very mysterious, and the cast had, no doubt, been told to avoid mentioning him in any capacity.

First Impressions of “X-Men ‘97”

Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

The first episode is full of action, but it’s also an introduction—or rather, re-introduction—to the cast of characters. This is helpful for anyone who hasn’t watched the show in a long time or is going in cold. Thanks to “Disney money”, as original series producer/director Larry Houston put it during the Q&A following the premiere screening, there’s a lot more energy in the animation. It’s because there’s a lot of movement in the scenes; Houston couldn’t make anything move in the original show. That energy feeds into unbelievable action set-pieces and other scenes that I won’t spoil here.

The animation style is gorgeous. I think some people may find it a little jarring because there’s a softer look to the characters, but also a lot more depth to their features. The colours are vibrant which is delightful given what colourful outfits the X-Men wear. It all makes for a distractingly beautiful aesthetic.

Zann shared that Jake Castorena, supervising producer on “X-Men ‘97”, wanted “to take the powers the mutants have and use them in new ways.” That’s very obvious in the first episode, and it makes the proceedings very exciting. The best part—Storm is so badass in this episode. I hope it’s not a one-and-done with showing what a powerful character she is.

The first episode sets up a bunch of plot threads and emotional themes for the season. The story piggybacks off the original series finale, but the world of “X-Men ‘97” is not the same as that of the original show. I expect some seismic shifts to take place among the ranks based on the hints in the premiere.

Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd) and Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

The voice cast sounds good, even though you can tell some of them have aged considerably in the 25+ years since the original series aired. I don’t think it’ll be a huge issue as we get more used to their voices over the episodes. The new voices sound mostly seamless. I could tell someone new had taken over Jubilee’s character, but Holly Chou brings the same youthful exuberance as Court did all those years ago. Jennifer Hale sounds different from Disher, but then again, Jean never got all that much to do, so maybe I’m attuned to the difference in the character. Ray Chase is so good as Cyclops. He channels Norm Spencer superbly, but the timber of his voice is exactly how I have heard Cyclops sound in my head. A.J. LoCascio and Isaac Robinson-Smith are indistinguishable from their predecessors as Gambit and Bishop—till I checked IMDb, I thought these were the same voices.

The music is stunning—there’s a scene in a club that has the most gloriously cheesy synth music that I couldn’t help but dance to. But the theme song is also modernized and will give you goosebumps.

I know that watching the “X-Men ‘97” premiere in a room full of equally excited X-Men fans lends itself to enjoying the show a lot more. We hooted, we laughed, we applauded, we did it all together. I couldn’t help but love the first episode, and I’m craving more.

Now on to the rest of the season. We’re in for a fine ride!

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About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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