On paper, Centaur World is a weird idea. You have a dimension-travelling story where all of the characters are at least part horse, using different animation styles to represent different dimensions, one is apocalyptic and the other is Care Bear hugs and rainbows, and every episode is scattered with musical numbers. It's a lot for one, relatively short show and I feel like it asks a little too much at times
The plot itself is a fairly simple quest: the stranded hero must gather X number of doohickeys in order to return home, to which end they are assisted by a goofy but loveable band of misfits. It's Wizard of Oz all over again, except the Wicked Witch is almost entirely absent. Sure, there are dangers along their path, but there's no core villain. Except... isn't there? One of the elements of the show that works so well are these consistent references to the Nowhere King. That name is overheard in background conversations, or mentioned during character asides out of earshot of Horse. In a couple of episodes, you hear a particularly chilling song echoing over the breeze or sung in unnerving unison by otherwise unimportant characters. It was this thread that really hooked me, and it's this area of storytelling that I think the show gets really right. On the surface, Centaur World is candy drops and ribbons, but there are these constant hints that under the surface something dark is waiting (and I'm not talking about Comfortable Doug and the Moletaurs).
By the season finale, these dark undertones reach a crescendo, and the resultant reveal and subsequent fight are some of the most enjoyable parts of the show to date. The Nowhere King is wonderfully designed and the revelations that they discuss help plug answer a number of questions around the two worlds, Horse's initial dimension hop, and a whole lot more. I'm still not sure how I feel about Horse and Rider parting ways again, though, given everything they've gone through (and given the fact that Waterbaby still travels through the portal to warn the people on the other side). It just doesn't feel like a particularly earned action, and more like the creators decided they wanted similar stakes for season two.
I'm also not a big fan of Horse's animation change. I really liked the whole animation-style gimmick they had going and I'm not a fan of how Horse translates to the Centaur World aesthetic. I also didn't think the slow change added anything to the overall plot; it was more just a filler subthread and could have been cut entirely. That's something the show generally struggles with: it has an idea and runs with it, even if the idea never curves back round to having a point. Some of them are innocuous and just "wacky for wacky sake" stuff, but others take up large chunks of screen time that could better be spent fleshing out the rest of the Herd. I mean, we get small moments for most of the characters, but outside of Wammawink and Glendale, the others don't get a huge amount of development. It's more a protracted introduction for each of them, spread across the whole season.
I think a lot of people won't mind that, but I just don't go in for that particularly American brand of body horror, wacky animation that the Centaur World characters have. I just don't think it adds much to the story and I don't find it inherently funny. I don't believe that you need to animate things realistically; I'm a huge fan of BoJack Horseman and that show has a very surreal animation style. I also really enjoy the way that Adventure Time was done, and that's pretty similar, but Centaur World leaves me a little cold. Which is a shame, because there are some great ideas here. In fact, much like BoJack the small animation gags around the edges are often some of the cleverest humour in the show, and occasionally these even break onto centre stage. I totally get why Comfortable Doug was such a breakout success – and it helps that their song was easily the best of the season – and some of the gags, like Zulius being able to Ferris Bueller-style talk to the camera, but everyone else being unable to breathe whilst frozen, are really great. I just wish the show spent more time on that kind of creativity rather than the weird, childish humour bits.
And speaking of gimmicks that take up too much screen time, let's talk songs. Centaur World already had a lot going on before they decided to introduce multiple musical numbers per episode and it's this area in which it really shows. When the songs work, they work really well, helping drive home key character moments or just offering up moments of humorous relief. But I'd say a good half of them just aren't that great and waste time that could otherwise be used to drive the story forward or provide character development. I think they'd have done a lot better to use them much more sparingly, even having episodes without any songs, then try to overload each episode, which is what it feels like right now.
Despite all of that, I still think the core idea is really fun and I'm completely hooked on the wider fantasy world and mysteries that season one has brought into motion. There's definitely an element of Disenchantment here: good world-building, some interesting ideas, occasional home runs in the humour department, and a great finale. Time will tell if it follows the same trajectory of that show into season two, or if it can actually capitalise on what it's built and really begin to shine.