*This review is spoiler free.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? The 80’s computer game inspires nostalgia in many of us, even for a 90’s baby like me, whether you played the game, designed to teach children geography, or you watched one of the television shows, game shows, or read the books. If you are feeling nostalgia for the scarlet-clad super thief, don’t worry, Netflix has got you covered. In addition to the live-action film they’re making about the character, starring Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Netflix recently released an animated series, Carmen Sandiego, also starring Rodriguez (there’s really never too much Gina Rodriguez).
The new show brings back the thief, but with a twist. Instead of just having her be a thief, it gives her a backstory, and asks the question: “what is she really stealing?” The answer is, she’s only stealing items that are already stolen. As a modern-day Robin Hood, Carmen recovers stolen art, and returns the items to where they belong. The first two episodes, “Becoming Carmen Sandiego,” tell the story of how Carmen grew up in the headquarters of evil organization V.I.L.E, where she was taught how to be a master thief. It wasn’t until she went out into the world and realized the destruction VILE was wreaking, and the people being hurt, that she realized she needed to switch sides (yes, it is very reminiscent of Netflix’s other animated, female-led, reboot, She-Ra) . Fashioning herself as Carmen Sandiego, and picking up a few teammates, including Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as Player, a hacker backing Carmen up.
The series is fun and, true to its computer game roots, endeavors to teach viewers about geography as Carmen travels across the globe, pulling off fantastic heists. Many of the characters, Carmen included, are bursting with personality, and written with a sharp wit to match. Rodriguez brings an air of savvy and sexy to Carmen, full of mystery, with an undercurrent of passion and caring. She is perhaps, only matched by her opponents. Carmen’s old professors and fellow thief-trainees crop up throughout the show, trying to thwart Carmen and bring her back into the fold, each in their own quirky way. The two federal agents chasing Carmen, members of ACME – an organization whose sole purpose it is to take down VILE, are an odd couple that bring another dynamic to the show.
I enjoyed Wolfhard as Player, but am hoping we get to actually find out about his backstory next season. The one real disappointment is Carmen’s other two teammates, Ivy (Abby Trott) and Zack (Michael Hawley) – red-headed twins from Boston, who are just a little to meh, and I would love to see get replaced by more interesting teammates next season.
The animation is beautiful, playing with bursts of color, and shadow to give things definition. You instantly know a character’s personality just by glancing at the way they’re designed.
This show is a throwback, but it also takes on a life of its own, as Carmen forges a new path, stealing to help people. It’s an exciting plot, with many exotic “capers,” but also a never-ending mystery, with alway more thread to pull-on, as we learn more and more about both ACME and VILE. It’s a commentary on social norms, while also directly defying them with its bold female lead, which has been consistently Latina since the character’s inception back in the 80’s. It’s a diverse cast, with a beautiful message. After watching the show, all I can say is, I can’t wait to see what Netflix does with the film. It’s about damn time, for Carmen Sandiego to get her due.