Tron: Uprising

This preview of Tron: Uprising debuts tonight on the Disney Channel at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. On June 7, the series begins airing at its regular place and time: Thursdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Disney XD. 

Tron: Legacy is a visual extravaganza, executing technical spectacle with cool, detached ease. The light-cycle sequences, the arena battle, and the club fight are only a few of the awe-inspiring setpieces from the long-gestating sequel. On the other hand, the film’s story is thin and half-baked, leaning too heavily on visual acrobatics to counterbalance weak dialogue, an unsatisfying ending, and wooden acting (Michael Sheen’s peacocking performance being the exception to the last item in that list.) Even the incredibly hyped Daft Punk score failed to fully deliver, despite a handful of brief, incendiary tracks. But the visuals are arresting enough to carry the sagging weight of that story, and the film brought in enough money at the box office to merit a 18-episode animated first season.

Thankfully, Tron: Uprising does not suffer the same fate as its theatrical predecessor—at least not in this preview episode. The animation pulls off the series’ signature visual pyrotechnics, keeping the preview enthralling enough to forgive the small moments that press down too hard on thematic buttons. The voice cast, with Elijah Wood, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Mandy Moore, Nate Corddry, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reubens and Bruce Boxleitner(!!!) do a more than serviceable job at sketching out what will hopefully become deeper characters.

Wood voices Beck, a young program and mechanic who, after a friend is derezzed by Clu’s army in a hostile takeover of their city, decides to assume Tron’s identity in order to “fight the power.” Our hero earns the ire of Clu’s invading army, forcing him to flee and fight back in increasingly exciting setpieces, spotlighting parkour, light cycles, trains, and hand-to-hand combat. This is going to be an action-packed miniseries, and one that hopefully doesn’t get too bogged down in telling the side stories of Moore and Corddry’s characters, although Reubens and a few others could use some more airtime.

Sure, the preview doesn’t offer anything new in terms of plot: An oppressive societal takeover is bread-and-butter sci-fi stuff, as is “the lone rebel rises up” plot. But Uprising has the benefit of being set in an aesthetically pleasing world during the era of the gritty reboot. Beck is the quintessential rebel, but he’s also a reluctant hero and leader. He’s brash, independent, and fiercely nonconforming, even in a world that strives to distinguish difference through tiny colored accents.

Tron: Uprising is a delight to watch in part because it culls several of its best elements from other successful animated series. The first that comes to mind is the wonderful late 1990s CGI series Reboot, a Canadian series set inside the computer world Mainframe, which owed plenty to the original Tron. Uprising takes place in the same kind of sprawling digital world, but as with Legacy—and basically any comic-book movie that intends to be taken seriously—the color palette is dark, and so are the themes.

Tron: Uprising’s second apparent predecessor is Star Wars: The Clone Wars, another interstitial series designed to mop up the story mess and bridge a narrative gap left behind by a big-budget blockbuster. Uprising takes some cues from this series, introducing previously unheard of characters like General Tesler and Chriqui’s Page as the primary antagonists while keeping Clu somewhat reserved and cloaked in the background.

The third, and most important to guiding structure of a hero/mentor relationship between Beck and his reclusive, phantasmal instructor, is Batman Beyond. Like that series’ aging and ailing Bruce Wayne, Beck’s mentor (the names in the cast unveil his true identity, but it’s a nice little surprise nonetheless) is incapable of being himself anymore, and looks to pass the mantle down to someone else capable of standing up to Clu and his army on the Grid.

Tron: Uprising occasionally blares its thematic horns a bit too loudly, especially during an interrogation sequence where Beck confirms his commitment to dying for a cause, then quickly retreats from that position when presented with his Big Quest. Instead of being anti-corporate or centered on ideals of digital freedom, the show is generically in opposition to military dictatorships, a position that has more resonance with international conflicts than any kind of domestic issues her in the States. But this is airing on Disney XD, and managing to build a Tron animated series with shades of Reboot, The Clone Wars, and Batman Beyond—plus a few dashes of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend Of Korra in the mix—is an accomplishment. With only 10 episodes, hopefully there is some kind of plan in place for the larger story; for now, this initial episode gives plenty of reasons to be excited.

Stray observations:

  • We get to see snow and rain in this first episode, which made me wonder about weather in this digital world. Sure, it can just be a digital projection or representation of how weather functions, but considering the world of Tron is dark with fluorescent highlights anyway, I wonder why and how building that element into the world came about.
  • This first episode gave me such heavy nostalgia for Reboot, that, after a little searching, I’m delighted to report you can find the first two seasons of the show streaming on Netflix.
  • My favorite Emmanuelle Chriqui project isn’t even one of her acting performances—it’s her Reebok short film “One Shot” starring Baron Davis during his days as a Golden State Warrior.
  • One really cool touch: The tool that Beck uses while repairing cycles (and anything else in the world if the show) turns solid structures into permeable layers. It’s a subtle nod to the fact that Tron: Uprising exists in a digital world that can be rebuilt with new code at any point.
  • While it’s not as distinctive as the Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score, the music in the show is still pretty damn awesome. Hopefully it’ll be released as a soundtrack album.
  • I’m not sure what to think about the intro to this first episode. On the one hand, it handily summarizes Tron in order to introduce the series, but cutting between Beck in captivity and the beginning of this story arc really feels like a huge jump from that opening. Maybe it will play better before the rest of the episodes, if it’s included. 
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