Posted by Damon O'Hanlon
Title: TRON: Uprising (Season 1)
First Year of Broadcast: 2012
Number of Episodes: 19
Running Time: 22 minutes per episode
Known Available Formats: Netflix
Serene beauty and thrilling action are the hallmarks of the recent Disney show, TRON: Uprising. Whether it’s twirling gliders streaking blue through the air, or whirring discs whipping past your face, Uprising is first-class action adventure not to be missed.
For those few who are familiar with the Tron mythos, TRON: Uprising takes place between the original TRON and 2010’s TRON: Legacy. Same as other Tron installments, Uprising takes place “on the Grid" – the cavernous, glistening blue innards of an elaborate computer system, where programs look like humans and go about their lives. But on the Grid not all is well. The visionary and magnanimous human creator, Kevin Flynn, has been ousted. In his place, an oppressive regime seizes power, led by the order-obsessed Clu, one of Flynn’s early creations.
But in the city of Argon, a young program named Beck has decided to resist Clu’s tyranny. Beck’s first act is to blow up the enormous Clu statue erected in the center of Argon City. Beck infuses this act with a touch of symbolism by dressing up as the warrior and hero Tron, gone missing and thought dead by most. Naturally, this attracts the attention of Clu’s local thugs, General Tesler, and his lieutenants Paige and Pavel. They find no humor in Beck’s little stunt, labeling it the dangerous act of a renegade, and set about hunting him down.
Luckily, Tesler and his goons are not the only ones paying attention. The actual Tron has been laying low near Argon, nursing a chip on his shoulder since he was badly damaged during his last brush with Clu. Together Beck and Tron form a binary partnership: Tron trains Beck and supplies him with intel, and the improved Beck 2.0 dons the mantle of Tron to undermine Clu and give hope to oppressed programs everywhere.
At its best moments, TRON: Uprising accesses weighty themes such as moral unlawfulness, the burdens of mentorship, and the loneliness of betrayal. It’s a bold undertaking for a children’s show, with a 'hero meets mentor' plot setup routine enough that it could have easily turned out dull and powerless. Thankfully, TRON: Uprising succeeds on multiple accounts.
Uprising gets a great boost from its stronger than average script. Refreshingly, it very consistently avoids talking down to its audience, and motivations and relationships receive real attention and are usually believable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a top-shelf voice cast. Elijah Wood voices Beck, hitting the proper balance between youthful naivité and youthful optimism. As Tron, Bruce Boxleitner croaks graveled authority with every word. Even relatively minor characters are voiced by the likes of Mandy Moore and Paul Reubens. And as the season progresses, characters become more defined, and the scripts and voicings improve correspondingly.
Mara: He's fighting for us. And he's kind of handsome.
Zed: Handsome? How do you know? He's in a mask!
Mara: I have a feeling.
Zed: What do you think, Beck?
Beck: Is he handsome?
Zed: Is he on our side?
But even more stimulating than Uprising’s script or voice cast is its stunning one-two-three combo of art design, direction, and soundtrack.
Characters are long-limbed and elegant. Brightly colored buildings, vehicles and explosions all pop on the dark canvas that is the Grid. And this beautiful, delicate, yet vicious world is captured in angles and cuts that are at times borderline masterful. Darkened back alleys painted blue and red by surging motorcycles. Hand-to-disc combat scenes that are graceful, awe-inspiring, and tense—as at any moment a character may collapse into a cascade of lifeless cubes. Time and again, stylized action sequences which could easily become disorienting are instead pulled off without a glitch.
The impressive elements could stop there, and Uprising would still be beyond average, but the soundtrack of TRON: Uprising pushes it over the top. Those gorgeous, expertly directed visuals are backed up by a mix of driving electronica and soaring classical accompaniment, accenting the action or bringing home emotional resonance. At certain times, when the visuals and audio sync up just so, you may get actual chills or smile spontaneously from the sudden rush of cool.
Though excellent, the first season of TRON: Uprising is not entirely without bugs. There’s a strong effort to humanize (programize?) side characters, but it only succeeds in fits and starts. Some become fully textured while others never quite materialize. Generally, Uprising is at its best when focused on its main characters.
Also, General Tesler is well voice-acted, but for plot reasons sometimes comes across as a stock villain, clichéd and incompetent. Thankfully, Tesler does have scattered moments of genuine menace, and in later episodes we are saved from any hollow villainy by the rising involvement of Clu and a chilling Uprising original character, Dyson (unctuously voiced by the fantastic John Glover).
Rarely does a show come along that makes your circuits tingle with such excitement. TRON: Uprising is very, very good, and its perfections far outweigh its bugs. There have been rumors that TRON: Uprising may get its plug pulled. I sincerely hope that is not the case as TRON: Uprising is an electric and one-of-a-kind experience. After an additional season or so of debugging, it could easily be one of the best children’s shows to boot up in decades.