Cartoon Network’s Victor and Valentino—from creator Diego Molano—is a testament to the idea that the more culturally specific a story is, the more universal it tends to end up being. Because “universality” is really just a polite way of describing something as lacking in emotional substance, and when narratives are crafted to appeal to the broadest audience possible, they often end up feeling unrelatable to everyone.
Even if you’ve never spent summers sneaking off with your siblings to get into mischief—like venturing into the underworld or pranking the trickster gods known to pop up around your neighborhood—you’d be hard pressed not to see flashes of yourself in any one of Victor and Valentino’s 11-minute episodes. Victor and Valentino focuses on the two-half brothers’ adventures in the fictional town of Monte Macabre where they’re living with their grandmother Chata (Laura Patalano), a loving, but strict woman who has a much better idea than her grandsons of just how magical the city really is.
At first, both Victor (Diego Molano), a sporty (metaphorical) gremlin of a child, and Valentino (Sean-Ryan Petersen), a soft spoken intellectual, see their summer in Monte Macabre as just another chance to spend more time with one another and their grandma. They love the strange town but find it somewhat boring, as kids are wont to do when visiting their grandparents.
But it isn’t long until the myths and legends Vic and Val grew up hearing about from Chata become a much bigger and more important part of their lives as things begin to manifest in a variety of ways all across Monte Macabre. In both Victor and Valentino, you can see Molano’s love for Mesoamerican mythologies that are rooted in the histories of multiple indigenous, pre-Hispanic cultures from throughout the Americas. While Victor just thinks it’s cool that he and his brother can go out and goof off with the monsters and ghosts that dwell in their midst, Valentino sees them as crucial parts of their shared heritage that deserve respect.
In the series’ first episode, the brothers accidentally release Huehuecoyotl, an Aztec coyote deity associated with song, dance, and playful shenanigans, from his imprisonment in a magical alebrije, a small figure constructed out of paper mache. The boys are equal parts thrilled and mortified when they realize what kind of chaos they’ve unleashed on their unsuspecting neighbors, and by the time they’ve managed to recapture HueHue it’s clear to both of them that the more time they spend in Monte Macabre, the more things like that are going to happen to them.
While it’s notable that Victor and Valentino is Cartoon Network’s first series starring a predominantly Hispanic cast and one of the few television shows to center indigenous, Mesoamerican culture, what’s wonderful about the show is the matter of fact, yet casual, way it presents its subject matter. Though Victor and Valentino occasionally pauses for a quick beat to illustrate the particular mythos associated with its magical beings, it also frames them as everyday parts of life that don’t really need much explanation, which allows audiences to simply get wrapped up in the story and gain a better understanding of its characters.
As great as films like Coco and The Book of Life are, the fact that they were movies necessitated a kind of narrow, vertical focus on a specific stories about the Day of the Dead that, while interesting, felt familiar. The Day of the Dead is a concept that’s been explored in a number of other mainstream projects in varying capacities. But because it’s a series, Victor and Valentino has the space to flesh out its world horizontally, letting its supernatural elements sometimes take the backseat to stories more firmly grounded in the world of the living.
After learning that they can create massive shifts in the weather by making either Chata laugh or enraging her, the boys cook up a harebrained scheme to capitalize on their discovery and turn a nearby lake into an epic wave pool as a way to make some easy cash. No one bats an eye at the strangeness of it all because, again, this is just the kind of thing that happens in Monte Macabre, and Victor and Valentino wants you to understand that.
With its characters being bilingual and a number of different shades of brown, you can see that Victor and Valentino is going for a very distinct kind of representation. It avoids the pitfalls of “very special episodes” of other television shows that treat non-white characters’ lives as curiosities that exist outside of what would be considered “normal” to the audience. This is who they are. Kids like this exist everywhere.
While all of that is very important, it’s also icing on the cake because Victor and Valentino is just the kind of clever, good-hearted show that’s fun to sit down and tune into, regardless of how familiar you are with its premise. Its plots are varied and wild enough that whatever your sense of humor may be, there’s something there that’ll make you chuckle and want to see more of. It’s the kind of rich, multidimensional cartoon that’ll speak to you whether you’re a kid or an adult, and if you aren’t watching it yet, now’s the time to start.
Victor and Valentino airs on Cartoon Network, and it looks like you can catch up online. A new 30-minute special, “Welcome to the Underworld,” airs Friday evening.
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