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Review: Disney’s ‘Percy Jackson’ is the adaption fans deserve

Courtesy Disney

By Muna Nnamani     1/30/24 10:29pm

Review: ★★★★★

Before 2023, being a Percy Jackson fan was hard.

Readers’ obsession began with “The Lightning Thief,” the first installment in author Rick Riordan’s series about Greek gods and their demigod children, which was released in 2005. Over the decades, Riordan expanded the series to include Roman mythology, then Egyptian, then Norse. The “Riordanverse” grew immensely with its fans.

But unlike our “Harry Potter” fan counterparts, we never got a good film adaptation. Two movies were released, infamously unsupported by Riordan for starring actors visibly older than the original heroes and lacking the books’ magic. For 18 years, fans defended the books in the face of the lackluster movies.

In May 2020, though, Riordan announced that he would oversee a new series adaptation with a handpicked cast. Disney’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” premiered in December 2023 and released a new episode every Tuesday night, concluding the first season on Jan. 30.

Like the books, the series follows Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell), the 12-year-old son of Poseidon, as he realizes his divine heritage and embarks on his first quest as a demigod. With Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries), the daughter of Athena, and his satyr friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri), Percy journeys to the Underworld to confront Hades and prevent a celestial war. Complex gods, glistening Olympus and true heroes make this adaptation an instant classic.

Perhaps the best part, though, is how well the actors bring the novel’s characters to life – it’s like Rick Riordan shook a copy of “The Lightning Thief” and they fell out. Jeffries delivers each line with Annabeth’s signature self-assurance. Simhadri bursting into song in episode three would have made his book counterpart proud, and Scobell is Percy reincarnated. While Logan Lerman did his best in the 2010 adaptation, Scobell’s personality is so much like Percy’s that you can tell he doesn’t have to act too hard.

With a significantly larger budget than the original films, the series just does more to immerse viewers into Percy’s world than the original film. Camp Half Blood’s scenes are filmed in British Columbia’s Minaty Bay, the scenic enclosure that is everything readers imagined when we were Percy’s age. The bustling campers in signature orange Camp Half Blood t-shirts, wide cast of urban monsters and expertly animated crossovers between the fantastical and real worlds are guaranteed to create new fans.

The score is also gorgeous and gives fans an iconic theme song, just like “Harry Potter” fans had in the early 2000’s. Also, Percabeth is in full swing. Watching Percy and Annabeth’s enemies-to-friends-to-lovers journey over the episodes is intensely gratifying after having to wait five books for them to confess their feelings for each other.

A common critique from older fans is that the jokes and dialogue are more childish than they expected. However, it must be remembered that the books were written for a middle schooler audience, and the main characters are 12 years old. Also, while the humor is more targeted towards the children, “PJO” still contains all the angst from the books.

Most jarring is the heroes’ broken relationships with their godly parents. Percy resents Poseidon for abandoning him, and Annabeth knows that Athena’s love for her is strictly conditional. We watch over and over again as demigod children are abandoned, used as pawns in celestial spats and encouraged to make sacrifices to their parents just to catch their attention. The Greek gods’ neglect of their own children becomes the true cause of the series’ conflict.

What really roped in the original “Percy Jackson” fans, though, wasn’t the parental angst (we were in fifth grade) ­­— it was the magical world that the series portrays.

Here, the mythology lore is presented in such twisted, layered glory that old fans are inspired to pick up their childhood “D’aulaire’s Greek Myths” again. The minotaur in episode one can skewer Percy like a shish kebab, but Lin Manuel Miranda also plays Hermes. Medusa’s lair is littered with victims made of stone, but the god Dionysus is a washed up camp counselor. Just like the books, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” brilliantly takes on the classics.

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