Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego Review

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Carmen Sandiego returns in her iconic scarlet trench coat and fedora in Netflix's new original series Carmen Sandiego. Photo: Netflix
Carmen Sandiego returns in her iconic scarlet trench coat and fedora in Netflix’s new original series Carmen Sandiego. Photo: Netflix

Whether due to the nostalgic sentimentality of an established audience or the change in interest of a newer one, remakes rarely find success.

It is through good casting, faithful storylines and well-conceived twists that remakes can engage new audiences while offering fans a new take on a story they know well.

This is particularly evident in the well-adapted and beautifully animated series Carmen Sandiego, streaming now on Netflix.

Released more than 20 years after its beloved predecessor, this third incarnation of the Carmen Sandiego franchise blends the iconic characters, noire style and education of the 90’s series with today’s action-focused style of animation.

Abandoned as a baby in Argentina with only a pair of Russian nesting dolls, the girl who would become the infamous Carmen Sandiego (voiced by Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez) is brought to an island known to some as the Isle of V.I.L.E.

As you might expect, the isle of V.I.L.E. is a secret headquarters and training facility for a group of super-villains.

Growing up under the guidance of V.I.L.E’s five ruling council members, Carmen masters the skills of a future super-thief and seems set to achieve her dream of becoming a thief of “valuable imports [and] lavish exports”.

However, when she discovers that V.I.L.E is much more sinister than she ever thought, Carmen has a moral awakening and escapes the island.

With the help of a hacker friend named Player (voiced by Stranger Thing’s Finn Wolfhard), she starts a new life dedicated to stopping V.I.L.E’s plans and protecting the world’s most priceless artifacts.

This turn of events sets a different path for Carmen from earlier adaptations, which had her as the mastermind antagonist, making this series feel fresh and original yet still staying true to la femme rouge and her burglar beginnings.

More importantly, this altered plotline allows children to learn important lessons about following their moral compass regardless of what others are doing and that their talents can and should be used to enrich the world and not deprive it.

Overall, this first season is well-written and characters are developed enough for audiences to relate to their stories as well as follow their individual growth along the way.

It is also successful in how it sets up the show by introducing Carmen’s origins in the first few episodes before leading viewers into the show’s core structure.

In doing so viewers are more likely to be engrossed in each episode, which finds Carmen attempting to stop V.I.L.E operatives from stealing a particular object of cultural or artistic significance.

For fans of the 90’s series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, this new adaptation does well in keeping faithful to long-established characters, organisations and relationships while giving them a slight twist.

Carmen Sandiego, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, works along side Boston brother-sister duo Zach and Ivy to protect the world's precious artifacts. Photo: Netflix
Carmen Sandiego, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, works along side Boston brother-sister duo Zach and Ivy to protect the world’s precious artifacts. Photo: Netflix

Besides Carmen and her cyber-sidekick Player, we see brother-sister duo Zach and Ivy back in action but now working with Carmen rather against her.

Another nod to the old series is the re-imagined spy organisation A.C.M.E. who, led by their director known as Chief, pursues Carmen believing she is the one who is stealing the priceless artifacts.

Listen out for the familiar voice of Rita Moreno, who voiced the original Carmen Sandiego in the 90s series, in the first episodes of the season.

The Carmen Sandiego franchise has always been “Edutainment”, interlacing the shows story with facts about culture, geography and general knowledge about the world we live in.

This new show keeps to this tradition by providing information on countries that Carmen travels to and interweaving certain facts into the storyline itself.

In one episode entitled “The Sticky Rice Caper”, Carmen goes to Indonesia to stop V.I.L.E from executing their evil plan upon the country.

The writer’s highlight the nation’s dependency on rice and displays some of its culture by working it into the main plot.

The animation is beautifully drawn and makes good use of shadows and light which really encapsulates the noire style that the show embodies.

In this regard, it is visually reminiscent of the series Samurai Jack with its use of clean lines and silhouette style backgrounds.