The Owl House is proving itself to be too good for Disney
The Owl House’s past few episodes have showcased the series at its best. As plucky misfit Luz searches for a way home and also tries to get to the bottom of all-powerful Emperor Belos’ plans, she grapples with her own emotions about being torn between two worlds. It’s the perfect blend of world-building backstory and character-focused downtime to balance out the overarching plot.
But even though the show has been at its best, the fact that the last two episodes had a bunch of big reveals back-to-back-to-back is frustratingly bittersweet. With only four episodes left of this season — and only a tiny abridged third season on the horizon — it’s clear that creator Dana Terrace and the rest of The Owl House team are working within the framework handed to them. It’s still deeply satisfying, but the show and the team behind it deserve more.
[Ed. note: This article contains major spoilers for the most recent episodes of The Owl House.]
In “Hollow Mind,” Luz and Hunter (Zeno Robinson) — Emperor Belos’ dutiful nephew — find themselves trapped in Belos’ mindscape. While trying to escape, Luz also decides to explore his memories and find out his motivations, while Hunter passionately insists that Belos is good at heart. They stumble across a small, childlike Belos, who Luz initially wants to protect. But as they delve deeper into Belos’ dark and twisted mind, it becomes evident that his true intentions are evil — he is actually a human witch hunter, the very same human that Luz went back in time to find in hopes that he could lead her home. Belos has been working with a shady spirit known as the Collector, and has somehow survived for hundreds of years in order to carry out his master plan of murdering all the witches and demons in the Boiling Isles. And to top that all off, Hunter isn’t actually his nephew, but something he refers to as a “Grimwalker,” made in the appearance of one of Belos’ first companions all those years ago.
If that wasn’t enough, the very next episode sees Luz and baby demon King (Alex Hirsch) headed off to a distant part of the Boiling Isles, where they meet a remote clan of Titan Hunters who are convinced that King is one of their long-lost descendants. As it turns out, King isn’t a Titan Hunter — he’s actually the last Titan, the giant fearsome demonic creatures who roamed the Boiling Isles centuries ago, creatures that the aforementioned Collector wants to eliminate. It’s whammy after whammy, but each of the revelations has been carefully seeded beforehand. The King reveal builds on previous instances where we saw him search for his family, while Belos and Hunter’s true nature was foreshadowed by their inability to wield magical traditionally.
But with only a handful of episodes left this season — and only an abridged season 3 after this one — wrapping them all up seems near impossible. Terrace and the rest of the crew have already defied odds, crafting a gratifying and interesting narrative despite the limited scope handed to them; they’ve proved that they can pull off the unbelievable, and can likely thread the needle to a satisfying ending. And yet, it could also be so much more, had Disney not decided to shaft the show before it even really got a chance.
Generally, Disney Channel animated shows tend to run for fewer seasons compared to other network counterparts. Take Adventure Time and Steven Universe, for instance, which clocked in at 283 and 160 episodes respectively (not including their respective spinoff series), and compare them to popular Disney Channel shows like Gravity Falls (41 episodes) and Star vs. the Forces of Evil (77 episodes). That isn’t to say that you can’t make a satisfying animated show with a smaller episode count; it’s doable, and certainly those two Disney Channel examples already speak to that. But it does make it evident that The Owl House was already operating under a more restrained storytelling allowance — made even shorter by the fact that it won’t be getting a full third season.
Terrace previously offered some insight into why The Owl House wasn’t renewed for a full third season, which boiled down to a frustratingly simple reason that had nothing to do with reviews (all good) or viewership (also good): Someone decided that the show didn’t fit Disney’s brand.
“At the end of the day, there are a few business people who oversee what fits into the Disney brand and one day one of those guys decided TOH didn’t fit that brand,” wrote Terrace in a Reddit AMA thread. “The story is serialized (BARELY compared to any average anime lmao), our audience skews older, and that just didn’t fit this one guy’s tastes. That’s it! Ain’t that wild? Really grinds my guts, boils my brain, kicks my shins, all the things. It sucks but it is what it is.”
Pulling off a late-show reveal like Steven Universe did in its final season doesn’t just come from the hard work of the creatives involved; there were certainly moments along the way where it seemed like Steven Universe might not get a chance to tell its full story. But it takes the network giving the show a chance to even get to that point. The Owl House’s most recent reveals are amazing — but imagine what they could’ve been like with a little more time to stew. Hunter, for instance, was only really introduced this season, and the revelation about what he really is comes smooshed in between other big reveals about Belos. It still works — it works very well — but it’s just hard to shake the fact that Disney doesn’t want it to work at all.
The Owl House is brilliant. It’s sharp and funny, with evocative world-building and compelling characters. It’s funny and heartful and gorgeously animated. It’s garnered a passionate fan base and rave reviews, and it became a milestone of LGBTQ representation in all-ages animation. It’s more grown-up than the average Disney Channel animated series, and for the better. And if Disney just had a little more faith (trust and pixie dust, etc., etc.), then The Owl House could have the time it deserves.
The first season of The Owl House, as well as episodes 1 through 16 of season 2, are available on Disney Plus. New episodes premiere on Saturdays at 9 a.m. EDT on Disney Channel.