‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ Review: Disney+ Delivers a Mythical Marvel That Surpasses the Films

Walker Scobell takes on the titular role of the demigod tasked with returning a thunderbolt to Zeus, while saving his mother from the throws of the Underworld

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Walker Scobell, Leah Sava Jeffries and Aryan Simhadri in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians." (Disney+)

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.”

Writer Rick Riordan became a household name in children’s fantasy literature when he debuted the first of six novels of the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series in 2005. Beginning with “The Lightning Thief,” readers grew to understand the struggles of 12-year-old Percy Jackson, a demigod whose human mother fell in love with an unknown god and raised Percy on her own. As young Percy discovered who he was, where he came from and the supernatural abilities he possessed, he began an immense quest.

Riordan’s novels were adapted for the silver screen in the mid-2010s, with actor Logan Lerman in the titular role as Percy Jackson. The film saga resulted in two motion pictures that grossed a total of $428 million at the box office, leaving room for an audience to consume more stories in ancient Greek mythology. Ten years later, and through the use of streaming television and updated visual effects, Percy Jackson lives on.

Disney+’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” stays faithful to its source material while giving the middle schooler some time to exist in the modern world. Walker Scobell (“The Adam Project”) takes on the reign of the half-god-half-human role as Percy Jackson defies the odds to uncover his family’s deepest secrets. Chief among them is an admission from his mother, Sally (Virginia Kull), that Percy is a demigod. Brought up with no knowledge of his father’s identity or whereabouts, Percy has low self-esteem and no friends, leading to problems standing up to bullies and those who don’t understand him.

Aryan Simhadri, Walker Scobell and Leah Sava Jeffries in “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (Disney+)

He takes solace in one classmate, Grover (Aryan Simhadri), who is quickly outed as a satyr. It turns out that discovering his best friend is half-horse is only one of many revelations young Percy encounters outside school grounds. In fact, a dangerous element is out to get Mr. Jackson, which materializes in the form of a math teacher (Megan Mullally) secretly attempting to harm him. Being a half-blood is dangerous, and most of the time, it gets one killed. Once Percy comprehends what he is, those serving Hades will also sense it and come for him.

The danger comes to a head when Percy’s mother explains everything to her young son, blowing his mind and changing everything he’s known as fact. An epic battle with a minotaur results in his mother disappearing and Percy killing the creature. To fend off the terrible forces looking to kill him, he hides in a camp for half-gods where he can be safe and adapt to his newfound powers.

At this camp, Percy uncovers the truths that have been carefully hidden from him throughout his life. His professor, Mr. Bruner, is actually a centaur. There are 12 Houses at the camp representing the 12 Olympians of Greek mythology, and that mythology is not just the stuff of ancient legends. He also finds comfort in other young campers, who’ve experienced the same struggles to fit in growing up. Making friends was never an easy feat for Percy, but at this camp, he is successful.

Walker Scobell as Percy in “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (Disney+)

But not everyone believes Percy is who he says he is. Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) is a camp superstar and the daughter of Athena. A fierce warrior in her own right, Annabeth challenges Percy’s every move, leading the 12-year-old to realize what he’s good at and what he’s not. Annabeth recruits Percy to be on her team for Capture the Flag, though he still needs to learn where he fits in the game and in life. But Annabeth has a clue, and through the use of some ingenuity, the entire camp finds out that Percy Jackson is actually the son of Poseidon, god of the sea.

Through monumental visual effects and a captivating story that will entertain even the casual young observer, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is a win for Disney+. Percy’s father needs his son’s help returning a bolt to Zeus, which is most likely held captive along with Percy’s mother by Hades in the Underworld. The world’s fate hangs in the balance, and it is with this quest that Percy must prove his talents and rescue his mother from the clutches of pure evil.

The character of Percy Jackson has seen his time in the spotlight through Riordan’s books and the film adaptations that brought Logan Lerman some attention. This television adaptation borrows much of the same storylines Riordan wrote about in “The Lightning Thief,” introducing characters to a younger generation while holding true to the components that make Percy Jackson an entity worth rooting for. The writing in the two episodes available for review, by series co-creator Jonathan E. Steinberg, is quick-witted, the action is stellar, and making Percy’s journey an episodic tale helps to propel the young character forward in exciting directions.

Walker Scobell embodies a bullied pre-teen looking for solace and friendship that grounds “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” in an authentic way. Simultaneously discovering oneself and one’s abilities is a time-honored tradition of puberty shown on screen, but it doesn’t feel heavy-handed here. Percy’s plight and promises to his parents are genuine and surreal, leaving room for supporting characters to shine alongside the young demigod. This new adaptation is more of an ensemble than a one-person band, and it shows with the casting of all the supporting players.

Though “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” doesn’t break new ground for a character that’s been remade in popular culture several times over the past two decades, it gives new light to a beautiful story meant for younger viewers. Outstanding character development and enthralling personalities help build the television series to new heights. If the show succeeds with audiences, the other books in Rick Riordan’s canon might follow suit as the basis for additional seasons.

For Percy Jackson’s sake, let’s hope that’s the case.

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” premieres with the first two episodes Wednesday, Dec. 20, on Disney+. Episode 1 will also be available to stream on Hulu.

Comments

One response to “‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ Review: Disney+ Delivers a Mythical Marvel That Surpasses the Films”

  1. Jörg Avatar
    Jörg

    Grover is half-goat. not half-horse. Hes a satyr not a centaur

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