The series premiere of Disney’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians is everything fans of the book could have asked for and more.
In 2013, Percy Jackson and the Olympians was my newest obsession: what could have been more perfect than a story about a kid who was roughly my age, and very much rooted in the Greek myths I had learned to know and love? Ten years later, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is now having its season 1 premiere on Disney + and I could not be more excited to watch a series I grew up with and loved for so many years. And equally excited to witness the Disney series soon make a whole new generation fall in love with Percy’s adventures and, perhaps by extension, with the Greek mythology this story is so heavily based on.
At the beginning of Disney’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, we meet the show’s titular character, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson (Walter Scobell). When we first meet him, Percy is on a field trip at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his best friend, Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri), and his teachers, Mr. Brunner (Glynn Turman) and Ms. Dodds (Megan Mullaly). The events that unfold in New York City will change Percy’s life forever as he learns the truth about who he really is. Helped by his mother, Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull), he joins Camp Halfblood, where he meets the Camp director Mr. D (Jason Mantzoukas) and other people like him, like Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries), Luke Castellan (Charlie Bushnell), and Clarisse La Rue (Dior Goodjohn).
The light that shines the brightest in this series premiere is, of course, Percy as the selfless, brave, and funny protagonist of the story. Walter Scobell excels as Percy, perfectly combining the character’s humour, with impeccable comedic timing, and his clear moral code. Percy is a protagonist we cannot help but root for as he faces multiple challenges in his path and an incredibly relatable one as someone who admittedly says he is “used to feeling weird [and] to the world feeling weird”. Scobell’s Percy has already won me over from his very first few scenes on screen in Disney’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
While Percy may be the main character and is ultimately the focus of the show, the supporting cast is just as impressive in all their respective roles. A lot of the other characters in Percy Jackson and the Olympians only have small appearances in the first two episodes, even those whose roles will become bigger in the rest of the season like Annabeth and Grover. But, despite the short screen time, all of the characters in the Disney show stand out and make an impression on the audience. In particular, we get a very good portrayal of Mr. D and Sally Jackson as we immediately understand their character from the series premiere.
While the comparison with the not-so-faithful film adaptation of the books comes naturally, drawing a parallel between the two would do a disservice to both. The Disney show stands entirely on its own from the film adaptations and the book series, as it establishes its world-building perfectly well without the book’s background information. But the age of the protagonists is particularly relevant. It is such a joy to see the protagonists of Percy Jackson and the Olympians actually look like children in the series premiere when in the 2010 film they were aged up. Seeing Percy and his fellow campers so young when having to face mythical monsters and dangerous quests highlights the struggles and dangers of being a demigod.
Its accuracy with the source material is perhaps the most impressive element of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. While some features may seem irrelevant to the plot, there are so many important details that book readers will know and love, such as Percy’s blue food and the costumes including the Camp’s iconic shirt and necklace. Even when it differs from the exact details of the book in some parts, the very core of the Disney show remains faithful to that of the book. The key to this is undoubtedly the involvement of Rick Riordan, the author of the original books, in the show as the screenwriter and producer of the show, which was missing in the first attempt at a screen adaptation.
The Camp Half-blood that many of us have learned to call home – just like Percy – comes to life in the season premiere of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Seeing its aesthetics portrayed on screen is beautiful and emotional for fans of the book who have read about this unique world for years. The Disney show does a great job at quickly introducing us to a setting neither the audience nor Percy know anything about with important elements about the worldbuilding that will surely come back in the rest of the season.
I love how Percy Jackson and the Olympians begins with a warning, just like in the book. From the very beginning of the series premiere, there is an ever-present feeling that things will not go exactly as planned. Percy’s real fear that something bad is about to happen is portrayed very well with a tension-filled atmosphere. From the very beginning of the Disney show, the stakes are very clearly established by the beginning voiceover and tense musical score by Bear McCreary and Sparks & Shadows. Similarly, the constant threats and dangers that follow Percy are shown through the presence of the mythical monsters that are impressively created through a masterful use of visual effects.
However, if there is one thing I would change in Percy Jackson and the Olympians is some elements of the editing. While the Disney show does a great job at creating urgency in both episodes and portraying the action-packed sequences, the constant cuts to black to move from one scene to the other quickly feel repetitive and somewhat lazy when they are being used too often. For a series that has shown such great use of its special effects and excellent editing in terms of pacing, I would have hoped to see smoother and more informative transitions from one scene to another.
From its series premiere, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is an almost flawless product and I cannot wait to see where it goes from there in the next six episodes of this season such a fantastic start. With the first two episodes, Disney proves that this product can work very well both for fans and non-fans of the Rick Riordan books who will equally enjoy being transported into Percy’s adventure and discovering a whole new world of demigods, monsters, and magical objects.
The series premiere of Percy Jackson and the Olympians will be available to watch on Disney Plus on December 20, 2023. Read our review of episode 3 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.