Long Live the Royals (2015)

Long Live the Royals was an extremely brief miniseries that aired on Cartoon Network back in 2015. When I say extremely brief, I mean it's just four 11-minute episodes long. But this was the year after Over the Garden Wall, and the bar for Cartoon Network miniseries was impossibly high. That's probably why this mediocre absurdist piece seems to have vanished almost without a trace. 

(It's currently available to stream, though, which these days might just mean that the people who worked on it didn't have great contracts so it's cheap to keep up.) 

The setting here is somewhat muddy. A royal family presides over someplace (all the descriptions of this show say Britain, but that isn't corroborated in the actual show as far as I remember) that at least includes a castle, a forest, and a town of peasants. It's a mashup time period, with most people dressed vaguely medieval-ish or "old-timey" and a strongly feudal society, but also smartphones and laptops and guitars. They get everywhere on horses, though, and have no modern agriculture seen. 

Anyway, the four episodes follow the various members of the royal family, mostly the kids, as they get in and out of trouble throughout the Yule Hare Festival. 

You were waiting for the Christmas, weren't you?

Let's recap the plots very briefly and then we'll circle back for it at the end. 

In the first episode, teenage prince Peter is tasked with actually participating in the Yule Hare festivities, including puppeteering a giant hideous Yule Hare costume. He needs help, however, and has no friends. He attempts to get in with a group of cool rich kids, but they destroy the costume tormenting some "mud people" (these are somehow different than the peasants who are in every other episode, but whether these are people literally made of mud or people who like mud so much they are always covered in it is left unclear). Peter feels bad and befriends a mud girl, then plays a trick to frighten the rich kids to pay them back for being mean to her. (This involves a giant robot rabbit and some hallucinogenic fog.) Peter feels better about himself and more comfortable with interacting with others, the end.

The second episode follows punk princess Rosalind as she attempts to convince her dad to let her go to her boyfriend's concert without any guards. She tries to prove she's responsible by overseeing a "Hare Pardoning" ceremony, but her brothers cause things to go sideways, and she ends up having to sneak out to the concert. Her boyfriend is a jerk about the fact that she's late, then she gets hassled on the dance floor and beats up some guys. Her dad sees that she can in fact take care of herself, but still grounds her, the end.

The third is about the fact that the queen snores so loudly that it keeps up the entire palace. She fires any staff who mention this, and claims to have killed to protect the secret in the past. Some neighboring royalty are coming to visit for some peace negotiations, and the lack of sleep and terrifying sounds cause a ton of trouble. After fired palace staff lead a peasants' revolt to the palace, the queen finally admits the truth and gives everyone their jobs back, the end. 

The fourth and final episode is the culmination of the Yule Hare Festival. A ceremonial hunt is planned in commemoration of the legendary hunt of a giant monstrous hare. Youngest prince Alex is angry that he can't go, and he runs away in search of the Yule Hare (which all the adults say isn't real). After a side adventure with some not-so-merry "men of the forest," he ends up actually finding the giant rabbit, but it's friendly. Alex protects the Hare from the palace guards until he can convince everyone to stop trying to kill it. Everyone's happy, sudden cliffhanger, the end. 

If all that sounds like a lot for 44 minutes, you're not wrong. Especially in the last episode, it felt like they tried to pack in so much plot that no jokes, emotional beats, or even plot twists had time to land before we had to rush on to the next thing. 

It's not really my style of humor, although I snickered a couple times. It seemed like some interesting ideas got tangled up with some other stuff and the whole thing never really coalesces into anything more than a brief diversion. 

But I promised more Christmas.

The Yule Hare Festival is interesting as far as fantasy replacements for Christmas go. It seems to be a combination of Thanksgiving (pardoning a hare, a big feast) and Christmas, specifically featuring elements of older European Christmas celebrations. Some examples:

  • The party goes on for at least a week (which would have been the case at times when celebrations ran from Christmas to Epiphany)
  • Peter is charged with being the Lord of Misrule
  • Also the peasants demanding better treatment would have been seasonally appropriate: Christmas was when servants expected some reward for their labors
  • Although the Yule Hare costume also resembled a Lunar New Year Dragon costume, the way the rich kids immediately used it to tease people and demand food is reminiscent of Mari Lwyd or other wassailing traditions 
  • As a supernatural figure that adults don't believe in, the Yule Hare is a little like Santa, but the scary version that was supposedly dangerous is like the Yule Cat 

So there's a lot going on here, holiday-wise, but I wish it felt more cohesive, instead of like a series of decisions based on whatever someone thought would be funniest at the moment. I'm sure there are people for whom this style of humor is perfect and that makes up for a lot. For what it's worth, I tracked down the pilot that got this made, and it was funnier and the writing was more polished. But despite some potential, this little miniseries just isn't special enough for most people to bother tracking it down.