Being alive is a trip. There is no beauty, horror, and ass-kicking quite like navigating a lifetime. I don’t have much else to compare that to because, as far as I know, I haven’t not been alive, but one thing that seems apparent to me is that we all get put through our paces at one point or another. We fall on our faces, experience unimaginable traumas, we stagnate, we grow, we repeat cycles, and sometimes we break them. For me, when anxiety begins creeping up my spine or dissociation swoops in to take me out of my body and place me somewhere else, I typically turn to places I know are safe: Bob’s Burgers, Schitt’s Creek, and the show that not enough people seem to know about, Centaurworld. Centaurworld is the story of Horse (Kimiko Glenn), a warrior deep in the trenches of an endless conflict, who magically leaves her world and lands in a bright, musical, bizarro one. Desperate to return home and reunite with her Rider (Jessie Mueller), Horse bonds with a magical ragtag herd of “half-animal, half-man things” and sets off on a journey of self-discovery and home. Created by animator Megan Nicole Dong (also the voice of anxiety-ridden and klepto gerenuktaur, Glendale), the story is about embracing the unexpected and changing in ways previously not thought possible. It could not have entered my life at more prescient time as my own self-concept and sense of my world had just fallen apart.
In May 2021, I was informed I needed to leave my home of three years so the landlord could move back in. Shortly after selling or storing my belongings and driving my self, Gatsby, my cat companion of 15 years, and a couple of suitcases the 6-8 hours from Tucson, AZ, to Los Angeles to stay with my aunt and uncle, my said beloved companion died of stomach cancer. Wound, meet salt. Unlike our hero, Horse, I was not feeling ambitious or focused on a goal of any kind. I felt completely and utterly lost. But similarly to Horse, I was in the beginning stages of finding my herd amidst what felt like insurmountable obstacles, trauma, and grief. Less than a month after the loss of Gatsby and only about two since losing my home, I was sitting in a friend’s living room in Hawaii. Surrounded by my friend’s family and other friend’s visiting from New York, Yahtzee dice and random toys settled on corners of the coffee table and kitchen counters, it was a moment of relaxation and fun that had been difficult for me to cultivate at that time. We all probably had a beer or seltzer in hand, lost in laughs and conversation while on the TV screen, a giraffe with a toned human torso and pear-shaped humanish face appeared, screaming dramatically at a freaked out horse. The horse was also screaming. Through the immense fog of grief and autopilot human-mode, a thought emerged from the depths: “What the fuck am I watching?”
This, my friends, was Centaurworld. I can’t remember if I finished watching season 1 with my friends or if I decided to watch it on my own (season 2 would not come out until the Fall) but an impression was made. Centaurworld is full of topical absurdist humor, first-class talent from Broadway, Pop, YouTube, and the Film/TV worlds, and a soundtrack that will make you want to embark on an epic adventure in one turn and hold your loved ones and aching heart close the next. “I tried to draw from my own emotional experiences… The whole [story] is based on me going through high school, getting ready to take all these [AP] classes and then ending up in a show choir because the only available extracurricular was show choir… Being from one world, thinking that there was one way to do things, and then ending up in this really musical, silly place and having that really change her [Horse] as a character,” said Dong in an interview with the LA Times about where the concept for Centaurworld originated. The relatability of Horse’s story arc, as well as those of many of the secondary character’s, is what keeps the show anchored enough to allow the this place to come alive in all its saturated, hills and moons with butts, shooting-tiny-versions-of-themselves-from-their-hooves glory.
The first season centers on Horse’s trek across Centaurworld to find the missing pieces of a mysterious artifact, and the shamans who hold them, that will help her return to her world and Rider. Accompanied by Wamawink (Megan Hilty), Durpleton (Josh Radnor, and the aforementioned beefy giraffetaur), Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), Glendale (Dong), and Ched (Chris Diamantopolus), this unlikely herd get mixed up in all sorts of shenanigans all the while helping Horse navigate way outside her comfort zone and discover and embrace previously uncharted aspects of her identity. Face-offs with taurnadoes, standing for trial for falling down a moletaur hole, competing in Johnny Teatime’s cattaur competition, ugly crying, and learning the unfortunate origins of glue are all par for the course when going on a herotaur’s journey. All leading to a more connected herd and Horse who becomes more unrecognizable, yet more herself.
Season two widens the focus to ending the war in Horse’s world by defeating the big bad Nowhere King (if Adventure Time’s The Litch and Hexxus from FernGully had a baby with the voice of Brian Stokes Mitchell) while giving more backstory and arcs for the other members of the herd as they attempt to recruit other centaurs to join the fight. The fun thing about growth is we often learn swiftly about the many areas in which we fall short and the deep discomfort of trying to continue to play roles that just no longer fit. Unless you are fan faves Comfortable Doug (Flula Borg) or Waterbaby (Renée Elise Goldsberry) then you are perfection. No notes. For everyone else, falling short doesn’t always mean eventually being able to rise above and conquer the thing, but is actually in the courage it takes to feel our disappointment and grieve the person we thought we were or would like to be but aren’t. Or it’s our envy of those we love being able to do or have what we may be yearning for in ourselves. Sometimes it’s wondering about where we even fit in the world anymore. It’s frustrating feeling brain mushy where there was once a sense of clarity. Hopefully we are as lucky as Horse is to have the modeling of support and acceptance of her herd as we figure out how to answer those questions for ourselves.
Everyone has got some trauma they are working through or from and rarely is anything what it seems on the surface. Durpleton’s distress over having mean farts, Glendale’s habitual stealing and hoarding everything into her portal tummy, and Ched’s outright disdain for horses and Centaurs™ are silly quirks at first, but aren’t most quirks little glimmers of baggage not yet unpacked? The growth from, in spite of, and the empowerment to make it to the other side of hard times is not exclusive to the hero, but is for everyone. In true musical theater fashion each moment of foreshadowing, deep discovery, and major plot twists is punctuated by song. Big white way power ballads like “Hello Rainbow Road” and “Who is She” propel us into action and huge moments of expansion while the contemplative “What if I Forget Your Face” and fierce “Nothing Good” (sung by the equally fierce legend Lea Salonga) are stark reminders of our greatest and most heartbreaking fears about relationships. But, it’s “Rider’s Lullaby” that we hear within the first five minutes of the series that carries us through it all.
Though it’s the main theme of season one, its refrain of “you’re ok, you’re alright” lays the foundation of what the herd are able to build together. The beauty of a theme like, ‘you’re ok” is not in the upholding of ideals of rugged individualism and the notions that in order to conquer our demons, we must do it alone and be better at being alone. No, it’s about staying connected during the toughest, strangest, most surprising times. Things happening may not be ok, but as long as we’re with those who see how worthy we are of protection, growth, and love we will be ok. It’s a misguided and oft repeated notion that “things will work out.” It takes decisive action, risks, support, and a little bit of magic for life to unfold and fall into place. Whether we coincidentally wind up in a show choir class or have lost a home, the world opens up in unimaginable ways and the company we keep can keep us going. My story has yet to reach a conclusion like Horse’s as I’m sure is the case for many out there in the world right now. Whether your path is a rainbow road or a plane ticket to another continent, the opportunities to uncover ourselves and find our communities are endless.