'Cuphead' Co-Creator Wants to "Stay Far Away" From Computer-Assisted Animation in Netflix Series

Chad Moldenhauer's popular indie game is noted for its hand-drawn, 1930s-reminiscent art style.
Courtesy of Netflix; Getty Images
'The Cuphead Show!' (inset: co-creator Chad Moldenhauer)

On Tuesday, Netflix revealed plans for an upcoming animated comedy series based on the popular platforming video game Cuphead from Studio MDHR, in collaboration with King Features.

The indie game has become a surprise megahit for the indie studio, selling over 4 million copies since its launch in September 2017. Cuphead's success is a representation of the hard work and passion poured into the title by brothers and co-creators Jared and Chad Moldenhauer, who quit their jobs and remortgaged their homes to fund the title, their first foray into the gaming industry.

Cuphead quickly became a hit, mixing brutally challenging platforming gameplay with a charming 1930s-reminiscent hand-drawn animation style. As Hollywood continues to mine the catalogs of gaming companies for material to adapt to the big and small screen, Cuphead's beautiful aesthetic and engaging world-building makes for an appealing choice to a streamer like Netflix (which is also currently adapting The Witcher for its platform).

Chad Moldenhauer caught up with The Hollywood Reporter following Tuesday's announcement to discuss the new project, his studio's involvement in the series, what to expect from its art style and soundtrack ("we're keen to stay as far away from computer-assisted puppeteer animation as possible," he says), whether a Cuphead film is in the future and what the show means for a potential sequel to the popular game.

What is Studio MDHR's involvement in the new Netflix series?

As the team that's been steeped in this world and these characters for so long, we're here to help guide the folks at Netflix in bringing the characters of Cuphead to life in a way that feels as authentic as possible. With that said, the creative team at Netflix Animation on this show — led by Dave Wasson and Cosmo Segurson — are spectacular. We can't wait to see the depth and nuance they bring to the Inkwell Isles, and are thrilled with what we've seen so far.

Will the series feature the same animation style as the game?

Right now we aren't sharing any specific details on the show's visual style. For more news as it becomes available, stay tuned to our social channels, Netflix's social channels or the new Cuphead Show Twitter feed. With that said, we're keen to stay as far away from computer-assisted puppeteer animation as possible and are proud to be working with a creative team that really believes in the value of hand animation.

Who is doing the music? Will it be the same style as the show?

While there's a shared reverence between ourselves and Netflix for the jazz, big band and orchestral music that was featured in Cuphead, we don't have anything to announce at this time about the music for The Cuphead Show!

Will the show be voice acted or is it silent like the era it shares its style with?

This is something you'll want to stay tuned to find out about!

The game has some more "mature" elements like smoking and gambling. Is this new show aimed at a younger audience or an older one?

While The Cuphead Show! will definitely be approachable to a younger audience, it's being crafted with broad appeal in mind. We feel like it's something that kids will love, but will keep parents and those who have played Cuphead engaged with the inspiration it takes from the cartoon classics of the 1930s and humor that plays on multiple levels.

Will the show tie in with the game or do they just share thematic elements?

Something we were really focused on from the outset as this partnership started taking shape was ensuring the creative team at Netflix didn't feel the need to be too adherent to the exact events of Cuphead the game. While we certainly want people to recognize these characters and this setting, The Cuphead Show! is ultimately telling its own distinct story. We liken it to the way that Mickey Mouse can — at any given time — be a pilot, a baker or a hot dog maker! We want Cuphead to have a versatility that allows for talented creators to play around in this world and tell compelling stories of their own.

What about working with Netflix was appealing? Were you approached by other streamers? Did you pitch this to Netflix or did they come to you?

I feel like everyone grew up watching shows that still stick with them today. For Jared and I, this was classic 1930s cartoons, but everyone I know has fond memories of sitting in front of the TV with friends and family. In many ways, this is what Netflix is for people today, a place they can come to see amazing stories and find the classics that resonate with them. So the idea of our little animated adventure getting to sit alongside some of the amazing original programming that's already on the platform is surreal, and a real "full circle" moment for us. In terms of the way this came about, that was very much a product of hard work on the part of our licensing partner King Features. Since Cuphead's release, they have been our partners for merchandising, and they approached us with the idea of bringing Cuphead to other forms of entertainment. We didn't have any specific hopes or expectations about what this meant, and when we heard there was interest from Netflix as a creative partner, we were blown away.

What does the development of this show mean for the possibility of a sequel to Cuphead?

Right now, as a studio, our full energies are dedicated to development of Cuphead's DLC expansion, The Delicious Last Course, which we recently announced is being shifted to a 2020 release window so that we can give it the care and attention we feel it deserves. We're pouring our hearts into making sure it's a new Cuphead adventure that fans will love, and don't have any other announcements to make beyond that right now.

Does MDHR have plans to keep expanding Cuphead beyond video games and TV? A possible film, merchandising, etc.?

I don't think we ever could have expected Cuphead to resonate with as many people as it has, and we continue to be grateful every day for that. We hadn't even planned to make more games after Cuphead! We were fully prepared to go back to our day jobs, and are still blown away that fans have allowed us to keep doing what we love. All of which is to say, our plans right now are really just focused on continuing to craft 2D hand-animated video game content as long as people keep enjoying it. Beyond that, we're excited to see what the future holds.