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Disney+'s adaptation of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series has come to the end of its satisfying first season. The way that the show has been able to capture the adventure and child-focused drama of the book series has a lot of people (me included) thinking back to the painfully bland '10s Percy Jackson movies, which were overwhelmingly formulaic (you really felt like they were plugging and playing there) and far too fixated on looking cool. In an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the movies aged up the characters so much that central aspects of the story felt broken. But perhaps more notably, the decision betrayed the core audience of Percy Jackson readers - kids.
The Percy Jackson movies weren't about kids finding out that their parents weren't perfect, but about teens figuring out that they've much cooler than expected, and... they landed just as well as you'd think among Percy Jackson fans.
Unlike the films, the Disney+ Percy Jackson isn't about being cool or about getting the girl - it's about a boy trying to do the right thing in a complicated situation. While the Disney+ show, as all adaptations do, changed a fair bit of what happened in the books, it never strayed away from the fact that this is a story about a kid and his relationship with his parents, with his friends, and with who he is becoming.
Of course, the series looks great with sharp production design and a strong trio of kid actors supported by an extraordinarily well-filled out cast of adult guest stars including Virginia Kull (who brings so much depth to Sally Jackson she may be in the running for the best TV mom of the year) and other guest actors from Adam Copeland as brash Ares to Toby Stephens, whose performance as Poseidon has layers upon layers. But perhaps most importantly (especially when considering the theatrical adaptations), the show never betrays its original audience.
In fact, it actively sacrifices the pacing expected in a show for adults to slow down and focus on parts of the story that would matter more to a kid's perspective. As it should. And by speaking to kids, the structure and tone of the show dovetails nicely with the theme of the show. Percy Jackson and the Olympians makes an argument for the power of a kid - that kids have power of their own, to stand up, to fight back, to say no. In fact, they're powerful enough that even ancient gods are be afraid of them.
Perhaps this is the most radical message of any great children's literature. That kids can be interesting as they are, not in a context that adults can understand and enjoy, but for themselves, so that they can come explore the world and make their own decisions and shape their own lives. As more news from Netflix's upcoming Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation trickles out saying that the show is changing its tone to appeal to a wider adult audience, perhaps its a good time to recognize how rare it is to have a big expensive epic show really focus on kids as its central audience.