When you first begin watching the animated experience Entergalactic, from musician and actor Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, there might be a part of your mind that feels like you’re having some sort of cinematic déjà vu. The comic-book style of animation almost seems to recall the vibrant New York world brought to life in 2018’s sensational Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Then, when you begin to look a bit closer, you discover there is a distinctly grounded yet still imaginative component to this story. Whether you consider it to be a television special or a feature-length film, the classification matters less than how reflective it all becomes as a work of striking animation that finds beauty in the every day of adult life.
Split into chapters and also serving as an accompaniment for Cudi’s newest album of the same name, which is also exceptional in its own right, Entergalactic centers on two neighbors who begin to grow closer after a chance encounter. Jabari (Cudi) is an aspiring comic book artist who has just moved into the building and Meadow (Jessica Williams) is a talented photographer with a big show coming up. This is all you need to know about the story as everything is, rather refreshingly, not driven by plot. Much like the scenes where Jabari bikes around the city, the narrative wanders to and fro without much stress about where it is going to end up. There are conflicts that end up arising around what the two characters want for their lives, but they still all remain masterfully measured. At times, it even feels like it is a series of music video vignettes that are then stitched together by the laid backstory.
All of these moments create visual and emotional shifts in tone that pair well with the more patient progression of the narrative. Particularly memorable sequences where the city fades into the background as Jabari begins biking into space offer the taste of a more evocative experience it can tap into now and again. He is a man with his head in the clouds that he also partakes in smoking. It doesn’t use this to create superficially trippy experiences that play as jokes. Instead, it feels like wading through the layers of his imagination that turn the mundanity of ordinary streets into locations of limitless artistic potential. There is a dark side to all of this that also rears its head now and again. One moment manifests the artist’s anxieties as an enormous version of his creation that chases him around the city and threatens to swallow him up. It is a darkly comedic sequence that doubles as a demonstration of the fear lurking underneath Jabari’s “man of few words” exterior he puts forth.
Throughout all of this, the story is also quite funny and enjoys poking fun at common aspects of being alive. Everything from the introduction of the dating app “Stush,” which ends up providing a great kicker in the conclusion, to the characters’ awkwardness in expressing their feelings proves to be authentic without ever being showy. While plenty of stories try to say something profound or incisive about modern life by spelling everything out, there is something to be appreciated in just seeing a slice-of-life portrait of two people navigating the poetry and pitfalls of the world around them. It ends up feeling like a more lightly melancholic meet cute with both Jabari and Meadow often getting in their own ways. It instills a sweetness in each scene they share. From an initial dispute over loud music being played late at night that turns into a cautious flirtation and more fully-formed relationship, there is a simple truthfulness to it all. A central montage effectively communicates growth and change without ever needing to say a word. The stunning animation all speaks for itself as we see each of them getting completely swept up in the love they have for the other.
There is honestly something amazing about how much this all ends up leaving an impact. What could have easily just been a way to promote an album becomes a work of art all its own. There are still a few things to quibble about in the final work. While the two leads are great and have strong yet understated chemistry, some of the rest of the star-studded cast aren’t quite as good of voice actors as they are actors. Of course, this is a growing trend in animation, and Entergalactic is by no means the worst offender of this, so it is hard to hold it against the overall animated work too much. When it comes to said animation, there are some scenes where the characters seem to get a bit stiff and aren’t as smoothly constructed as one would hope. These are brief, ensuring that they don’t compromise what remains a reflective work that can strike awe in both its more explosive instances and in its quiet emotional ones. It is all about getting a brief glimpse of two different yet connected people making their way in a world where connection can be hard to come by.
One monologue that Meadow gives towards the end about capturing a moment encapsulates this all perfectly. Though she is speaking about her own photography as a character, it works just as well as a thesis statement for what this story is setting out to do. She then undercuts it with a joke about how this was something she said because she was really hungry, a way of providing cover for her sincerity, but it serves as an enduring description of the fleeting experience of being alive rather profoundly. Life is, whether we realize it or not when in it, a series of instances that can pass too quickly for us to fully understand, making it precious and also so painful at the same time. As we then get taken through all the moments that Meadow and Jabari shared together, bringing us back to the place where they first went out, it is impossible not to think about all our own memories that can come flooding back. At the end of the day, in the massive cosmos of existence that we don’t fully understand, we all just want someone to get a vegan burger with.