Fantastic Fest Review: WASTELANDER PANDA: EXILE Fails To Rise Above Novelty
You may be somewhat familiar with Wastelander Panda. Victoria Cocks’ concept of a giant panda who wanders an apocalyptic wasteland recently made a minor mark on popular culture with a few webisodes and even an appearance in the game Borderlands 2. It’s not hard to see why. The Usagi Yojimbo-esque idea is extremely cool, and photos of the Panda in action perfectly hit intriguing weird/cool notes.
But how does it look in practice? Having seen a six-episode Wastelander Panda series/mini-movie/whatever it is, I am afraid to report that there really isn’t much going on here. What seems cool in a photo or brief short becomes fairly typical and uninteresting when blown up to a full hour.
Isaac (pronounced the sci-fi way, “IsACK”) is a giant panda living in some kind of post apocalyptic wasteland among a community of humans. He, his brother, and his mother appear to be the only animal people around, and their status as panda bears does not appear to matter much. When Isaac accidentally kills a little girl, the humans exile his family until he can bring back another little girl to replace her (for breeding purposes, natch). He finds one, and they end up becoming pals. Well not at first. She repeatedly double crosses him and sells him out on their path toward panda-girl friendship.
Most of the series revolves around Isaac and this girl running from a roving gang of vaguely evil marauders. The series does a good job delivering entertaining action scenes, and has no problem with violence. There isn’t much in the way of gore or bloodshed, but this panda bear really seems to enjoy stabbing the shit out of people.
Wastelander Panda: Exile’s core problem is that it never manages to make you care about anything that’s happening on a narrative level. Isaac looks cool (plus, all that stabbing!), but he never pops as much of a character. No one really does. This may be a fault inherent to the format, however. We only have an hour in this world, an hour broken into six mini-chunks that have structures of their own, each ending with something approximating a cliffhanger.
It ultimately feels like the series’ entertainment value relies 100% on the fact that you’re watching a cool anthropomorphic panda bear the whole time. But that’s not nearly enough. If Isaac were just a regular human dude, there would be no reason to watch this at all. And once you get used to him, that’s exactly the kind of narrative we’re stuck with. There is a way to make this kind of thing really sing and become unique. The camp-free tone is spot on and could someday serve a panda warrior story worth watching. Unfortunately, Wastelander Panda: Exile is not that narrative.