X-Men ’97: Class is Back in Session

After twenty-seven years, Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted has finally re-opened.

Long believed to be one of the greatest superhero series of all-time, X-Men: the Animated Series was more than your average Saturday morning cartoon. With its willingness to delve into complex emotional issues underneath its superhero battles, X-Men has remained a treasured show from fans (with the best. theme song. ever.) Now, with the release of X-Men ’97 on Disney+, Marvel has finally uncorked one of Fox’s greatest animated legacies. 

Picking up soon after the tragic events of the finale of X-Men: the Animated Series, the team finds themselves grappling with the death of Professor Charles Xavier. Now, finally asked to lead, Cyclops attempts to unite his team of mutant heroes, fighting for acceptance in a world that fears them. However, when an old foe reappears with a new agenda, the X-Men are thrown into chaos as they attempt to navigate life without their beloved Professor.

Thankfully, X-Men ‘97 resists the urge to attempt to modernize its visual. Often times, rebooted animated properties take advantage of the modern technology (and understandably so). However, instead of moving into CGI, the series maintains the look and feel that were signature to the original series. Lines are clearer and colours brighter but the show still has a ‘hand-drawn’ feel to its visuals. What’s more, by bringing back many of the original cast members, ’97 absolutely feels like a direct continuation of its predecessor. 

(L-R): Magneto (voiced by Matthew Waterson) and Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase) in Marvel Animation’s X-MEN ’97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

But, most importantly, the series also restores what made it such a success in the past. 

The best quality to X-Men was always its maturity. Conversations about claiming identity in the face of oppression remain as relevant in 2024 as they did in 1997. (In fact, they may be even more important today.) In X-Men ‘97, the show never backs down from difficult conversations about topics such as bigotry, gender identity and racial profiling. Even the fact that Jean Gray’s character is pregnant in this particular series implies the reality of sexual activity, something unusual for the House of Mouse in their children’s fare.

X-Men ’97 knows that the world is a difficult place, even for kids. These characters have always been a brand of misfits, brought together under the banner of Charles Xavier’s mentorship. They are looking to find their place in a world that does not welcome them—or their differences. Even with Xavier’s passing, these characters want to pass that baton to the next generation of potential heroes, offering them a safe space to be themselves. 

(L-R): Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale) and Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation’s X-MEN ’97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

In this way, X-Men ‘97 continues to emphasize the importance of diversity and the power that lies within. Just like Xavier’s students, the show reminds us of the joy that comes from our differences. Accepting who you are is a difficult challenge at any age, especially in a world that values ‘normalcy’ over acceptance. And its fairly easy for open-mindedness to be seen as toxic in a world of mutants. 

“Tolerance is extinction,” one particular villain snarls.

(L-R): Jubilee (voiced by Holly Chou), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale), Gambit (voiced by AJ LaCascio), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), and Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation’s X-MEN ’97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

But this is the true power of the X-Men. These are characters that, despite their infinite power, feel entirely human. Cyclops struggles with self-doubt. Wolverine cannot see past his own pain. Rogue feels as though she cannot connect with anyone. Without giving any spoilers, even Magneto struggles to wrestle with his own inner demons. (His speech in the UN the the second episode is particularly poignant.) Just like us, they’re trying to find their place in an unwelcome world.

So, yes. X-Men ’97 may be dripping with nostalgia. But, with its cry for hope for the disenfranchised, it’s also never remained more current.

The first two episodes of X-Men ‘97 are available on Disney+ on Wednesday, March 20th, 2024 with new episodes each Wednesday that follows.

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