In this animated, kid-friendly prequel to the horror-comedy franchise Gremlins, the rules for caring for a mogwai are clearly laid out and swiftly broken. After all, what’s a Gremlins project without all that monstrous, zany havoc fluttering about? Rest assured, Secrets of the Mogwai (of which the first two episodes are streaming on the renamed Max) delivers on all fronts.
When we meet Gizmo, he’s chilling out in his mogwai community somewhere in China in 1920, as a giant bird attacks the creatures’ compound. He steps up to the plate, throwing rocks at their invader to try and help save his people, but eventually, he winds up attached to the bird as it flies up, up and away from his home. After crashing into some brush, Gizmo and the bird land into a river, but luckily for the mogwai, he drops onto a piece of driftwood which keeps him dry, but he does display a fear of the water. (Phew!) When the driftwood finally reaches land, he’s found by a traveling circus that claims him as one of their own.
In Shanghai, we meet the Wing family, which includes 10-year-old Sam, his parents Fong and Hon, and the boy’s grandpa. Grandpa’s a wily character, and when he and Sam venture out to shop for ingredients for their family’s medicine practice, Mom makes Sam promise he’ll run home as soon as grandpa mentions anything involving adventure, magic or knives. Not troubling in the slightest!
Grandpa takes the boy to the South Market, which is home to thieves and rapscallions. It’s there that they run into the aforementioned circus that introduces Gizmo to the crowd as their new singing catdog! A group of shady kids led by Elle watch along, commenting on how Gizmo is just what their boss is looking for. Once the mogwai’s little costume hat falls off, Grandpa has a visceral reaction. If they leave the circus now, Shanghai will be doomed! OK, well that seems dramatic, Pops.
But Gramps explains: The mogwai are a mystical creature that no one has seen for centuries. The last time one was left in a human’s care, cities burned, people died and China was nearly obliterated! They must take the mogwai he says, but before they can snag him, Elle offers a huge wad of cash for Gizmo. Grandpa causes a big distraction and after Gizmo bites the gang leader, he’s off and running. After some romp-y animated commotion, Sam and Grandpa convince Gizmo they won’t harm him and he agrees to go with them.
They get home and Grandpa immediately starts packing. They must return the creature to his home, the Valley of Jade. And it could be a potentially deadly journey! Before they can discuss it further, Sam accidentally knocks over a cup of water onto the little guy, and within seconds, four more weirder looking mogwai sprout up, leading us to our very first rule: Never, ever get them wet! (Whoops.)
At the end of the premiere, Riley Greene, the gang’s boss is peeved that his mogwai went missing, but he’s absolutely tickled when a flier for the family’s medicine practice lands in his hands.
In Episode 2, Grandpa lays out some additional rules: No bright light and no feeding them after midnight. Shortly after, Elle and Greene knock on their door. Greene rightly guesses that Grandpa was a treasure hunter back in the day, and demands the old man hand over the creature. Grandpa uses a magical rattle drum to take out Greene’s cronies. But Greene then whips out some pearl magic, which pulls Grandpa’s soul into a little sphere that he then consumes.
Fong, Sam and all of the mogwai escape, while Hon stays behind and gets captured. Shortly after, Fong lures the bad guys away from an alley and tells Sam he needs to take the mogwai to the Valley of Jade alone. But while Sam and Gizmo nap, the four mogwai clones begin reigning hell upon the neighborhood. They slash bike tires, terrorize a restaurant and steal all of its dumplings. (Yum!)
Sam and Gizmo find a whole bunch of evil gremlins waiting to hatch (the result of mogwai eating after midnight, no doubt), but before long, Greene tracks them down. Before the Big Bad can do any harm, Elle knocks him out with a wok and tells them she’s coming with them. She swears she didn’t know Greene was going to harm Sam’s family. She promises to help him and she’ll only take a smidgen of the Valley of Jade’s treasure. Just enough to help her outrun Greene for the rest of her life. They strike a deal to work together, and she says she can send a message to his parents, who are being held in a magical prison. The first step in her plan: steal a pair of keys and jump aboard a passing train.
When Greene wakes up, he’s greeted by the evil gremlins that have just hatched from their egg-shaped cocoons.
So what did you think of the prequel’s premiere episodes? Is it doing the movies justice so far? Grade the first two shows, then sound off below!