If the violent and family-destroying opening sequence to Black Widow has permanently scarred your 6-year-old for life, here’s a little bit of good news. Marvel’s new animated series What If? is slightly more kid-friendly than a huge swath of the actual MCU, including those super uncomfortable murder moments in both Falcon and Winter Soldier and Loki. But, What If? isn’t a kids’ show by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps, more than any MCU product since 2008, this series feels like a living comic book, which means it’s a mixed bag.
Here’s what busy parents should know about What If? — including what age level it will be best for, how it fits into the rest of Marvel, what it’s about, and some hints as to whether or not you’ll even like it.
What is What If?
What If? is an animated anthology series from the MCU that streams on Disney+. Each episode is about 30 minutes and is narrated by a character called The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright). Each episode is a stand-alone piece. The title means that each story explores a “what if” question that twists some pre-established storyline in Marvel movies. This is based on several stand-alone comic books of the same name. For example, in the first episode, the scenario is: What if Peggy Carter Took the Super Soldier Serum Instead of Steve Rogers?
The best way to think of this is like The Twilight Zone, but for Marvel.
Does What If? actually, connect to the MCU?
On its face, the stakes of each What If? installment are impossibly low for two reasons: First, because each episode takes place in a different continuity, any questions you have from one episode will not be answered by the next one.
Second, because the premise of the series is to show alternate paths that deviate from the regular MCU movies and shows, it’s not like the events of those movies are actually being erased. For example, in episode 2, we enter a universe in which Black Panther became Star-Lord, which doesn’t impact the events of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Black Panther (2018) at all.
That said, because Loki is all about that multiverse and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) is gonna be focused on splintering realities, it’s possible that some seeds will be planted in What If? that could show up in future MCU films or TV shows. But, will you need to see this series to understand the next live-action Marvel thing? Maybe? But it’s very doubtful.
Basically, What If? is mostly for Marvel completists, and by its very nature is getting geeky and granular about the details. Mostly it will just make you wish Chadwick Boseman was still alive so he could do live-action Star-Lord.
Can you watch What If? with the kids?
As opposed to Falcon and the Winter Solider or WandaVision or Black Widow, everything about What If? is decidedly more kid-friendly. That said, you’re still dealing with a decent amount of violence, gunplay, and death. Without revealing a huge spoiler, the third episode is literally a murder mystery, in which some characters your child probably loves are picked off one by one. And, unlike Thanos snapping everyone in Infinity War, nobody is coming back from the dead at the end of this particular 30 minutes. (There’s also a zombie episode coming up that doesn’t seem pleasant. At all.)
7-years-old and up seems to be the best bet for this series, but even a bit older is probably best. Because of the complex nature of the premise, a 9-year-old or a 10-year-old Marvel fan will probably enjoy the series more than a younger kid. Then again, if your kid is so-so on Marvel anyway, diving into series of Sliding Doors, but with the Avengers, might not be that appealing. The novelty of the series assumes you already give a shit about Captain America, Tony Stark, et al. If you don’t, this show won’t convert you. Especially if you’re a kid.
Is What If? good?
It’s okay. It kind of depends on what you’re into. Because the only consistent “character” is the Watcher, it’s hard to get really pumped about each new episode, because you’re hitting a reset button every single time. The show also presupposes that the plots of the Marvel movies are interesting enough to warrant this much alternate speculation.
For a tween, that is probably true! But for a grown-up, some of this will scan as costume switching for the sake of it. The first three episodes are cool, but it’s hard to say these series is great. The pop-art of the MCU is successful because, despite having such a high volume of material, it’s pretty easy to follow. What If isn’t hard to follow but unlike a movie like Spider-Man: Far Frome Home, the nitty-gritty of What If? makes it a little hard to care.
Bottom line: If you love Marvel, you’ll love it. If your kid loves Marvel, they’ll love it. But, if you’ve got superhero fatigue, this show will not get you excited again.
What If? will have nine episodes total. Each will drop on Wednesdays on Disney+.