She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a reboot of the fabled 1980s Filmation TV series She-Ra: Princess of Power inspired by the Masters of the Universe franchise. This reboot, much like the 80s show, tells the tale of Adora, an orphan who was raised by the evil Horde, believing that it was her duty to fight against the great Rebellion. However, when she discovers a magic sword, she fulfills her destiny and transforms into the legendary She-Ra: Princess of Power. However, that’s where most of the similarities to the original show end.
This time around, Adora’s identity is an open secret, as everyone knows that she can transform into She-Ra. I do think that’s a missed opportunity for a lot of fun story possibilities, but it works out fine. She-Ra, along with her friends Glimmer and Bow, is tasked with recruiting the princesses of various kingdoms in order to reinstate the Princess Alliance, a powerful force that had long ago fallen apart in its battle against the Horde.
Produced by Dreamworks Animation, this 2018 show is a lot more self-aware, and also tailors its themes to a much different audience. Adora/She-Ra is no longer the slim and curvy woman she was in the 80s, but is athletic, strongly built and extremely awkward at times, even as a warrior. Modern jokes and snarky humor is abundant, and are set against a richer, more vividly crafted world. Gone are the gift wrapped stories and moral lessons of the 80s show, instead we have a singular storyline and characters whose motives are shrouded in shades of gray.
Perhaps where the show mostly shines is in its characterization. While most of the supporting Princesses are one-note characters, Adora and Catra are standouts. Their tense relationship of enemies who were once best friends, is the soul of the show, and a giant step forward for the portrayal of female characters in animation. In Shadow Weaver, we also have a villain who is at once menacing and intimidating, although Hordak himself doesn’t have much to do throughout most of the season. Glimmer and Bow, Adora’s friends, mesh well in the cast, and give us a trio to root for. Adding to the complex characterization is some top-notch voice acting, which features Aimee Carrero (known for her work on Disney’s Elena of Avalor), Karen Fukuhara (notable for her role in Suicide Squad) and singer AJ Michalka (of the pop duo Aly and AJ as well as Steven Universe).
However, we get very few scenes with the other princesses, who only show up in their particular episodes, and little else. Although most of them are hilarious and shine with their individual personalities, it would be great if we could spend more time with them. Perhaps Season 2 should rectify this and give us more storylines featuring the Princess Alliance in bigger roles.
The new She-Ra is also an epic win for representation. Back in the 80s, almost all the female characters in She-Ra were tall, slender, white and had similar features, which made animation and toy production easier. This time around, we have men and women of all shapes, sizes and colors, making it score well in terms of representation as well as appeal. Much credit to the creators for giving us a cast that is diverse and multicultural, and also with a whole lot of different personalities. The creators have also evidently been careful in creating characters that, in 2018, represent all kinds of people, so there are several characters that are not representative of any particular binary or gender. It’s refreshing to finally see such incredible, thoughtful representation in animation.
The animation of the series is truly dazzling, with fluid, fast paced scenes, clean lines and gorgeous backgrounds. The lush visuals benefit from bright neon colors, particularly purples, pinks and yellows, and the kingdom of Etheria is beautifully reimagined and rendered. The look of the human characters has clearly been inspired by anime and shows like Sailor Moon and Steven Universe. I do wish the show was even more action packed, rather than having characters be awkward and troubled most of the time, with a few battles sprinkled in for good measure.
At times, the show does get bogged down by a “princess of the week” format, which, after the first three great introductory episodes, becomes a bit of a chore to watch. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of dark, tense moments that the show occasionally throws at us. The best scenes and episodes are the ones where Adora and Catra face off against each other, their love-hate relationship being the emotional core of the series.
The show gets major points for a mature, sophisticated storyline that includes major themes like loyalty, unity and fighting for the truth. It is also delightfully and unapologetically feminist, with the female characters doing almost all the heavy lifting (literally), and the few male characters there for a few laughs or as sidekicks. He-Man is nowhere to be seen. It’s no question that an entire new generation of girls and boys who love princesses and strong female characters are going to adore this new series. Major props to showrunner and creator Noelle Stevenson, who represents a new generation of millennial animation producers, for giving us a show that is heartfelt, diverse and fearless.
Should the show get a second season, it would be great to see more of the tension( and maybe a reconciliation) between Adora and Catra. The show does extremely well when it is emotional and high-stakes, of which there are many such moments (many episodes end in spine-chilling cliffhangers). All in all, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a lovingly made, hilarious and gripping show which goes a long way in taking television animation to the next level with wonderful characters and sparkling visuals. A few flat moments and underused side characters aside, this is one show to add to your watch list.
Season 1 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is now streaming on Netflix.