Netflix new program ‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’ is an update of the 1985 Filmation series, ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’, a spin-off from ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ and a promotional tool to tell toys. While the original is a beloved classic, in just 13 episodes, creator Noelle Stevenson crafts an Etheria that is richer and has a more fully-formed mythology than the classic Filmation series did in 93 adventures.
Make no mistake, underneath the candy-colored exterior, this show is EPIC. Back in the day, fans were outraged by the anime-inspired art of the ‘Teen Titans’ cartoon, with many dismissing it as ‘Poké-Titans’. But those that stuck with it realized that ‘Teen Titans’ was a perfect mixture of slapstick humor, deep, rich characterization and dramatic, mature storytelling.
‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’ looks as though it is headed in the same direction. The characters can come across as squawk-y and over-the-top in the beginning, but as the series unfolds, their emotional depth only increases as they deal with victories, defeats, and heartbreaks.
The first few episodes build to Episode 8, “Princess Prom,” which unites all of the main characters in one place and marks a drastic change in status quo for one of them. By this point, the characters have all received enough attention that the tension felt when they are in peril is real. That only increases as the series heads toward its last two episodes which are appropriately huge in scope.
Since this isn’t a spin-off of ‘He-Man’, Stevenson has given Etheria its own history, part of which is the establishment of the Princess Alliance. Much like the planet Mongo in the original ‘Flash Gordon’ comic strips, Etheria is separated into kingdoms, each with its own terrain and climate, ruled by a Princess with a unique personality and powers inspired by these surroundings. (Frosta of the Kingdom of Snows has ice powers, for instance.) At one time, the Princesses united to defend Etheria, but after the Evil Horde’s invasion, the individual kingdoms (princess-doms?) were so badly damaged, that most of the Princesses turned their backs on the Alliance in order to focus on their own people, and have become isolated. (And the events of the show threaten to drive them even further apart.)
The focus is, of course, Adora, a Horde Force Captain who comes to discover that her benefactors are actually evil and winds up in possession of the Sword of Protection, which transformers her into the statuesque super being She-Ra. Unlike the original version, this Adora does not hide the fact that she is She-Ra, which is fine. This is Brightmoon, not Metropolis. It never made sense in the original how Adora suddenly went from being a Horde Force Captain to suddenly, not only joining the Great Rebellion but becoming its new leader. That doesn’t happen here. While she does defect, there are those that have their doubts about her allegiance. She doesn’t just show up and take over. (Plus, she’s a lot younger and it wouldn’t make sense.)
The supporting characters are also given more complex storylines. Adora and Catra have essentially grown up as sisters– in one early scene, we see that Catra sleeps curled up at the foot of Adora’s bunk. But as Adora discovers the truth about the Horde, they are set on different paths.
Catra is ambitious but comes to realize that without Adora to defend her, both physically and emotionally, that goal may be harder to accomplish than she imagined. It doesn’t help that, unbeknownst to ace pupil Adora, their guardian Shadow Weaver pitted Catra against her in a case of Marcia vs Jan sibling rivalry. Without Adora to carry her, Catra must resort to increasingly dubious methods to get what she wants.
Similarly, Glimmer is also given a more emotional storyline, as she feels pressure to live up to her mother, Queen Angella. “Try being the daughter of an immortal queen, when your powers are… sparkles.” Due to events of the past, Angella is overprotective of Glimmer, while Glimmer just wants to prove her worth and, like Catra, winds up going to extreme lengths to do so.
The one aspect of this show that has gotten the most attention is the redesigns of the characters. Because this series isn’t meant to sell action figures or dolls, Stevenson took advantage of the characters not having to all possess the same Barbie-like body type. Every character has a unique physical appearance– Perfuma is tall and lanky, Glimmer is short and plump. And of course, unlike the mostly all-white originals, the characters are given different skin tones.
The character designs are minimized, to make for easier animation, but the variation in height, weight, skin tone, and age, make this a more interesting mix. Scorpia looks like a cross between the pop singer Pink and a shellfish. Entrapta is recast as one of the Princesses, a tech genius who comes across as an antisocial mixture of Marvel Comics’ Medusa and Doctor Octopus. Perfuma is a flaky “flower child.” Angella and Castaspella are adult women, who serve as mentors rather than peers. Castaspella also serves as that unfunny, slightly judgmental aunt we all know.