She-Ra and The Princesses of Power reflects the basics of the original 1985 story: Adora, an orphan raised by the Horde, discovers a magical sword that transforms her into She-Ra, the powerful protector of her home planet, Eternia. With her new abilities and the help of her newfound acquaintances Princess Glimmer and an archer named Bow, Adora discovers the devastation and pain the Horde has caused and decides to align herself with the Rebellion (led by Glimmer’s mother, Queen Angella). She-Ra’s mission is to restore balance to Eternia and unite its magical princesses to fight against the evil Horde.
While the original She-Ra: Princess of Power has obvious cultural influence, it is something to be left behind the veil of nostalgia and childhood memories. With stiff characters and repetitive animation, it seems somewhat lifeless. By contrast, the revamped She-Ra is warm and fleshed out, with characters that seem far more real. Adora and her friends, all teenagers, visibly struggle with insecurity, jealousy, and other teen frustrations. Glimmer has a dynamic and realistically complicated relationship with her mother, who is overbearing and worrisome. Even villains, like Adora’s mother-figure Shadow Weaver, struggle with confidence about their abilities or appearances. Catra is perhaps the most fascinating character of all, constantly straddling the line between good and evil. Best friends with Adora since they were children, Catra is torn between her love for Adora and her desire to succeed within the Horde and complete the duties required of her. She flickers between love and ambition, friendship and power.
Adora and Catra’s relationship is incredibly dynamic and interesting as we see them fight both beside and against each other. Most importantly, their relationship has substance. They fight but they also talk about their insecurities and problems in mostly candid ways. These are some of the best moments of the show. The frenemy (more like girlfriend-enemy) relationship between the two of them is dialed all the way up on screen, making for a fun (and gay) time. Besides Catra and Adora being obviously in love with each other, there is another LGBT couple in the show taking the form of two minor characters. It might seem trivial, but there is something so delightful about She-Ra explicitly and casually including LGBT characters.
There is something to be said for the blasé diversity that She-Ra and The Princesses of Power brings to the table. More than just the LGBT characters, the princesses of power and all of their friends and enemies are portrayed with a great variety of body types, races, sexualities, and personalities. In She-Ra, femininity is a vehicle of empowerment, not a weapon of the patriarchy. While characters are intentionally feminine and girlie they are not over-sexualized nor do they run around in unpractical, male-gazey, skimpy outfits and heels. There are also many female characters who are not the image of typical femininity, and they are just as incredible (see: Catra and Scorpia). The show’s two primary male characters, Bow and Sea Hawk, also shed conventional and toxic masculinity. She-Ra purposefully and wonderfully throws out patriarchal norms and recodes what it means to be heroic.
Aside from the story itself, the animation is simple, yet gorgeous. The vibrant scenes are exciting and an absolute joy to watch. I find most animation incredibly impressive because it is such a delicate and time-consuming task, but She-Ra is a truly wonderful, outstanding work. The animators seem to understand their limits and work within them excellently. There aren’t any gargantuan battle scenes because they spend more time on the conflicts of seven characters rather than thousands of nameless fighters. This attention certainly works in their favor, as every scene is clearly crafted with care.
Perhaps I am biased towards this revamped She-Ra because I have less of a connection to the original (I mean I was born in 2000), but I truly believe that She-Ra and The Princesses of Power has done an excellent job transforming a beloved classic into a magical, beautiful animation with its own mission. She-Ra is a fun and inviting tale of love, courage, and friendship topped with sparkly crystals and powerful princesses.
Here’s to magical girls saving their world!
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Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.