The nature of television has changed greatly over the years. First cable and now online streaming services are forcing traditional broadcast channels to change their approach. Online streaming also allows for binge watching, something only possible previously through recording with either a video tape recorder or a digital video recorder (or DVR) or through boxed sets once a season was released on DVD. Coupled with the advent of the Internet from specialist use only to a near ubiquitous service, reactions to news shows can be seen instantly. When a show becomes a breakout hit, news spreads fast. That’s the case with the Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a remake of the 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power.
Thanks to the deregulation of children’s cartoons under Ronald Reagan, what was once forbidden by FCC regulations became commonplace in the Eighties. The first of the thirty minute animated ads was Pac-Man in 1983, based on the popular arcade game. Pac-Man was followed shortly by the syndicated series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a Filmation production featuring the Mattel action figures.
He-Man had a definite look to it. The action figures used the same base mold as much as possible, with the differences between figures being mostly how they were painted, the head sculpts, and the accessories. He-Man ran two season for 130 episodes. The popularity of the series and the action figures led to a spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power. Again, the action figures tended to have similar appearances, being based off the same mold. The differences, like He-Man, were in the painting, the head sculpts, and, now, the brushable hair.
She-Ra first aired in 1985 and, like He-Man was a Filmation production. Filmation was known at the time for keeping their animation costs down through reuse of cels. With the character designs based on the action figures, where the manufacturing costs were kept down by reusing the same base mold as often as possible, the same body only needed a different set of colours depending on the character.
The series pilot begins on Eternia, with the He-Man character The Sorceress having a dream of when Hordak tried to attack Eternia and only to be forced back. However, Hordak took a baby girl with him. The Sorceress wakes up, only to see the magical sword meant for someone of great destiny floating in the air. The sword opens a door and a magic portal, then drops to the ground. The Sorceress summons Prince Adam and Cringeor to Castle Greyskull to send them through the portal with the sword to find this person of destiny.
Adam and Cringeor walk through, arriving near the village of Thaymor on Etheria and find an inn to get some lunch. Certain elements at the inn distrust him; he is a stranger in town and the Evil Horde is known to send spies. Two in particular, Bow and Cowl, keep an eye on him. When a trio of Horde robot troopers arrive and start bullying the locals, Adam steps in to defend. Seeing a potential ally, Bow steps out to assist and the pair roust the Horde troopers before escaping to Bright Moon.
Adam meets the Great Resistance, which isn’t looking all that great. It’s still a fledgling revolution, but it has made some impact. As Adam meets the the Resistance’s leader, Glimmer, word arrives that the Horde has attacked Thaymor and enslaved the villagers because two of the Resistance attacked troopers there. A plan to rescue the village is made, with Adam joining. As the fighting breaks out, Adam become He-Man.
Leading the Horde army in the attack on the village is Force Captain Adora, with her lieutenants, Mantenna, Catra, and Scorpia. The regulars of the Resistance fall to Mantenna’s stun beams, while Glimmer fights Catra in her panther form. He-Man and Battle-Cat arrive. Battle-Cat deals with Catra and He-Man removes Scorpia from the fight. Adora tries to shoot He-Man, but he destroys her gun by throwing his sword. She runs away, knowing when she’s outmatched. He-Man persues, cornering her. When Adora picks up a nearby sword, He-Man draws the only sword he has left, the one for the person of destiny. The sword singles out Adora. Caught by surprise of the discovery, He-Man is knocked out by Adora, who takes the sword.
Eventually, the truth is revealed to Adora. She is Prince Adam’s twin sister, taken away by Hordak as a baby to Etheria. Adora returns with Adam to Eternia, but Hordak follows, intent on getting her back. With Skeletor teaming up with Hordak, She-Ra fights alongside He-Man, then returns to Etheria to join the Resistance.
The first five episodes, initially made as a movie then broken up for TV, set up the remainder of the series. Few know Adora’s secret identity as She-Ra. The rest of the series is episodic. Being syndicated, pre-emption due to sports or breaking news is always a threat, and an episode may not even air. The episodic nature means a missed episode doesn’t throw the narrative. The status quo remains; the Horde is pushed back but never fully defeated.
Earlier this month, Netflix debuted the remake of the series, She-Ran and the Princesses of Power. Instead of showing one episode a week, Netflix provided the entire season at once, allowing the audience to binge the series in one go. Helmed by Noelle Stevenson, best known for the comics Lumberjanes and Nimona, the new She-Ra is only thirteen episodes long, one fifth the length of the original’s seasons. The new length means that the remake has to get to its key elements. The remake also isn’t based on existing action figures, though Super 7 is producing figures based on the new designs. This change gives the animators room to make the characters more distinctive beyond just outfits and colours.
The first episode, unlike the original, puts the focus on Adora. She’s a newly promoted Force Captain in the Horde, much to the chagrin of her best friend and foster sister Catra. Catra has ambitions to eventually be in charge of the Horde, though, like a cat, she has a bit of a lazy streak. The training the cadets go through prepare them to take on the dangerous Princesses of the Whispering Wood and Bright Moon. To celebrate the promotion and to prepare for the invasion of the Resistance fort at Traymor, Adora and Catra borrow a skiff and head to the Whispering Wood.
Catra isn’t one to let someone else drive, so she fights with Adora to take the rudder of the skiff, resulting in Adora falling off. While Catra gets the skiff back under control, Adora sees a strange sword. She reaches out for it and gets pulled into a landscape both alien and familiar to her while a voice calls to her. Before she can find out more, Catra returns and brings her back to reality. Still, the sword and the landscape nag at her, so Adora sneaks out after lights out.
In Bright Moon, Princess Glimmer and Queen Angella are having a loud disagreement over Glimmer’s actions against the Horde, leading to her being grounded and sent to her room. Her best friend, Bow, wants to show his new gadget, a device that tracks the location of First Ones artifacts. Glimmer sneaks out with Bow to find a blip that appeared.
Turns out, the blip is the sword that Adora is looking for. Being on opposite sides, they get into a fight over the sword, one that is interrupted by a monster. When the creature traps Bow and Glimmer, Adora grabs the sword, plunging her back into the strange landscape. There, she learns about her destiny to save Etheria from danger. When she returns to reality, she has the chance to escape with the sword. Instead, Adora can’t leave Glimmer and Bow even if they are part of the Resistance. Adora says the magic words, “By the honor of Greyskull,” and becomes She-Ra. She drives off the monster, much to the amazement of Bow and Glimmer.
When Adora returns to her normal self, she surrenders to Glimmer. The trio walks through the Whispering Wood back to Bright Moon. Along the way, they find an old First Ones installation, one that explains more about She-Ra, Etheria, and the Horde. However, the installation is old and begins to fall apart, forcing Glimmer to expend her magical energy to get everyone out. Once back at Bright Moon, Glimmer vouches for Adora, though Queen Angella is hesitant to have a Horde Force Captain around. Glimmer, though, convinces her mother to allow Adora to stay. She also has the idea to rebuild the old Princess Alliance, one that fell apart when Angella was younger. The Resistance already has Princess Netossa and Princess Spinnerella.
The next few episodes focus on recruiting more Princesses. WIth the help of She-Ra, the trio convince Princess Perfuma of Plumeria, Princess Mermista of Sea Gate, and Princess Entrapta of Dryl. The attempt to recruit the young Princess Frosta of the Kingdom of Snows fails when Princess Scorpia and her plus one, Catra, arrive. WIth Adora focused on Catra, Scorpia is able to cause havok which leads to the first big defeat Adora faces.
The most obvious change from the original She-Ra is the animation style. The shorter season means that the animators can spend more time on individual episodes, leading to a more fluid animation. The new character designs include a range of body shapes, sizes, and colours, leading a far more diverse cast than the original series. Adora now looks her sixteen years of age. She-Ra has bicycle shorts under her skirt, allowing her to not flash people when she performs athletics. The audience can tell the characters apart at a glance.
The new series also reflects how storytelling on television has changed in the past two decades. While most episodes can stand alone, there is a definite order. With the original series, syndication meant that some episodes could be shown out of order. With a single source, Netflix in this case, there’s no danger of pre-emption or an episode appearing out of order. This also means that any given episode should not be skipped. Each one builds to the climax of the season.
Despite the lower number of episodes, the remake goes into more depth with the characters that do appear. With no requirement to sell the latest toy release, the new She-Ra can keep the cast smaller, allowing the show to go deeper with the characters. One big change is that She-Ra isn’t just an alternate identity and form for Adora; instead, she is there for Etheria and has appeared in the past. The remake does more with Bow than the original series did, turning him from the token male to a rounded character with interests beyond the Resistance, such as belonging to the Etheria maker community. Madame Razz isn’t the bumbling comic relief who can’t cast the correct spell; now, she is more like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back if he’d been on Dagobah for a couple of centuries. Netossa and Spinnerella are more than close friends; with Adora, Bow, and Glimmer showing how magical friendship is, Netossa and Spinnerella can be a couple.
Catra deserves a special mention here. She may not have her original counterpart’s ability to turn into panther, but the new Catra doesn’t need the ability. She also has a complex personality. Shadow Weaver raised both her and Adora and while what Adora went through was child abuse, Catra was the scapegoat of the two. Yet Catra didn’t blame Adora for it. The two were best friends as cadets. When Adora left, Catra felt betrayed, even though Adora pleaded for her to join her. Catra has ambition, and doesn’t understand why Adora left.
The relationships between characters is complex. The one between Adora and Catra above means that they’re not rivals or enemies, nor fighting because one is good and one is evil. They’re people first, not icons. All of the cadets, including Lonnie and Kyle, grew up with propaganda painting the Princesses as the enemy, as “dangerous instigators,” more concerned with their own kingdoms than protecting Etheria. The Horde is doing Etheria a favour defeating the Princesses. And there’s a nugget of truth in the propaganda; the Princesses are more concerned about their kingdoms and their subjects after the Princess Alliance broke apart.
At the same time, the Horde is very much evil. It’s located in the Fright Zone. It poisons the land. It attacks and destroys villages while labelling the locations forts. The people living under the control of the Horde aren’t told this, though. Outside the Fright Zone, it’s known as the “Evil Horde”, something Adora is surprised to find out. In the original, Hordak had no problem calling his army “the Evil Horde” in his henchmen’s presence. He revelled in being evil. The new Hordak is well aware of the power of public relations.
The characters are more relatable; each one has a personality that the intended audience can identify with or knows someone like that. Adora is the new girl at school and a tomboy. Glimmer is the older sibling who is always arguing with Mom and Dad. Entrapta is the easily distracted friend who may be on the autistic spectrum. Bow is the one boy who doesn’t mind playing with girls and has geeky knowledge. Mermista is the sober second thought, willing to go along with her friends even while pointing out what they’re doing can get them into trouble. Catra is the former best friend that they grew up; the split comes from growing up and getting new interests. The characters are more than just a one-note being.
Gone are the comic relief characters like Cowl and the Twiggits, As mentioned above, Madame Razz wasn’t portrayed as bumbling and forgetful, but as a trickster mentor whose memory problems may or may not be real. But comedy still exists in the series. This time, though, it comes from the main characters. Adora learning about what’s in the Whispering Wood and her discovery of Horsey, or Swift Wind as he prefers. There’s still action and drama, too, again, all coming from the characters instead of being a side show.
There’s also more to Etheria than what appears on the surface. The remake has its own written language, one that has plot relevance. Madame Razz may herself be a First One. Not all kingdoms are fighting against the Horde; one joined right away thanks to poor relations with the others. There’s more to Etheria than what’s seen on the surface.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power takes the original series and gives it more depth. The world building gives Etheria and its inhabitants a history while the characters are more than just powers and a simple description. The remake is one of the rare ones that improve on the original while still building on it.