Cartoons made specifically for girls often emphasize friendship. Whether it means powerful fairies banding together to save the day or glamorous super spies on a covert mission, these shows are usually based on the kind of fulfilling relationships between young women that are all too rare on the big screen. While cartoons for boys, who tend to emphasize adventure and independence, are often adapted to live-action versions for an older audience, this is less common in shows that focus on girls. And it is high time that changed.
Winx Club, the longtime Italian cartoon about a group of fairies best friends, is one of the few shows that specifically focuses on girls, making the leap into live action through a darker, edgier series of Vampire Diaries Creator Brian Young. Netflix Fate: The Winx Saga Casts the same spell on the bright, visually vibrant cartoon as Chilling adventures from Sabrina and Riverdale did for her family-friendly counterparts at Archie Comics. It has a surprisingly nuanced plot that looks at the effects of war across generations – but it has a price to pay for the characters and for the familiar feeling of friendship and mutual support.
[Ed. Note: This review contains slight spoilers for Fate: The Winx Saga]
Fate: The Winx Saga
At school she met four other girls: the light fairytale princess Stella (Hannah van der Westhuysen), the sporty water fairy Aisha (Precious Mustapha), the distant fairy Musa (Elisha Applebaum) and the courageous earth fairy Terra (Eliot Salt). Bloom just wants to know more about her past and her magic, but the more she discovers about her mysterious origins, the more dark secrets she discovers.
In contrast to the colorful cartoon series, the new show takes a more informed visual approach, but does not define its own appearance. The characters are more mature and edgy than their animated counterparts – just like Chilling adventures from Sabrina twisted the brave sitcom into a stubborn, defiant witch, Fate: The Winx Saga gives the family-friendly heroines a harder edge. The glamorous Princess Stella takes care of her controlling mother, Aisha’s self-confidence turns into almost blatant audacity, and Bloom’s bold demeanor as the protagonist drives her to make incredibly reckless decisions. It’s what the more dramatic plot calls for, but it’s a stark contrast to the cartoon’s generally nicer characters.
Two remaining characters were whitewashed: Musa and Flora, theirs Original animated designs were inspired by Lucy Liu and Jennifer Lopez. In Netflix’s live-action version, Flora isn’t even a character anymore – she’s now Terra, a cute but clumsy earth fairy. Terra gives the otherwise wafer-thin cast a certain amount of body diversity, but it would make more sense if she wasn’t the butt of every damn joke. Much of her story revolves around her being a clumsy loner, which she could have strengthened if the rest of the cast had given her a hand. Instead, the other girls laugh at her long forays and constantly see her as a source of anger, even though she is infallibly kind to everyone.
This generally antagonistic attitude between the girls marks the deepest contrast to the original show. The pleasure and power of magical girl shows comes from the camaraderie between characters. in the Fate: The Winx Sagafriendship feels compulsory. There are occasional touching scenes, like the girls joining Bloom to eat outside the cafeteria when she doesn’t want to face the clapping students. But even in these scenes it seems like the protagonists hardly tolerate each other. Because so little foundation stone was laid to cement their friendships, the teasing does not seem like playful jokes, but cheeky and mean. A shoeed love triangle between Stella, Bloom, and the boring sword-wielding sky (Freddie Throp), a student at the nearby school, only makes matters worse. If they save each other, it’s not an obligation because they care: “Ugh, I probably shouldn’t let my roommate get killed. “Young’s writers seem to believe that developing friendships with girls means turning them into thinly veiled rivalries.
But while the characters and their relationships suffer Fate: The Winx Saga
Once the plot starts rolling – ancient, dark creatures known as the Scorched have re-emerged decades after their supposed extinction – it raises a compelling theme in which the older generation corrects their mistakes. But by trying to move on, the older characters have protected the younger generation from the truth. The younger characters know little about the dark past of their world, but the more they discover, especially through Bloom’s search for more about their own story, the more they doubt the motives of their professors and mentors. The plot focuses on the scars the war has left across generations, adding layers to the motifs of each character. At the end of season one, the younger characters wonder if the heroes they trusted did the right thing, if the vicious characters had a point and what that means for their own path.
But this arc would be more compelling if the characters were personable or interesting, or if they even shared half of the bonds of their animated counterparts. While the darker and edgier plot makes the cartoon a story for a young adult audience, the darker and edgier characters are distracting. While the girls declare they are good friends by the end of season one, that claim never feels really deserved. The evil they face – not just a vicious overlord, but also a social trauma that nobody knows how to navigate – makes for a nuanced story that the characters could grow into if the show continues.
The opening series with six episodes of Fate: The Winx Saga Premiere on Netflix January 22nd.