Mindy Kaling’s newest comedy has a really sweet message at its core, but it’s unnecessarily rife with issues.
Most children, at some point, look at their parents and think they’re evil incarnate. Eat my broccoli? What ogre would insist on that? Can’t go to the party? Mussolini was never so dictatorial. It goes with the territory.
But in Adora’s case, she may have a point.
Adora was adopted at a young age by Hordak—a tyrant by trade—and his floating, glaring, witchy cohort, Shadow Weaver. Their kingdom is a charming landscape of industrial pipes and gray-green enclosures and … well, that’s about it, actually. If Hordak gets his way, the entire planet of Etheria will look like a complicated sewage system. And he and Shadow Weaver have trained Adora to love the place.
But ever since Adora wandered into the Whispering Woods, picked up a magic sword and became She-Ra, she’s come to see Hordak and Shadow Weaver in a different light.
Adora’s now a rebel leader fighting against her duplicitous mum and dad, trying to free Etheria from her estranged pops. But she’s not alone. Yes, that’s right, as the name suggests, she’s leading a whole princess legion. Just like Disneyland, practically every girl you meet in Etheria is a princess.
How did Etheria spawn so many rebellious princesses? To understand, you must peer back to the most ancient of days: the 1980s, to be precise.
Back then, She-Ra wasn’t a wet-behind-the-ears teen, but the curvy full-grown twin sister of the mighty He-Man—both of whom were birthed not by equally hyphenated parents (Mom-Ra? Pop-Him?), but by the Mattel toy company. They were heavily muscled action figures who fought Skeletor and his former master, Hordak, in an expensive, plastic war. The 1980s cartoons that followed were, essentially, half-hour advertisements for the franchise’s toys.
But beloved advertisements they apparently were—at least with kids with shortish attention spans—and She-Ra’s spinoff proved to be particularly resonant, lasting a whole two seasons before it was axed. During its original run, the show trotted out its own glittery horde of princesses with easily representable characteristics and powers. After all, they were all destined to become action figures themselves, and the toy shelves of the 1980s were no place for subtlety.
If the 1980s was a decade of cynical commercial merchandise bombardment, our current age is one where every half-remembered bit of intellectual property is subject to a reboot— perhaps several of them in the time it takes you to read this review.
And no television outlet loves nostalgic reboots more than Netflix.
The rebooted version of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a bazillion light years away from the original in terms of aesthetic quality—light years in the right direction, that is. The writing is sharp and clever, the humor disarmingly self-aware. (When Adora wants to know why the princess rebellion thinks Hordak and his army are evil, her friend Bow says, “For one thing, your army is called the ‘Evil Horde!’”)
The animation is better, too, and the outfits less suggestive. The original She-Ra was a busty heroine with a strapless, cleavage-revealing top and a short-short skirt. The new She-Ra is more modestly dressed, even sporting a pair of skorts. (Still lots of animated leg on display, of course, but we’ll take modesty where we can.) And certainly, the whole exercise—a multiculturally sensitive one where girls and women of all shapes and sizes rule the Etherial roost—practically squeals girl power.
“One of the things I’ve tried really hard to do with the show is set up a world where gender is just almost not really an issue,” show creator Noelle Stevenson told io9. “It’s a world where sexism doesn’t exist—even in the Horde, which has a lot of gender parity, even though they’re villains.”
But that world where sexism doesn’t exist also very clearly promotes “the gay agenda” according to Stevenson. Tor.com called the series “utterly queer in just about every aspect.” And from the first season on, we see same-sex relationships (eventually culminating in some on-screen smooches) as well as several gender-fluid characters—including a non-binary character introduced in the fourth season using “they/them” singular pronouns. Christian parents who appreciate some of the show’s other positive themes will have to decide if and how to navigate this one.
It seems rare these days for a show, even a kids’ show, not to include socially progressive messaging and LBGTQ characters. That requisite part of the lay of the land, and so it is here, too. (Voltron: Defender of the Universe, another popular Netflix kids’ rehash, went there in its most recent season as well.)
She-Ra can be violent, too, and mysticism and magic are also integral to the story. All things considered, Adora’s pledge to fight for “the honor of Grayskull” may lose sight of some other honorable qualities along the way.
Princess Adora and her band of fellow princesses fight against evil robots created by one of Hordak’s nefarious servants, Catra.
In a simulation, Adora practices defeating Catra as the two engage in hand-to-hand combat. Elsewhere, Catra trains her band of evil followers to destroy the princesses.
Evil robots shoot lasers, smash objects and throw their enemies. The princessess fight back with bows, swords and magical powers.
One of the princesses suggests holding hands and “thinking healing thoughts” to survive a difficult time. A princess wears a crop top. Someone says “shut up.” A princess cries when she feels ignored.
Adora, a teen who’s both a soldier for and an adopted daughter of the as-yet-unseen tyrant Hordack, is about to see her first real action in battle: leading a team against the pesky princess-powered rebellion. She’s being groomed to be a mover and shaker in Hordack’s empire. “Is this not what you’ve wanted since you were old enough to want anything?” Hordack’s right-hand witch, Shadow Weaver, asks. But when Adora and her best friend, Catra, sneak out of the castle and head into the Whispering Woods, Adora begins to suspect that all “she’s wanted” might not be worth wanting after all.
Adora finds a mysterious sword that suggests she has a big part to play in the fight for the planet Etheria. She also runs into Glimmer, a princess who doesn’t seem nearly as evil as Hordack and Shadow Weaver have led her to believe. Adora eventually saves Glimmer and her cohort, Bow, from a gigantic insect—in part by grasping the sword and changing into the mighty She-Ra.
Earlier, Adora, Glimmer and Bow all wrestle for control of the sword, knocking each other about. Adora and Catra wrestle for control of a hovering skiff, too, and as the thing careens wildly through a forest, Adora’s thrown to the forest floor below and knocked unconscious. In a training exercise, a machine is smashed, people fall through holes in the floor, and one of Adora’s team members is shot and “dies,” virtually speaking.
Glimmer can teleport at will, though not with a great degree of accuracy. She and her mother, the rebellion’s leader, argue with each other (as mothers and daughters sometimes do). And when Glimmer’s grounded, she disobeys and sneaks out of the castle.
Bo’s outfit exposes his tummy, and princesses sometimes show a bit of animated leg. Language never strays farther than “dang it” and “bug brain.”
Adora and her friends make a final stand against Horde Prime (Hordak’s crazed older brother) and his deadly clone-and-robot army.
Adora and the other warrior princesses use their magic and weapons to blast, punch, kick and stab Horde Prime’s army. They, in turn, also receive some hits, and Adora is seen nursing a deep cut to her abdomen. A man gets thrown off the edge of a platform into an abyss. Two women sacrifice themselves to save their friends. Several women fight against a giant, multi-tentacled monster. One woman is held up by her hair and another removes a mask to reveal several facial scars.
Horde Prime activates a weapon to destroy the entire universe, claiming that the people of Etheria chose darkness and that there will be peace when there is nobody left to fight. We see the world beginning to collapse into green flames before Adora stops it.
Adora’s friend Glimmer is attacked by her own father (who is being mind-controlled by Horde Prime) wielding dark magic. He calls her pathetic and weak before she overpowers him using the light magic passed on to her by her previously deceased mother. Adora also uses light magic to expel Horde Prime from Hordak’s body after he is possessed and to transform Etheria from a gray wasteland into a colorful, plant-filled world.
Two female couples kiss. A male couple holds hands. A male character’s midriff shows. Someone says, “Oh my gosh.” We also hear someone called an “idiot.” Horde Prime has four eyes and his minions all sport glowing green eyes.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her fiancé indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
A League Of Their Own tells the story of women who wanted to play baseball in the 1940s–while redefining their own societal roles.
As this show about money laundering reaches its end, the verdict looks little different from its predecessor, Breaking Bad.
Netflix seems to be aiming Locke & Key at teens and perhaps even children, but it’s a bad fit indeed.