[Review] She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

written by Dayna Abel

I can’t possibly review this series without turning into a squeeing fangirl about it. I’ve loved She-Ra for over thirty years. I love her strength, compassion, kindness, wit, powers, and her story. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power gave me all of that and ramped it up to max.

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

The title itself says a lot about the series. Princesses, plural. She-Ra had a tendency to outshine her fellow rebels in the classic series; here, she needs to be united with them to save the day. She-Ra’s strength is literally the power of friendship.

Two things I wanted the most out of this reboot were 1) lore and world-building and 2) character arcs. New She-Ra gave me more of both than I’d dared to hope for. I love fantasy worlds, and I was delighted to see a mix of new and old concepts in this Etheria. There are hints of a connection to Eternia via the First Ones, but not only is this a different planet – it’s in a completely different dimension. Entrapta reveals the truth of exactly what Etheria is late in the series, and it’s a major revelation that I can’t bear to spoil here.

I’m grateful that while there’s an opening to introduce He-Man later, he isn’t really essential to Adora’s story. There are a million questions about Adora’s past that aren’t yet answered, and it’s not actually necessary to have there be a He-Man at all here. If he is included, I would love to see a reversal of the original “Secret of the Sword”, with Adora journeying to Eternia to find her long-lost twin brother Adam and save him from Skeletor.

You can have that one for free, DreamWorks.

As for character arcs, I barely know where to begin. Adora’s story is, as pointed out by David Willis, “about being raised fundamentalist and realizing everyone outside your bubble is rad and your old community was evil”. While Hordak is flat-out evil, no moral grayness in sight, many denizens of the Fright Zone show kindness, friendship, loyalty, and other positive traits.

Rather than painting the Horde as 100% evil, we see characters attracted to the way it accepts those who are outcasts or misfits. Shadow Weaver was banished from Mystacor, Scorpia never fit in with the other princesses, Entrapta feels that the Horde is the only place she ever felt listened to or validated, and Catra…man. Let’s dig into Catra for a moment, shall we?

There is so much pain and loss and hurt in the slow dissolution of Adora and Catra’s friendship, and while much of it is due to Shadow Weaver’s emotional manipulation, there’s a lot that could have been avoided through communication – and neither Adora nor Catra were capable of doing that. We gradually see that Adora was the favorite among the Horde elite, and she’s oblivious to it. Catra is blatantly mistreated and made to constantly feel in Adora’s shadow, even though the two of them swear they love and care for one another. They’re the best of friends, but they are 100% not on equal footing, and Shadow Weaver takes every opportunity to make sure Catra knows that.

Catra, for her part, is either too stubborn or loves Adora too much (or both) to tell her how this disparity makes her feel. She plays it off as no big deal, because she wants to be seen as strong and capable as Adora, someone who can thrive on her own. Her whole life has been her trying to prove herself while being utterly dismissed, and her frustration that Adora doesn’t see that grows and grows until it finally flowers as pure hatred.

Adora is utterly blind to this, and that only makes things worse. She constantly tries to “protect” and “save” Catra, which makes Catra feel weak and inferior and feeds back into that seething resentment. Her intentions are honest, but she doesn’t understand how being “the good one” all the time makes Catra feel worse, like Adora was soooo perfect and Catra isn’t allowed to make mistakes or do anything on her own.

This is really the heart of the series, and it’s tragic as hell. We do see it averted between Glimmer and her mother Angella later, when Glimmer admits to Angella that she always feels like she can’t do anything right and she has to be perfect every second or she’s nothing but a disappointment. By voicing her feelings, Angella realizes where she went wrong with her daughter and explains her own feelings to her. Communication and sharing your feelings are portrayed as vital to any relationship, and holding back your emotions does nothing but hurt. It’s a good message.

The other characters are great reimaginings with unique personalities. Sea Hawk, my beautiful boat fire of a son, returns as a smooth, debonair charmer who is nowhere near as skilled as he implies at literally anything. Bow is brave yet practical, stopping at nothing to protect his friends – including lecturing them on sword safety. Mermista affects a perpetually unimpressed demeanor which is a complete sham, Entrapta simply does not understand social interactions, Frosta is a harsh stickler for rules, and so much more.

Equally impressive is how Etheria is a world where things like misogyny, sexism, homophobia and toxic masculinity simply do not exist. Nor are the few men in the series portrayed as simpering weaklings. Everyone is on truly equal footing and they trust in one another’s strengths while also acting as buffers against their weaknesses. It’s basically the Wonder Woman philosophy in action, and it’s beautiful and I wish it could be realized here on Earth.

Queerness is portrayed as absolutely normal on Etheria, both in subtext and “there is no reasonable heterosexual explanation for this” text. Scorpia is coded queer, a mention is made of Sweet Bee and Peekablue dating, Netossa and Spinerella are explicitly a couple, and if I wasn’t bisexual already, seeing Catra in a suit getting all butch over Adora at Princess Prom would have hurled me up the Kinsey scale on its own. All of it is just incidentally part of the world with no comment or judgment, which is precisely how it should be.

So is it good for kids? Absolutely. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of parents on Twitter raving about their children pretending to be She-Ra or Bow or Glimmer or Catra, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good magical princess story? It’s not overly violent – no one gets stabbed or bleeds – and it still has enough action sequences in between the character development to keep a child’s attention span. The lore might be a bit complex for much younger children, but I wouldn’t balk at letting a six-year-old watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Finally, what do I personally think about it? It’s magnificent. I am extraordinarily picky about remakes and reboots, and I can’t think of a single, solitary thing about this series that I disliked. I do love and cherish the original series in all its campy, rotoscoped glory, but I can honestly say that I think this remake is better than the original. It’s funny without being goofy, it expands on the lore, it makes sure that everyone has both positive and negative character traits, and it has a great message about the power of friendship. It’s everything I could have hoped for and more. I’m thrilled beyond belief that a whole new generation gets to love She-Ra as much as I did when I was a child. Everyone involved should be extremely proud of themselves, and my inner seven-year-old and I cannot wait to see a Season Two.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is available now on Netflix. Dayna can be reached on Twitter @queenanthai.

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