She-Ra & The Princesses of Power is an American animated series based on the character from the Masters of The Universe franchise and a re-imagining of the 1985 series. Aired on Netflix and created by Noelle Stevenson and produced by Dreamworks Animation known for franchises ranging from Shrek to How To Train Your Dragon. Stevenson a cartoonist known for creating the webcomic Nimona and contributing to Thor and Runaways Marvel comics.
The show tells the story of Adora who raised by Shadow Weaver and indoctrinated into and now a squad captain of The Horde, an massive army led by the tyrannical Lord Hordak, alongside her best friend Catra. One day she discovers a mysterious sword in the woods and in a King Arthur like moment, upon wielding it discovers she is also Princess She-Ra and one of the defenders of the land of Etheria. Outside of Hordak’s Fright Zone, Adora realises all she was told about the outside world was a lie and defects to aid the rebellion and dedicates herself alongside her new allies and friends Glimmer and Bow to saving Etheria. This version of She-Ra finding her powers on her own instead of needing He-Man’s help and while it may change in the future he doesn’t appear at all and with a few exceptions is a mostly female cast.
The series starts with seeing Adora as part of Hordak’s army in the Fright Zone and seeing how cold and hard that environment is where the rest of the world and other princesses are depicted as evil to justify Hordak's goal to take over the land. Seeing how vibrant and kind the other regions are helps towards Adora joining the rebellion now seeing the truth. As the series progresses there is the season long arc and sees the recruitment of the other princesses of power each episode to unite and with their collective powers along with their other allies to defeat Hordak and The Horde. The 13 episode season is one overall story arc rather than standalone adventures which works well with Netflix and delivers a well written and delivered story with tonnes of heart and connects you with the characters and world they inhabit.
Rather than the version of She-Ra in the 1985 series where she was a full adult, the main characters here are teenagers or young adults and the voice acting and script do well to depict characters at that period of the lives in this fantasy world. While the switch from The Horde to the rebellion does feel a little rushed but Aimee Carrero’s Adora does convey the remorse and struggle to reconcile her past with her new identity and role. The power and legacy that comes with being a legendary hero and the struggles that come with that are well depicted as well as her relationships with Catra her best friend who she grew up with and Shadow Weaver who raised the orphaned Adora. A significant part of the story is how She-Ra is a title and others have come before in times of need, first hinted at with the Rafiki like Madame Razz and it isn’t always guaranteed for good to prevail.
Adora/She-Ra is joined on her quest Glimmer, a fellow princess and Bow a skilled ranger and Glimmer’s best friend who she meets in the woods at the same time as coming across the sword. The relationship does evolve as initially being mistrustful as enemies but it doesn’t take long for them to become good friends on the same side. Bow is trusting and friendly to Adora from the start and is an interesting character in his own right as the only main male character non-royalty and without any magic abilities to boot, much luck Hawkeye using a bow often with technology-infused arrows. At it’s core, She-Ra is about the characters and their relationships particularly Adora and Catra. Being best friends and growing up together they have a special bond which does degrade as the bond between Adora and the rebellion strengthens and as the show progresses we see their parallel journeys. Catra also makes an interesting foil since she was always second best to Adora within The Horde and doesn’t have any inherent magical powers but is a match for Adora and She-Ra. Hence the title and slight spoilers, the show does really well with showing the complexity of having a team of princesses unite to save the world, how alliances do waver but come together in the end.
While it is a cartoon it does hold quite a bit for an older audience too for those parents/ older siblings along for the ride or fans or Masters of the Universe fans like me. The elements of the story can be dark with the slow and tyrannical conquer of the planet and the depiction of the destruction in the wake of the war. The theme of war is also combined with the struggle between nature and technology even in the types of weapons used (bows and magic versus guns and tanks) and the portrayal of the regions the two sides live in. A tyrannical lord using powerful technology to take over and destroy the rebellion will sound familiar and definitely get a Darth Vader sense from Lord Hordak when first seen directly and some other references like finding a record breaking rogue captain in a seedy bar.
She-Ra does an excellent job encapsulating the feeling of a Saturday morning cartoon with its look and humour and does include elements of Anime in the style of Hayao Miyazaki particularly the characters eyes when conveying strong emotions such as joy and surprise. On a technical aspect the series was traditionally animated aside from some of the more complicated machines in the show that Saturday morning cartoon feeling and definitely was reminiscent of its 1985 counterpart and other cartoons of that era. Perhaps due to the influence of Miyazaki in the art style the show did feel more tailored to children but did capture the feeling on the previous generation of cartoons that adults will remember and allow them to enjoy the show too along with the captivating story arc and characters.
In conclusion, Noelle Stevenson and Dreamworks have created a great experience and a delightful show that hopefully gets the four seasons in mind. It definitely is a children’s cartoon but non children can enjoy it too. With an interesting story that keeps you hooked and characters you root for, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, is a well made series with a strong subtext for the real world just below its surface.