Review: Star vs. the Forces of Evil – Season 1

Producer: Daron Nefcy, Dave Wasson, Jordana Arkin
Director: Mike Mullen, Aron Hammersley, Piero Piluso
Writer: Mike Mullen, Ian Wasseluk, Daron Nefcy, Lane Lueras, Dave Stone, Zeus Cervas, Bert Youn, Carrie Liao, Dominic Bisignano, Christopher Graham, Piero Piluso, Carlos Ramos, Scott O’Brien, Kyle Neswald, Carder Scholin, Nate Cash, Tyler Chen
Starring: Eden Sher, Adam McArthur, Alan Tudyk
Distributor: Disney XD
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy, Adventure
Rating: TV-Y7
With both Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb announced as coming to a close, it’s understandable that Disney XD would be eager to find their next big flagship program. Who would’ve thought they would have greenlit a show that not only runs counter to what this channel has done before, but what also seems to be the new norm for most animated programs.
Heavily inspired by numerous anime from the 80s and 90s, Star vs. the Forces of Evil went at the idea of a teenage, magical girl, superhero show in a way not usually expected. High school is not the most important part of the heroine’s life. Even though she’s as weird as one could imagine, she has no interest in “fitting in” and doesn’t even attempt to keep her powers a secret.
It’s yet to be seen whether Star vs. the Forces of Evil will be an industry-wide game changer like Adventure Time, but it can certainly hold itself as the blade of grass that goes against the breeze in many ways.

Content Guide

Star’s “demon” ex-boyfriend, Tom.

Spiritual Content: Star herself is a “magical princess” after the archetypes of such famous magical girl characters as Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. She is able to perform magic with the family wand for various purposes, from fighting monsters to styling her hair. None of the magic presented has any spiritual or supernatural dimension to it, though. The wand works like an electronic device, even down to having batteries that need to be periodically replaced. To perform the magic, Star either waves the wand slightly, or shouts a literal description of what she wants to the wand to shoot out. Shouting “Mega Narwhal Blast” results in her target being pelted with an airborne pod of narwhals, for example.
In the episode “The Blood Moon Ball,” we are introduced to Tom, Star’s demon ex-boyfriend. While Tom and his kind are called “demons,” they do not have the same properties as the demons of biblical description – hellspawned, formerly angelic beings that fell from grace out of rebellion against God and are now bent on the corruption and eventual damnation of human souls. Instead, Tom and the people of his dimension seem to have to more in common with the monster creatures from a Dr. Seuss book than anything from the Bible.
Violence: All the violence depicted is of the same slapstick kind of cartoon exaggeration found in countless Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry shorts. Characters are punched, whacked, and beaten up with resulting comically-exaggerated injuries. At times, non-human characters can lose limbs (non-graphically depicted). At key points in the drama, some characters may be put into life-threatening situations.
Language/Crude Humor: One brief bout of mild “toilet humor” is made. No profanity or profane substitutes.
Sexual Content: The greatest extent of physical intimacy ever depicted is hugging. In one episode, Star is getting dressed behind a screen to go out for the evening, while holding a conversation with Marco in the same room. No more than Star’s leg is ever shown.
In an early episode, Star interacts with the school’s cheerleading squad, asking them about what their plan is for the next sporting event (which she mistakenly thinks is a wartime battle). The squad leader informs Star that her plan is to distract the opposing team with “booty-shaking dance moves” and demonstrates accordingly. Not graphically or enticingly depicted.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Themes: In order to move the story along, Star and Marco get into a lot of trouble doing what they ought not. This is especially true when being encouraged by Princess Ponyhead, Star’s best friend from home. Ethical hijinks range from making prank calls to staying out later than is advisable.
Positive Content: Most episodes end with a very neatly-presented moral lesson (great power = great responsibility, understand your friends’ feelings before trying to help them, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, etc.). Most characters are quite selfless and willing to do anything to help each other out, even if it means putting themselves in great danger. Surprisingly mature issues are occasionally tackled, such as wrestling with the demands of legacy and the moral ramifications of colonialism.

Review

Let’s take a trip down memory lane for a moment.
You’re 14 years old. Your parents, the King and Queen of the dimension of Mewni, have begrudgingly blessed you with the most treasured family heirloom: a magic wand that alters in shape in accordance to its wielder. You’re given a lecture about power and responsibility and all that; but being the hyperactive degenerate that you are, you botch it up on the first day, your castle in flames and your entire kingdom in a blistering state of emergency.
Thanks to their bottomless acumen, your parents opt NOT to take the wand back until you’ve learned how to handle it properly, but instead delegate (read: relinquish) responsibility of your care to a modest Hispanic family on a strange celestial body known to its natives as “Earth.” While your hyperactive proclivities have not been mitigated to even the slightest degree, it is supposed that the novelty of this “Earth” place will serve to keep you distracted from dealing TOO much damage… somehow. Perhaps being welcomed into close proximity with a family of natives will give impetus to a more restrained comportment. Perhaps it’s best not to think on the matter too closely.
As a part of this sudden immigration agenda, the only child of the aforementioned Hispanic family has been tasked to give special attention to ensuring that your transition to another dimension goes over smoothly. Since he is the same age as you and of ostensibly more cautious conduct, he is seen by both his parents and his school faculty as the best-suited candidate for such a task, even though you and your ways are just as much of a mystery to him as he and his ways are to you. It’s almost as though this entire setup was done for the sake of some wacky animated sitcom premise.
In case you thought that even all this proved to be rather boring, fear not. You are a princess, after all, and you know what else comes with great power? Great enemies. And as fate would have it, one of your most popular enemies has managed to track you down to Earth and is hell-bent on relieving you of that wand for the sake of universal domination… or something of that sort. Little does he realize that not only have you managed to effectively weaponize your use of the wand (though, admittedly, with such abilities as firing beams of cupcakes and narwhals, the term “weapon” has a much more loose definition in your mind than one would think), but your Earthling escort also happens to be a rather competent martial artist. This serves to provide boundless hours of hooliganism and shenanigans with your newfound friend, and one cannot help but think that this kind of conflict will be a rather frequent occurrence during your time away from under your parents’ roof.
Over the course of your colorful and zany time here on this strange planet, you find yourself focusing less on your own issues and more on those of your pugilist friend as he struggles with what seems to be ordinary difficulties of young men his age, such as social ostracizing, puberty, and unrequited romance. (Though you’re quite certain that you’ll be an active participant in that mystery fairly soon. It’s true. The internet said so.)  For those around you, this is a rather trite topic of consideration, but seemingly a fount of unending intrigue for you and others like you. Honestly, if it wasn’t for your ill-fated attempts at improving his lot in life (often with hilarious results), his daily struggles would be hardly worth writing about.
There are other oddities about this arrangement. One of your best besties from home has brought you a device that allows for immediate travel between dimensions, rendering your temporary exile somewhat null. It’s rather unfortunate that you have to experience puberty (or “mewberty,” as it’s known in your neck of the woods) while handling the culture shock of this alien environment, but that escapade did manage to put your whole life into a more mature thematic light in more ways than one. Besides, your voice seems to always be in a state of perpetual puberty itself, so it’s nice that the rest of you has caught up. (Also, your devilish ex-boyfriend has come back from the Underworld to spirit you away to a special ball taking place in a locale that looks like an Hieronymus Bosch triptych come to life, so that’s rather exciting.) It is also at this point that you come to new terms with that hyper-cautious companion of yours.
Oh, and you remember that rambunctious nemesis who’s bending over backwards to pilfer your wand? Well, he’s getting desperate, and turning to the aid of another more competent and genuinely threatening villain. I’ll leave the outcome of that conflict untouched, since it is a rather touchy subject.
What was the point of this trip down memory lane? In the spirit of full disclosure, it was really just an excuse to talk about Daron Nefcy’s recent animated sitcom, Star vs. the Forces of Evil. If that was a legitimate bout of reminiscence for you, then I’m quite impressed. If you’ll grant me a bit of rumination, I must bring up how much of Star vs. seems out-of-place in its content, intent, and approach.
Ever since Cartoon Network changed the face of TV animation forever with Adventure Time in 2009, it has become something of a standard for family and children’s cartoons to have a latent undertone of robust lore and thematic mellowness that audiences are encouraged to progressively recognize on their own terms. This is seen most brazenly in titles like the controversial Steven Universe and the audacious Gravity Falls. Star vs. somewhat upends that trend. What you see here is pretty much what you get. It’s a zany, animated, fantasy adventure/comedy festooned with wacky and likeable characters, catchy writing, a remarkably imaginative visual aesthetic, and ancillary ventures into standard teen school drama tropes. It seems like the kind of program that would feel more at home on the Nickelodeon channel in the late 90s than on the Disney channel in 2016.
The title character, Star Butterfly (Eden Sher; basically Sailor Moon after a few Red Bulls), might strike some as a bit of an insufferable twit who unwittingly causes havoc for all around her–the “Spongebob,” if you will. But like that yellow porous cretin, you can’t help but love Star even in the midst of her scatter-brained debauchery. Sure, she’ll accidentally turn your broken arm into a squid tentacle in an attempt to heal it, but she can also magically spawn a litter of puppies (with laser eyes no less). Within her madcap exterior does lay the heart of a stock teen girl with stock teen-girl hang-ups. One of these hang-ups is that she does carry some degree of resentment towards her mother for the troublesome responsibilities placed upon her without consent.
The show’s deuteragonist, Marco Diaz (Adam McArthur; basically a Power Ranger character in training), is a bit shaky in his development by comparison. He’s first introduced as being a stickler for safety, but this trait seems to die a quiet death by the next time the earworm theme song plays. What does keep constant with him is his insecurity and difficulty in coming to terms with those insecurities, which manifest themselves through denials, comically-exaggerated regrets, and the ever-essential unrequited love towards the local school hottie (Grey DeLisle).
On frequent occasions, Star and Marco’s hours are filled with open combat against the miniature monster villain, Ludo (Alan Tudyk; basically a more annoying and personally-involved version of Rita Repulsa), who has a drive to capture Star’s wand for the sake of, yes, WORLD DOMINATION. That said, it is hinted later on that there may be more to Ludo and his band of un-merry monsters than one would think at first, especially with regard to their relationship with Star’s people of Mewni.
What keeps the show intriguing is how these characters’ continuous maturation bears weight in nearly every episode. Most endings have an Aesop-esque vibe that strikes me as rather lazy and simplistic, but perhaps it’s for the best that some younger viewers be able to engage at their level. A few episodes consist of little more than minor stories that, at times, offer a token of vital character development that really doesn’t deserve an entire episode to convey. It’s like having a pizza delivered via cargo ship. You’ll have to go through a lot of inconvenience just to get to the good stuff.
This is mitigated as we come closer to the close of the season, when the joke villain Ludo is replaced by the more intimidating and mysterious figure of Toffee (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall), a refined reptilian schemer who seems to be a master of the Batman Gambit.  Once this antagonist comes to fruition, we see something of a darker, but still very straightforward, side of the program–one that is sure to keep the internet busy with theories and arguments for some time, even after the second season has its run.
It’s gonna get a little weird, indeed.

The Bottom Line

 

 

Posted in , ,

Tyrone Barnes

Leave a Comment