Star vs. the Forces of Evil is from the mind of Daron Nefcy, the second woman to run a TV series at Disney TV Animation in seventeen years (the first being Sue Rose, who created Pepper Ann). Disney has been pushing a more varied animation schedule for years now, with action cartoons like Star Wars Rebels, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, and Avengers Assemble, comedy-heavies Phineas & Ferb and 7D, and mythology heavy shows like Gravity Falls (and, surprisingly, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.) All the studio’s shows are unique and visually different, exhibiting different tones and styles to appeal to a wide berth of audiences. It’s not a coincidence that Disney is basically killing in the ratings among kids, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil looks to spread the channel’s audience further, appealing to a more female audience and (arguably) cutting into Cartoon Network’s main draw.
Nefcy worked on both on Wander Over Yonder and Robot and Monster (one of the best and most underrated cartoons of the 21st century, RIP), and it shows. Star vs. the Forces of Evil is like a cross between Steven Universe and Wander, with a bit of Ren and Stimpy in the mix. It’s a show that leans slightly more towards absurdity and wackiness, with quick, snappy action and energetic performances, playing against the bubbly aesthetics of “princess” tropes, like hearts, puppies, and rainbows, and subverting them to cause, at best, mystical annoyances, and at worse, cosmic chaos.
A hyperactive, overly-optimistic princess named Star Butterfly is sent to Earth after failing miserably at her princess duties, where she befriends a student named Marco Diaz. Star, voiced by Eden Sher, is a lot of fun, part of the welcome wave of prominent animated female characters who thrive on their flaws as well as their strengths. Star’s approaches life, danger or otherwise, with a devil’s may care attitude that is wildly infectious, casting clumsy spells that create black holes in bedrooms and puppies that shoot lasers out of their eyes (and have hearts for anuses– I’m not joking). Marco Diaz, voiced by Adam McArthur, plays the straight character, the boy who’s frustrated with Star’s behavior but eventually is won over by her charms and endearing attitude.
“Star Comes to Earth,” the first of the two 11-minute sneak-peeks, packs in all this information quickly, including introducing one of the big bads of the show: Ludo, a small, bird-like creature who just wants Star’s magic royal wand to take over the world (and who is voiced by a completely unrecognizable Alan Tudyk). In fact, the show is built on relatively flimsy excuses to its set up: for example, Star is sent to Earth to train how to use the wand, but no one is there to actually train her. Marco is known as the “Safety Kid,” but after the first episode, any semblance of being an overly-cautious child is dropped. The pilot jumps right to the action, getting back to Star and Marco (who knows karate, ironically) kicking monster butt and forming a budding relationship over their uncomfortable passion of fighting.
The second episode, “Party With a Pony,” is a lesser effort, mainly due to its plot. Competing “besties” stories run me cold, especially when the intimidating friend threatens the life or well-being of the submissive one. It’s a development that ratchets up the stakes that the characters rarely reach, and here it’s no exception. It also presents an arcade as populated by literal “squares,” which is yet another lazy part of the typical snark against gamers. But Flying Princess Pony Head, voiced by a very game Jenny Slate, is hilarious, and the episode redeems its central conflict somewhat by the end. The episode keeps up the show’s overall energy and ends up providing Star and Marco with“dimensional scissors” for future, world-hopping adventures (even the very simple concept of “dimensional scissors” imply the show’s half-assed-but-comic approach to the material).
Star vs. the Forces of Evil is part of this generation’s trend towards large-eyed characters and quirky visual trends. The color palette leans towards pastel colors, primarily pinks, beiges, and light purples, and the show leans more on physical comedy, with an emphasis on smears, blurs, and squash-and-stretch movements to keep the story and the characters moving. This isn’t a show that seems to emphasize long-term, mythological story-telling (although having Saint Olga’s Reform School of Wayward Princesses constantly in the background gives the show a potential, outside threat)–just one that excels on wild, silly, and clever set-pieces to bring the laughs and action. There’s no premiere date set, but rumors are the show will air sometime in the summer. Adults probably won’t be missing much but I can see young kids having a lot of fun with it. I certainly did.
“Star Comes to Earth” - B+
“Party With a Pony” - B
Overall - B+