Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz hanging in the ocean
Star Butterfly, the titular character of Star vs The Forces of Evil, is a perfect princess for a show that's filled with rainbows and magic. Don't be fooled, however, as this modern heroine is anything but the delicate pushover her name implies.
Created by Daron Nefcy and airing on Disney XD, Star vs The Forces of Evil, began as a light and entertaining series in 2015. The show follows other animated greats, such as Adventure Time and Gravity Falls, which found their identities after slow burn beginnings.
After a pleasant but predictable start, Forces of Evil turned all of those expectations on their head. It has since developed into a series with an in-depth story, while continuing to carefully build its lore and characters.
The basic premise follows the adventures of an inter-dimensional early-teen princess, Star, who hails from the magical kingdom of Mewni. At the beginning of the series, she is sent to earth on a student exchange program where she lives with the Diaz family.
On earth, she bungles through discovering her new home in a typical "alien mingles into human life" plot line which isn't groundbreaking for television. It works, however, as magic and all the strange things Star brings with her are accepted to a degree on earth.
There's no real need to hide the craziness which leaves freedom for scenes to be bizarre but hilariously blended into every day life.
To make matters more interesting (and funny), Star is reckless with her magic usage and as a fledgling, not particularly adept at it either. To act as the grounded, straight-man foil to Star's bubbly, overly exuberant personality is teenager, Marco Diaz.
What follows is a series of misadventures with Star navigating ordinary human life, while introducing Marco to the weird magical worlds beyond earth. It's fortunate then that Star and Marco's friendship, which is at the core of the series, is written and portrayed with an earnest sweetness.
Forces of Evil has changed significantly over the past few seasons. Initially, it was a show that allowed its princess and her friend Marco to pursue silly magical adventures. It introduced its villain, Ludo, and his band of misfit monsters -- a non-threatening group in pursuit of Star's magical wand.
They were used more for comedic effect and were always quickly defeated through Star and Marco's team-up of magic power and karate, respectively.
It made Forces of Evil enjoyable -- a modern show with a magical twist, featuring clear homages to magical anime series such as Sailor Moon. But it also made it formulaic. Star and Marco's growing friendship, with shifts in boundaries that defined it, remained the strength of the series.
Star would often use her magic in cute ways to solve conflicts as her spells produce endearing, weird things such as rainbows or adorable monsters, for example. Her irresponsible magic usage came without major consequences other than to learn a life lesson. The good guys would always prevail over the bad guys.
Then Forces of Evil took a turn by introducing a villain, Toffee, who proved to be a formidable foe.
It was almost blindsiding. Forces of Evil took the time to slowly build its characters and their relationships. It introduced important aspects of Mewni's magical culture without much fanfare -- keeping up a facade by burying it within comedy. Forces of Evil's trick was putting some of its major players and plots into place just past the halfway mark of its first season, but leaving them to blend into the background. These characters played along with the lighter side of the series.
Then, when characters revealed true intentions and roles at the end of the first season, it was dizzying.
In the latter half of Season 1, a new smooth-talking villain, Toffee, was introduced. Played with impeccable creepiness through the voice talents of Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter). Toffee was hired by Ludo to train his minions to be villainous but remained a quiet observer who watched the underlings continue to bungle their missions. He stayed on the losing side and by association, appeared as ineffective as his villainous counterparts, even though his mannerisms betrayed more to his character than he let on.
As Star and Marco continued their colourful episodically designed adventures, it was shocking when Season 1's finale happened with Toffee revealing his true designs and the extent of his ruthlessness. Finally, Forces of Evil had a competent villain, and the bright, feel-good show about an airy princess with her head in the clouds became a darker, more serious show with consequences, and a real threat to its main cast.
Toffee, a villain
The Toffee arc threw the show Star's life into upheaval. Even better, it shifted the dynamics of many of her relationships. Although some of the show features the magical realm, with any number of saccharine scenes with Star's rainbow-infused spells, Star's relationships are a highlight of the show. They're well-developed, and ground the show's more whimsical nature.
A particular member of Ludo's crew went from an incompetent minion to one of Star's most trusted allies. His story branched into a broader discussion which examines race tensions and divides between the people of Mewni and the monsters who also reside there.
Star's parents have also come to the forefront of the show. While her father remains somewhat of a bumbling but kind fool, the show explores Star's deep, often strained, relationship with her Queen mother. Star's mother is presented as strong, often butting heads with her equally strong-willed daughter.
Queen Butterfly carries secrets of her own, ruling Mewni firmly and through questionable, brutal past decisions and sacrifices. It's refreshing to see the show pay attention to its mother and daughter relationship as it's a sincere portrayal.
Star herself has gone through, and continues to go through, character changes which the story demands of her. As a princess, she has taken on the responsibilities of being an heir to a throne of a powerful, influential kingdom. As a teenager, she now has to balance her edging into adulthood and her royal responsibilities with the confusion that comes with growing up.
Her friendship with Marco has gone through changes, too. Unsurprisingly, some of the focus has been on the development of a romantic spin between them. Even though Star uses the tried and true television trope of complicating their feelings by keeping them from being romantically linked, it's forgivable for how sweet and believable they are handled as characters. It has also allowed the characters to grow independently of each other, thereby creating some friction for our heroes.
Since the roller coaster ride of Season 1's ending and the subsequent fallout, resolutions, and expanding cast of villains and character roles, Star continues to impress. Over the course of three seasons, Mewni and its magic culture has become incredibly important to its overall plot.
Dark magic, social status and race conflicts are weaved into its history, creating a rich universe that's worthy of telling a story about the dangers and wonders of magic.
Although Forces of Evil has these overarching grand plots, it remains committed to growing its main character's network. It does this by shifting its focus on secondary but important characters, integrating them into Star's adventures and helping to grow her understanding of friendships, relationships, growing older, magic, earth, and Mewni.
Whether this is done through giving humanity to Ludo in a sad story arc, or allowing Star and Marco to accept and become friends with their would-be romantic rivals, the result is a well-balanced show that's funny, deep, and heavily invested in its players.
It's a wildly large cast of mismatched characters who fit perfectly into Star's intriguing mixed up world of magic.
Star vs The Forces of Evil still has its moments of lighthearted fare. It's gorgeously animated with a beautifully colourful world where a princess can have a floating pony head for a friend, and ride a smiling puffy cloud. She can still sing fantastic songs about her love of burritos.
She can still have a sweet boy as her confidant and best friend, who links her and us, as viewers, to the normalcy and growing pains of human interpersonal relationships within a magical world.
Make no mistake, however, as Star vs The Forces of Evil is also a show that has a lot of substance. It's intriguing and steady world building blends pretty fantasy with an underlying darkness.
All images via screencapture.