Let’s be honest: no one wanted this.
Winx Club is a 2004 Italian-American cartoon created by Iginio Straffi, and, in the following years, spawned a toy line, games, and even an amusement park. I myself had never seen Winx Club on television — I only ever watched it on YouTube, and, like many fans at the ages of 10, I was captivated by the adventures that the group went on, the magical transformations, and the different arcs and villains that they tore through. I was a hardcore fan of it in my elementary school days, and I still fondly remember talking about it with my friends, and following along with the lore. It was picked up by Nickelodeon in 2011 with an entirely new voice cast, and is currently on its eighth season.
There’s a certain nostalgia to these types of magical girl shows — girly and feminine, but still showcasing the women in these kick—ss roles who were still fighting for justice (see also: Totally Spies, W.I.T.C.H). That did not mean, of course, that anyone was looking for a live-action adaptation of a beloved childhood cartoon.
There were whispers about it on the Internet for a few years, before finally being confirmed, and the subsequent release of a trailer in December of 2020. The general consensus: “What the h—ll was that?” This was a fair question, because it most certainly wasn’t Winx Club. Before even getting into the actual plot of the series, the biggest issue was revealed when the cast dropped. Fans were outraged to learn of the whitewashing of two of the main cast, Musa and Flora, and the cut of another main member of the Winx named Tecna. All of the main cast members were heavily inspired by famous celebrities at the time, with Musa being based off of Lucy Lui and Flora inspired by Jennifer Lopez. These two characters are coded to be Asian and Latina respectively. This is especially upsetting, considering that the latest seasons of the cartoon have whitewashed characters such as Flora and Aisha.
In the early seasons of the show, Musa’s background is evident, where her clothes are clearly inspired by East Asian culture, and her homeworld styled from Asian culture. Flora does not even technically exist in Fate—while the initial casting list showed Eliot Salt as Flora, the name was changed to Terra, most likely to avoid the backlash of whitewashing one of the core characters (something they did not avoid), though they cheekily referenced Flora as Terra’s cousin in the first episode. Even when some argued that casting Salt added body positivity—as the cartoon girls were not known for their diverse body sizes—that does not make it acceptable to whitewash a brown woman.
If body inclusivity is what the show really wanted, they could have casted a plus-sized Latina actress; it isn’t a ‘one or the other’ type of deal. Three out of the six main cast members were women of color, and with the removal of Flora and the disregard of Musa’s cultural background, it dropped to one—Aisha (known as Layla in some versions of the cartoon), now the sole character of color in an all-white cast.
Now that the show has officially been released, it’s safe to say that many people’s initial underwhelmed reaction was correct. The show opens up with the main character, Bloom, arriving at the Alfea School for Fairies, and there is a slow montage revealing all the important characters (all of whom are roommates), awkwardly explaining who they are and what their powers are. There is also some world-building in this opening episode, revealing that they are in the “Otherworld,” a separate realm from Earth—obviously, this means that everyone but Bloom is British.
The series will begin to follow Bloom’s journey as she attempts to gain control over her fire powers, and hiding her identity as a fairy from her parents on Earth. Eventually, it is revealed that she is a changeling, a fairy that was originally born in the Otherworld, and then subsequently placed with a human family on Earth. Thus, she begins her journey to discover the truth of her past, with the help of her suitemates: Aisha, Musa, Terra, and Stella. This dark, edgy reboot was meant to be for fans who grew up watching the Winx, and update it to modern times and cater to young adults.
There are a lot of changes in this pilot that initially made me raise my brows. In the original cartoon, Bloom’s introduction to the fairy world was brought on by Stella, as she is attacked by an ogre. Bloom saves Stella, revealing her own powers, and Stella begins to introduce her and her human parents to the world of Magix, where Alfea is located. In Fate: The Winx Saga, the viewer is directly dropped into the Otherworld, with Bloom’s parents left in the dark, thinking their daughter is in Switzerland, leaving her and Stella as strangers. Considering that Stella is supposed to be Bloom’s best friend, it was disappointing to see the show take a bubbly character and reduce her to a typical portrayal of a mean, snobby princess. While Stella was rather arrogant in the cartoon, she still cared deeply for her friends, and made an effort to be kind. Out of all of the characters to take on a personality change, Stella’s was by far one of the most disappointing.
What was also interesting was the concept of the changeling, with Bloom intentionally being placed on Earth as a part of some bigger plan. In the original cartoon, Bloom was placed on Earth by her older sister Daphne, who was desperately trying to save her sister from being destroyed along with their home planet of Domino by the Three Ancestral Witches, the background antagonists of the cartoon. Bloom’s love interest, Sky, as opposed to being a dashing hero, is introduced by nagging at her and playfully making fun, leading to a snarky relationship that is somehow even more boring than the original.
The main characters are rarely seen together, and a lot of the dialogue that is meant to be playful banter often comes out as mean-spirited (most often directed at Terra, who is the butt of everyone’s jokes in the show). Stella has been reduced to the shallow, vapid princess, lashing out at Bloom and barely interacting with any of the other girls until the last two episodes of the show. Aisha has become nothing more than the sidekick best friend, taking on a motherly role and babysitting Bloom. Their friendship is stale and seems poorly formed, and makes it much more unbelievable when they come together and work as friends. It doesn’t feel earned and is incredibly disappointing, given that the show’s main message is supposed to be about women and their friendships. Even the original pair of best friends, Bloom and Stella, had been scrapped, making the show’s main source of drama the love triangle between Sky and them—because women can’t become friends unless there’s a man involved, right?
There are a lot of things that could be said about how the show desperately wants its viewers to take them seriously. The main characters can swear now! It’s rated TV-MA! They smoke weed and drink alcohol! All of these to show that this isn’t a show for little kids, and to distance itself as much as possible from the initial source material. As I’m going through this, all I can think of is: it wouldn’t be that hard to make the original Winx Club dark.
The original Winx Club is known for its bright colors, glittery outfits, and its message of friendship. That does not entirely mean, however, that the storylines for the show could not have been adapted for a mature audience—especially the first three seasons of the show. Bloom’s backstory largely centers around her homeworld Domino (Sparx, in some versions), which had literally been genocided by evil, powerful witches, and was saved by her older sister Daphne, who sacrificed her life to make sure Bloom would live (though this was retconned in later seasons, by bringing back both her homeworld and Daphne).
Musa opened up a conversation about her mother’s death, and the poverty that she grew up in. The first season’s main antagonists, The Trix (and the most iconic Winx villains) raise an army of darkness that brings chaos to their Magix Dimension, with a scene of the nearby city in ruins and the citizens petrified by dark magic. The main antagonist in the second season is a literal shadow-skeleton man, and the conflict of the third season required the main cast to make heavy sacrifices in order to defeat him, ranging from Aisha giving up the ability to see, to very nearly dying — Flora drowning, or Stella taking a hit meant for her father, for example.
Tecna, who does not appear in Fate, earns her higher abilities by sacrificing herself to close a portal that led to an icy wasteland, and was promptly thrown into it, presumed to be dead. The loss of Tecna was so great that the rest of the cast literally disbanded the club, too grief-stricken to continue without her—though they do manage to rescue her a few episodes later. It’s this scene in particular that makes it a sad realization that Fate cut Tecna from its story; the original show recognized that they are not the Winx Club without her, and it certainly isn’t the Winx Club on Netflix, either. Season 4 is a mixed bag, from the fairy pets that were clearly meant to sell toys, to balancing the arc of fairy hunters trying to kill the last remaining fairy on Earth.
In the last few episodes of the season, Aisha’s fiancé Nabu, and a main member of the male cast, actually does die to help defeat the antagonists. When she has an opportunity to bring him back, it is snatched from her hands, and she is forced to watch her beloved waste away, and begins a revenge crusade, directly putting her at odds with her friends. A lot of these scenes and themes had changed to suit younger audiences, but the potential for it to go darker has always been there.
Just because a show is meant to be “dark” doesn’t mean it has to look boring. The Magix Dimension is a combination of magic and technology, with floating cars and holograms that place you in the latest fashion without even having to change. It is a futuristic type of technology, and shows just how different it is from the Earth that Bloom grew up on. Fate does not have this, though the viewer rarely gets to see the Otherworld outside of Alfea. Other than the fact that the people can use magic, there isn’t anything that separates them from Earth. Characters still have smartphones, and the social media that everyone is familiar with, driving regular cars, with no ounce of any magical change.
The first episode has a minute-long dialogue with the main characters talking about Harry Potter. For a world that is separated from Earth, they sure do know a lot of pop culture references. There is nothing that makes the Otherworld its own separate realm from Earth. The fairies don’t even have wings, explaining it away as ancient magic that they had since evolved from. To be honest, this just sounds like a written in-excuse to justify the fact that they don’t have the budget for it. Even when (spoiler alert) Bloom gains her wings at the end of the first season, it’s poorly done CGI, with nothing visually interesting happening on the screen. The colors are dull and boring, and for a show that was once known for the trendy fashion of its time, the actresses—who already don’t resemble teenagers—act as though they’re grown adults.
Similarly to that, the writers of the script write the characters as though they hadn’t interacted with a teenager in decades. It’s awkward and stilted, with an embarrassing amount of pop culture references and fake woke talk, with Bloom accusing Sky of ‘mansplaining’ to her, Terra launching into a long explanation of ‘a long patriarchal history of saving women from uncomfortable situations,’ and Dane, an original character, explaining how he “doesn’t have time or energy to break down the problematic gender issues of that statement.” First off, no one genuinely talks like that, especially not sixteen-year-olds.
The performative wokeness of the TV show is a slap in the face, when the show is already steeped in misogyny and racism. Comments like this mean nothing when it’s followed five minutes later by the secondary male character, Riven, slyly asking Sky if Stella “lets him do butt stuff,” or body shaming the one fat character on the show. Dane’s deliverance on gender stereotypes feels in poor taste when his sexuality is often brought up by Riven (who frequently makes homophobic comments). There’s a conversation between Riven and Dane where Riven asks Dane if he’s gay, because “I always know when someone wants my dick.” This might not have been as terrible if it wasn’t a conversation they were having over a girl’s unconscious body.
This doesn’t even begin to cover how the show’s racism—already beginning with the whitewashing of Flora and Musa—remains obvious, relegating their sole lead of color, Aisha, to the girl’s babysitter and the teacher’s pet. When there was even a whiff of conflict for her storyline, it was quickly swept under the rug, and ignored in favor of other plot points. Considering how dynamic and complex Aisha’s cartoon counterpart was, a princess struggling with loneliness and acceptance into the group, a strict upbringing with parents who wouldn’t give her room to grow, it’s a shame to see her character diminished to a jock girl that constantly berates and obsesses over Bloom.
The message of friendship in Winx Club was perhaps its most important, featuring a strong group of women that stuck together through hardships. This is not present in Fate: The Winx Saga. The main cast rarely interacts as an entire group, and Stella spends most of the first season avoiding them and being hostile towards Bloom. Bloom’s first comment in the first episode is dismissive, saying that their room would eventually devolve into a Lord of the Flies situation, giving off the impression that all the girls are going to be catty towards one another. Their moment of friendship by the end of the first season feels forced and unearned, as they don’t even begin to feel like a core group of friends. That is perhaps the greatest loss of this reboot. If you can’t even convince your audience that your characters are friends, what else is there to gain?
The fact of the matter is this: some things should remain animated. A Winx Club reboot was certainly not something that anyone was clamoring for. The original show might have not been perfect, but it had a charm that enchanted an entire generation of kids. It’s not even the first cartoon to be adapted into a live-action—live-action shows such as the Sailor Moon adaptation was certainly campy, but it still held a unique charm to it that made it enjoyable. The intention of making Winx Club dark fell flat, and by taking out the magical elements of it—the transformations, the wings, their enemies, the bright colors—left it lifeless and bland.
The show may brag about how it’s dark and gritty, but it lacks the substance that would make these dark plot lines interesting. It has no real connection to Winx, and that’s how it should have stayed. The creators of Fate had no interest in creating a Winx Club that older fans could watch and appreciate, but making a show that would get them views. While it would certainly be a better show unattached to the cartoon, that doesn’t change its problems of bland writing and bad world building—though, if you’re a fan of shows like Riverdale, it’s certain to be up your alley.
Without the name Winx attached to the show, the showrunners would have to put in effort to make it interesting. Nostalgia sells, and, in the case of Fate, it worked.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Hession/Netflix