Adapting children’s books into TV shows and movies for Hollywood can be a tricky job. We can have the acclaimed Narnia Chronicles on one hand and then we can have, well, whatever The Cat In The Hat was on the other.
We also have the likes of Matilda, The Witches and Dr Suess’ The Grinch, but it can work when you understand your target audience and what type of content they’re expecting to see.
With Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, you can sense there’s regard and appreciation for the source material. The 2005 version was light, hearty and campy both in text and on screen, with Dahl himself preferring this version as it was truer to the text. As much as there is discourse about the movies – Tim Burton still gave us an iconic film that is still discussed years later.
So when Netflix announced a Winx Club adaptation called Fate: The Winx Saga, I was excited to see how it would play out. I would have had a serious belly laugh if you had told me ten years ago that I would be sitting here, reviewing a children’s show adaptation from my bedroom at my mum’s house.
The story follows a group of five teenage fairies with magical powers attending Alfea, a prestigious magic school in an alternate realm called the ‘Other World’. Bloom, the redheaded central protagonist, is from earth and throughout the series we get to see her character grow into her powers as the most powerful fairy in the land.
The original Italian comic-to-cartoon ran for five years and was wildly popular with a younger female demographic. Most renowned for its fashion; racial diversity and innovative take on futurism, for a show made in 2004, it was way ahead of its time.
With the target audience having grown up alongside the girls, how were they going to reel us back in to the Winx Club world?
Fans were excited to see how they were going to revive the iconic fashion of the original, especially after the explosive influence Euphoria recently had. Who were they going to cast in the diverse line-up? How were they going to feature the mythical aspects of the show now that it’s live-action?
To put it simply – they did all of these things really badly.
As the first promotional images began circulating, so too did the criticism. Techna, the genius tech guru of the group, was missing and the only person of colour present was Aisha, the black fairy. Thanks, I guess, for featuring the token black girl, but the cast has literally regressed in diversity.Don’t get me wrong, the actors themselves were great. The series features Eliot Salt who plays Terra (a take on Flora, the Latina earth fairy from the original series. It’s a whole thing that I’ll explain later). Salt having played the lovable Joanna in Normal People and Evelyn in Intelligence, the show somehow decided to portray her character as a live action doormat dressed in green parachute clothing. Not a good look when there’s already controversy regarding her character.
As previously mentioned, Flora in the original is coded as Hispanic-Latina. However, in Winx Saga, she is replaced by Terra. Who is white.
In the initial press release, Elliot Salt was listed as playing Flora. But in the show, they briefly mention that Terra is Flora’s cousin and this is probably to do some premeditated damage control, just in case there is some major backlash regarding Flora’s erasure.
From what I understand, the main reason for the change was because they wanted a plus-size character to make the show realistic and create more representation as stated by show-runner Brian Young in an interview with The Guardian:
“Nobody looks like that. It is the most important thing to me that every kid feels like they see themselves in it. Real girls real people,” he said.
Body diversity is a great addition because, let’s be real, the original show portrayed an unattainable body type (though, it was a cartoon so unless you can stretch out your torso two feet long, I don’t think it is attainable by anyone). But that doesn’t make this change in any way OK.
Writers seem to have a lot of trouble understanding that women can be more than one thing, and that being plus-sized isn’t a personality trait. Not everyone sees being plus-size as an inherently bad thing.
Some people are plus-sized, and, that’s it, there’s not some emotional baggage that has to be tied to it. Just because you have a plus-sized character, I don’t understand why they couldn’t have been Hispanic too. The two don’t cancel each other out.
Instead of actually making her a good representation of body inclusivity, Terra is treated poorly by everybody and she’s bullied for both her personality and appearance despite being the most likeable character of the group.
Musa, played by Elisha Applebaum, is a character that was meant to be East Asian. In the Winx Club cartoon, Musa’s home planet ‘Melody’ is designed to mimic China.Melody’s king himself is literally dressed like a Chinese emperor and Musa adorns herself with dozens of outfits over the course of the animated series that take inspiration from East Asian traditional clothing.
Considering all of this information, they decided to not include this in the new series and not cast a Chinese actress.
Oh, in this version of Winx they don’t have wings either. To reiterate, this show is still supposed to be an adaptation of a comic about fairies.
The main plot developed within the six episodes centres around ‘The Burnt Ones’, (the evil creatures) as they head towards the school. Bloom discovers that she is the chosen one, the only one with enough power to fight off these evil creatures.
Throughout the season, she learns more about her past and her ability to control her powers. The season then ends on a plot twist to set up for a possible second season.
What I fail to understand is the fact that Winx Saga and it’s source material are completely different shows. Bar the title and its characters’ names, how are we supposed to give the show a fair shot when it is publicised as a Winx Club adaptation?
In an interview with Kids TV, Brian Young stated that it was a “Young adult fantasy show … that wanted to take an audience that watched this cartoon growing up and give them a new version of it. We are injecting life and death stakes like instantaneously onto these girls.”
Fair enough if you do genuinely enjoy this interpretation of the show. But on its own, the show might have fared particularly well with fan bases of hit series like Teen Wolf, Vampire Diaries and Riverdale.
I mean, Brian Young was also the show-runner for Vampire Diaries, he’s been in the teen show game for a hot minute. But all this was a lazy attempt to lure the show’s original fans towards something that is just, sub par.
The writing was certainly something. The reasoning behind the probable millennial aged group of writers thinking that including Harry Potter references is still a realistic conversation topic for a group of sixteen year olds? I’m not so sure. But a lot of these one-liners felt awkward. But I digress.
The same tired clichés and tropes were presented, just packaged under the guise of new age feminism. It’s like they tried to fit as many tropes as they could into six episodes.
The protagonist finds out she is the chosen one. Check. The mean girl is the headmaster’s daughter. Check. The plus-sized side character is treated badly. Check.
Reddit user @armandhome wrote: “I was over it when Bloom said ‘mansplaining’ like three minutes in. We get it, Netflix, you’re woke, so woke that you in fact mis-cast a show which had more diversity in the early 2000s than it does now and still used a 100% commercially hot male cast, none of which LGBTQ. The show turned out formulaic and predictable at best.”
In the original cartoon, Stella, the light fairy, and Bloom are best friends from the pilot. However, in Winx Saga, Stella is the antagonist.
Stella’s character is rude to everyone and the group’s emotional distance isn’t helped by the fact that one of the major storylines of the season is the drama surrounding a love triangle between Bloom, Stella and Sky, a male student from the specialist school. This love triangle didn’t exist in the cartoons.
I suppose a teen show can’t be good without girls hating each other at some point over some boy. But feminism, right?
And because the show is trying to conform to today’s society to appear ‘woke’, we constantly hear characters acknowledging the patriarchy, but we don’t see it. The writers need to realise that acknowledging the existence of sexism … doesn’t mean they’ve done their job of addressing it. What’s wrong with wanting to see a strong group of friends kicking ass and proving that there is nothing wrong with femininity and female friendships?The people in charge of the show have repeatedly stated that they wanted this to be diverse and modern, but where all the gay or trans people? Technically, no one’s sexuality is explicitly stated but the only characters who are hinted at being potentially queer are the antagonists. Make of that what you will.
The show’s creators had years of amazing material to work with, and a fanbase practically handed to them. Why not make something fun that kept the heart of the original story while also modernising it? When you’re given Netflix money, and years worth of source material available online, it leaves you very little room to mess up. Yet they still manage to dress them like 35 year-olds which is seriously questionable.
Fair enough, the show’s stylist Cate Adair did pull off some serious looks when she did the costume design for Desperate Housewives back in the day.
I mean come on, she dressed Gabrielle Solis. But when you’re dressing a group of sixteen year-olds, maybe she wasn’t the right person to use?
Leesa Evans of the Scooby Doo movies, Violette Jones-Faison of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Mona May of Clueless or even Heidi Bivens of HBO’s Euphoria would’ve been perfect to bridge the gap between nostalgia oriented outfits with today’s trends. Plus the fact that they have experience in dressing actual teenagers.
None of the girls have any distinguishable aesthetic whatsoever. The clothes are dated, unflattering and most notably, boring. The animated series literally had real life fashion designers create outfits for the girls to wear.
The fashion was a big part of what made the show so successful. It could be argued that toning down the outfits was crucial to mirror the sombre theme of the story, but these aren’t mutually exclusive.
If we take shows such as, Euphoria or both The Craft movies, Skins UK or even Elite, they all tackle mature story lines whilst managing to dress their teenagers accordingly.
It’s surprising that with the recent revival of 2000s fashion, they didn’t choose to capitalise on that. Instead they dress as if the washing machine sucked all the colour off of their clothes. Just because you want something to be ‘edgy’ with mature themes doesn’t mean it has to be visually boring.
With Wicklow, Ireland as it’s backdrop, they could’ve done so much to please cottage-core-dark-academia Twitter. But instead decided to drop the saturation down in practically every scene and dress them in the same bleak colour palette throughout.
The Winx Club wasn’t your normal fantasy show about magical creatures, it was a reflection of its time period. Instead of making a show relying purely on fantasy and magic, they incorporated technology and futurism to create their unique aesthetic.
In the 2000s our culture was obsessed with the space age, we were experimenting with technology which was mirrored in our fashion and decor of the time. If you have access to one of the most interesting and creative magical worlds in recent history, why wouldn’t you capitalise on that?
Basically what I’m saying is, if you’re going to use the Winx name, make sure it’s actually Winx.
Featured image by Netflix.