It’s not uncommon at this point for beloved, family-friendly cartoons to be reworked into a teen or young adult series with darker characters and storylines in order to appeal to a wider audience. Similar to Riverdale and the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Fate: The Winx Saga is Netflix’s latest gritty live-action adaptation. Based on the Italian animated children series Winx Club that aired on Nickelodeon, Fate veers from its source material to adopt more mature elements to the show. However, in doing so, it sacrifices the appeal that initially made audiences fall in love with Winx Club.
Fate, of course, takes inspiration from the Nickelodeon cartoon, mostly centering around Bloom (Abigail Cowen), a fire fairy that needs guidance in controlling her powers as well as battling the inner, emotional turmoil that threatens to further harm herself and others. To hone in her powers, she is recruited to Alfea, an institution for fairies, by the headmistress Farrah Dowling (Eve Best), based on Faragonda from the original cartoon. There, Bloom meets the rest of what will soon be her crew of magical fairies, all with their own set of unique powers.
Of all the girls, it is implied that Bloom is the most exceptional and powerful fairy, not only amongst the group but in the history of Alfea. With all of their combined strength, the girls must conquer the forces that threaten the safety and future of their school.
The Netflix show premiered to audiences on January 22nd and has quickly received mixed reviews from critics and show watchers. Fate currently has a 34% show rating on Rotten Tomatoes along with a slew of negative or lukewarm reviews from publications such as Paste, Variety, and Polygon. On the other hand, viewers have praised the show on social media, contrasting with the opinion of critics. Fate even has a starkly higher audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 83%.
So, with all of the conflicting discourse surrounding the show, where do I stand on Fate: The Winx Saga? Personally, as someone who is a long-time fan of gritty fantasy series (Children of Blood and Bone, the later Harry Potter movies, Game of Thrones), Fate just doesn’t do it for me. It would be a decent show if it stood on its own; however, for a show about magic, Fate lacks charm and additionally fails to live up to what made the original animated series great.
For starters, there was better diversity in the original Winx Club series. Most notably, in the original cartoon, Musa is Asian and Flora is Latina. In Fate, Musa (Elisha Applebaum) and Terra (Eliot Salt), who was subbed for Flora, are both played by white actresses. This would not have been so much of a flaw for me if the show did better with the changes they made to Terra’s character.
Terra is often on the receiving end of fatphobia in a way that serves no substantial purpose to the plot or her character arc. Rather, the treatment she endures from others just feels mean. In one scene, Aisha (Precious Mustapha) and Musa negatively discuss weight gain in front of Terra, causing her to feel uncomfortable and perhaps even embarrassed. Afterwards, neither Musa nor Aisha ever acknowledges or apologizes for hurting Terra in this manner, which in turn doesn’t make me, as a viewer, want to even like Musa or Aisha. Nevermind the fact that Aisha is one of two POC cast members in the show and, to add insult to injury, her main role in the overall plot is being a side-kick to Bloom.
In fact, many points throughout the show feel unnecessarily mean spirited. Firstly, the girls’ relationship with each other starts off bitter, which is off-putting given the emphasis on friendship and sisterhood in the original Winx Club. Another example of the mean spirited nature the show tends to explore is how Dane (Theo Graham), the only gay character within the main cast, is outed later in the series by an Instagram story that shows him being intimate with Riven (Freddie Thorp) and Beatrix (Sadie Soverall). On top of all this, Riven is a homophobic bully whose character is used to perpetuate outdated tropes of needlessly outing people. All of which is a storyline that is redundant and simply reductive for Dane’s character.
In the same video, the three make fatphobic comments about Terra, which she sees, and then cries, as she also had a crush on Dane. The choice to have Terra played by a plus-sized actress was great because if certain changes from the cartoon should have been made, the first one would undoubtedly be showcasing realistic body sizes. However, the way Fate clumsily handles fatphobia to empower Terra (which comes off weak anyway) makes me wonder if they should have tried to tackle it at all.
Besides, it’s stated at the beginning of the show that there is a difference between humans and fairies. So, I’m not sure why fairies would care so much about upholding oppressive social hierarchies designed by humans anyway.
I also find myself missing the fashion of Winx Club. The choice to give Fate more of an edge than its source material didn’t have to sacrifice the girls’ looks, as things can be girly and gritty at the same time. See: Euphoria’s iconic makeup looks. I know critiquing fashion is arbitrary; however, it would have made more sense for a Winx Club adaptation to have fashion be a distinct aspect of the girl’s characters. The show creator Brian Young also produced The Vampire Diaries, which makes sense in hindsight, but Winx Club becoming a gritty, Riverdale-esque YA fantasy show is ultimately confusing and makes me wonder why it wasn’t just pitched as a stand-alone show.
Fate: The Winx Saga is so far from the animated series in the ways that made Winx Club unique from other fantasy stories that it feels as if the show doesn’t know what it wants to be.
All in all, as Fate: The Winx Saga is likely to add more seasons in the future, I mostly want more for the characters, especially for the traditionally underrepresented identities in the series. Fate had great source material to work with, but certain changes to the show in efforts to make it grittier were simply off-putting, lacked direction, or fell flat altogether. Still, I’m optimistic that the critiques surrounding this show will help to improve the story-telling and character arcs so I can hopefully add another gritty and compelling fantasy series to my roster of favorites.
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