Arts and Entertainment

Doing Animation Right: “Star vs. the Forces of Evil”

A look back on the popular animated series Star vs. the Forces of Evil and how it was able to balance mature themes with a family-friendly narrative.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Though the world of modern animation is highly competitive, “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” certainly stands out from the rest. Running from 2015 to 2019, the television series was massively popular, with a strong fanbase emerging even before its premiere. The Disney show—which can be found on the Disney XD, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video—follows the adventures of the magical princess Star Butterfly (Eden Sher), whose parents banish her to Earth from their home dimension Mewni in hopes of halting the trail of magical destruction their young princess’s wild personality creates. Star stays with the family of the karate-fighting school loser Marco Diaz (Adam McArthur), and the two quickly become best friends. Star, however, isn’t the only Mewman who has arrived on Earth. The evil Ludo (Alan Tudyk) and his henchmen have followed Star in hopes of stealing her family’s wand, but Star has other plans in mind. With her new friends, Star battles—you guessed it—the forces of evil.

As Star matures and trains for her destiny as Queen of Mewni, it soon becomes clear Ludo isn’t the only villain in this Disney series The more Star and Marco explore Mewni, the more they realize it's not the peaceful, lively, magical place they thought it was. The dimension is marred by hate, discrimination, and abuse of authoritative power, and the show explores mature themes of sexism, corruption, and imperialism. The delivery of these themes is gradually and tastefully done, with the plot remaining relatively simple in the first and second seasons and later growing more complex.

Gaining popularity before attempting to execute these ideas may have been intentional, since the Disney executives may have disapproved of these themes. In fact, “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” was the first Disney show to feature several LGBTQ+ couples in the background of the episode “Just Friends” in 2017, something its predecessors like “Gravity Falls” (2012-2016) did not do. Even if this were the case, it certainly worked in the show’s favor.

One of the most interesting aspects of the fourth and final season is its lack of a specific villain. Though there are several figures who could vie for the title of main antagonist, the real villain is the bigoted society of Mewni. In a time of political disorder, Star realizes that her people and her family have a lot to answer for and that no one is willing to change their outlook. It serves as a captivating final arc, as the show focuses on internal rather than physical conflict, seldom seen in children’s television.

The show offers more than an enticing storyline. The animation of the cartoon is always bright and cheerful, and while it sometimes appears primitive in earlier episodes, it improves over time to deliver colorful and aesthetically pleasing visuals. Furthermore, the show has engaging and naturally delivered voiceovers. The show features a couple of original songs, with one full-length track performed by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.

All of these elements make the show fantastic, but what drew me to the show was its protagonist, Star. Dubbed a rebel princess, Star is anything but your typical Disney princess. Star begins the series as a naive, reckless party girl with little patience, care for responsibility, or discipline. Her carefree nature, though it encourages Marco to venture out of his comfort zone, often causes more problems than it solves. As the series progresses, Star undergoes significant character development. She realizes how she can help others and becomes the leader she was born to be, channeling her creativity and spunk into improving the world around her. Watching a confident young woman who is unafraid to get her hands dirty at the forefront of a television show is truly inspiring.

“Star vs. the Forces of Evil” is a show I have enjoyed for several years before I ever realized some of its more subtle themes. It creates an effortless narrative that appeals to both children and adults, providing a compelling social commentary while being a cute, age-appropriate story about a magic princess’s quirky adventures. Without a doubt, “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” is one of the most well-written, captivating television programs I have ever seen.