Star Butterfly is a magical princess. You’ve seen it a million times. You’ve seen girly girls dreaming of love, and you’ve also seen many “spunky” princesses who “buck the rules.” While I love me a spunky, sword-wielding princess, and even don’t mind some of the girly girls, it’s far more unlikely you’ve seen a princess like Star. I hadn’t. Star combines the two standard molds so seamlessly that “girly” becomes badass. Star doesn’t have to cut her hair, rip her dress, or do anything to make herself look or sound more like a boy to be a courageous “spunky” hero. Star wears purple dinosaur boots, pink stripey tights, and a dress with an adorable octopus on it. She wields a wand that looks like a winged lollipop and shouts spells like “Mega Narwhal Blast” and “Blueberry Cupcake Bazooka.” And you know what? She kicks ass and takes names with those glittering, rainbow, icing-smeared spells. She’s goofy, hyper, loud, compassionate, fun-loving, and everything else a fourteen-year-old girl should be. And those traits are what make her a hero.
Star Vs The Forces of Evil arrived on Disney channel after I’d already moved out and gone to college, but still I heard good things. I heard it was the next best show to hit the channel since Gravity Falls (another masterpiece of kid’s animated television). Well, I finally watched it, as a 26-year-old mother, and I fell madly in love. Insanely, Star Butterfly’s story is the first Disney XD show created by a woman, and only the third in all of Disney’s enormous cache of animated series. They need to up that percentage because my God, this show would not have been half as good without a woman’s direction. Only a woman can so truly, entirely, and unabashedly capture what it is like to be a young girl coming into her own. Let me explain what I mean by analyzing a few episodes and scenes that left my jaw on the floor, tears in my eyes, or a massive smile on my face, thinking, “One day, I’ll teach Lottie this.”
[SPOILER ALERT: I mean, you can’t analyze scenes without explaining them, so there are spoilers here. I will do my best to spoil as little as possible, but it will happen, so you have been forewarned.]
Puberty Is Powerful
Season 1, Episode 6, titled Mewberty was the first time I remember thinking, “This show is something special.”
When girls from the Mewni dimension hit “mewberty,” they undergo a rapid change. Instead of zits, Star grows purple hearts all over her face. Cute, right? Absolutely, but in this show, puberty is not something to be laughed at or tossed aside. When Marco chuckles and tells her it’s no big deal, that humans have a similar experience, Star shouts, “Don’t confuse this with your Earth things, Marco!” One could easily insert “your boy things,” or even, “your adult things” into that sentence. Star’s transformation into the beginnings of womanhood is unique to her, and she doesn’t need people telling her to calm down. Think I’m stretching a little here? Fair enough. Let me give more evidence.
Another side effect of mewberty is a powerful pull toward boys. At the sight of a male, Star’s eyes enlarge and her expression turns dreamy, while she whispers, “Booooy.” While Star is thus ogling a classmate, Marco grabs her arm and tries to pull her away. This touch triggers a web-like substance made of purple hearts. Annoyed and frightened, Star tells Marco not to touch her, adding, “Your little boy hands are part of the problem.” Marco can’t help her. Turns out, not even magic can stop mewberty.
Star creates a cocoon in a locker, drawing boys into her web. Throughout the course of the school day, while Marco, as a good best friend, fruitlessly tries to help. Star bursts forth as an a six-armed, winged, eerily beautiful, unstoppable creature. Star is not a “silly lovestruck girl” whose boy-crazed actions can be belittled. She is a powerful being dominating her environment and holding sway over all who come near. The show doesn’t shy away from the sexual awakening of puberty either, as most shows do, just making jokes about zits. Star becomes alluring, hypnotizing, even lustful, but the show does it in a fantastical, captivating way that doesn’t feel awkward.
While Star hovers over the schoolyard, swooping down on her desired prey, Marco frantically tries to stop her. Frustrated, he grabs her wrist rather hard, only to find himself pinned to his locker by a stream of webbing threatening to suffocate him. Later, he traps her in a volleyball net, but she only drags him around, growing angry and more aggressive. Star’s magical guide, Glossaryck, who resides in her spellbook, shouts to Marco that he’s only making it worse. Marco sighs and says, “Goodbye, Star,” as he releases the net and watches her rocket into the clouds.
All this time, we’ve thought Marco was just trying to save his fellow male classmates from Star’s rampage. And sure, that’s part of it, but deep down, he was holding onto that net because he didn’t want her to leave him. She had become something he didn’t understand. She had changed, and he was scared about what that might mean for their friendship. But as Glossaryck knew all along, mewberty is a powerful transition that all girls must go through, and Marco had to stop trying to reverse it. Instead, he simply needed to help her get through it, supporting her and watching her back. The moment he lets go, Star’s mewberty runs its course. She drifts back down beside him, toting her tiny “mewberty wings.” She’s her usual sweet, energetic self, squealing in excitement about her transformation. But now all the boys who’ve crossed her path know that she is a force to be reckoned with.
The Power of the Word “No”
No is a word many young girls and grown women have trouble saying. Girls are supposed to be nice and helpful. Girls are supposed to be courteous and well-mannered. No is not a word that lends itself to that sort of vocabulary, except maybe in the context of “No problem.” But when Star uses the word no in the episode “Storm the Castle,” she unlocks new strength within herself. This is the finale episode of the first season, so to avoid as many spoilers as possible, I’m only briefly going to detail the scene.
The scariest and strongest villain Star has yet faced captures Marco, viewing him as her weakness. The villain expects Star to come after Marco, but he has underestimated her. Star charges in with rainbow cannons and neon leech bombs blasting, knocking the villain off his throne and giving his henchmen a run for their money. But no matter how hard she fights, she can’t break the magical prison holding Marco.
During the battle, the music has maintained an arcade game tempo, intense but upbeat, with tinkling glitter sound effects thrown in. But eventually, as her foes rise for another relentless round, Star’s face tightens in determination, and the music cuts out. It returns in a bassy thrum as Star stops leaping and running and instead strides toward the prison with a confident walk. As the henchman swarm, all wanting a piece of her, Star says, “No.” It is firm and assertive and curt. There is no room for question. There is no polite, “sorry,” tacked onto the end. This no means no. Star’s hair swirls in the magical force coming out of her very pores. The henchman are blocked off by walls of pure, vibrant, heart-dotted magic. Marco and the villain take notice, watching with expressions of shock and trepidation. Marco steps back from the prison walls to let Star take control. Calm and collected, her will made clear, Star channels a blast of energy that shatters the prison into tiny shards. Is that the end of her battle? Not in the slightest, but with the power of the word no, Star has strengthened her connection to the magic within.
No “Bad Boys” Allowed
The show is fully aware of the “bad boy” stereotype and its appeal. It is addressed rather blatantly, but the beauty of Star’s story is that no “misunderstood bad boy” is going to ultimately win Star’s heart.
The trope is introduced very quickly. In the first episode, Marco is struggling with the “safest kid” label his classmates recently bestowed upon him in the yearbook. When called to the principal’s office, he struts around the room, bragging that he must be in trouble, and all those who voted him “safe” must feel silly now. In actuality, his good reputation has earned him the position of Star’s Earth tour guide. When told his responsible nature is what earned him this spot, he insists that he’s all wrong for this, saying, “I’m a misunderstood bad boy!” Marco thinks this is the label he needs to be cool, to impress his peers. While leading Star around (and protecting her from loose tile and broken glass), he insists that he’s not safe and wants more danger in his life. Well, Star immediately obliges, creating a butterfly monstrosity before his eyes, and he hides behind her. After some misunderstandings, the two, of course, share a moment and become friends. And guess what, when monsters next appear with intentions to harm Star, Marco jumps in front of her. He is keeping her safe because he is not an aloof bad boy. He is still a responsible, sweet boy, but he’s tough when he needs to be, when Star needs his help. He does not fight to cause trouble, but to deter it. That is true strength.
Just as Marco finds the bad boy rep appealing, Star is not immune to its allure, either. In fact, her first Earth crush is on a do-nothing, vampire-toothed, keytar-playing ball of angst named Oscar who the principal describes as a “delinquent” with “a record.” Star gives him her number, but of course, bad boys never call on the first day. While she wallows in teen agony, it is Marco who does everything in his power to make her smile. Needless to say, that crush is pretty short-lived.
It is also revealed in the first season that, in her tweens, before the story of the show starts, Star dated a bad boy. The baddest of the bad, in fact. A demon prince. Tom is … problematic. When we first meet him (and for some time afterward), he is verbally aggressive, possessive, and has serious anger management problems, which is Star’s stated reason for dumping him. He shows up in true “misunderstood bad boy” fashion, in a flaming chariot that he parks in a handicap spot. He wears a suit and struts through school in search of Star, while the cheerleaders and other pretty girls give themselves whiplash and whisper to each other about how hot he is.
He has the audacity to barge into a classroom and ask Star, his ex-girlfriend, to an upcoming ball. Star is older and wiser. She marches him out of school, chanting “Nope, nope, nope.” In true barf-worthy bad boy style, he tries to schmooze her, pulling her back with magic, yanking her arm, and picking her up without any indication that she wants to be touched. Marco senses danger immediately, karate chopping Tom’s gropey hand before even realizing who he is. Then, when Star reveals that he’s asked her to a ball, Marco whispers, “Star, never go with a predator to a second location.” (Perhaps my favorite line in a kid’s TV show to date.) It’s true that Star does eventually end up allowing Tom back into her life in varying degrees. The difference here from other media is that the only thing that ever sways Star’s perception of Tom is when he demonstrates that he is trying to improve himself. He hires an anger management coach, is courteous to Marco, stops telling her what to do, etc. Him telling her, “I’m a new man!” doesn’t convince her. He must show her through his actions that he is changing. Whether he ever makes himself worthy of Star for the long-haul is something you’ll have to watch the show to find out.
Dip Down Baby Doll
There are many, many more great things about Star vs. The Forces of Evil, but if I were to lay them all out, we’d be here all day. The last little nugget of gold I want to discuss is a concept that carries through seasons 2-4. When evil threatens both Earth and Star’s home planet Mewni, Glossaryck, Star’s magical guide, becomes more serious about training her. He sneakily creates a scenario in which Star cannot reach her wand and Marco is trapped in a room of Star’s secrets. Glossaryck tells Star she can perform magic without her wand, but only if she can “dip down.” Using the metaphor of “hobo stew,” he tells her that she’s scraping the surface, only drinking broth; she must now dip down to get to the “chunks.” Star misinterprets his metaphor. She begins looking under things in her room for a secret tool that will help her. Flummoxed, she then calls her mother, who tells her she must use “everything you have.” Again, Star is confused. She launches everything in her room at the impenetrable door. Nothing. But at last, when the situation becomes truly dire and Marco stumbles upon her diary, Star reaches deep within herself. She unlocks the magic there, breaking down the barrier without a wand or any other tool. She already had everything she needed within her.
This masterpiece of the female mind will stick with me forever. Of course, men can write great female characters and vice versa, and I’m not at all saying that this show isn’t for the male species. It’s endless fun, excitement, and suspense. Marco is a phenomenal character given just as much love as Star by the creator and the writers. And boys can love Star herself, too. All I’m saying is that this show captures “girl power” on a nuanced and even heart-wrenching level. The lessons taught here are anything but cliche, and wow, are they empowering. And that is why, when my daughter is old enough to relate and understand, I will turn on this show and watch it alongside her. And in those hard, formative moments in her life, when tears and rage and disappointment overtake her, I will hold her close and say, “Dip down, baby doll, and I know you’ll overcome.”