Last month, Netflix dropped Fate: the Winx Saga internationally. As the name suggests, it’s a live-action adaptation of the Winx Club cartoon series from the 2000s, joining a list of nostalgia series from our childhoods turning into teen dramas for the small screen.
However, these adaptations don’t have the best track record. And the trailer looks really ominous, not like the rainbow-y cartoon we knew. Is it worth the watch?
First, some expectation management
1) I think the first step to watching Fate (or any remake/live-adaptation, really) is to know that it’s not a like-for-like remake of the source material. It is on a different platform, made for a different audience. And it would be boring to make the exact same show just with real people instead of drawings.
2) Let’s not kid ourselves. The original Winx cartoon was hardly a masterpiece. It was a glittery, kitschy, sometimes even campy affair, which was fine for the mindless entertainment of a children’s cable channel. But it also spat the same few plotlines out each season, and the characters were quite trope-y. Don’t let your romanticising of the past cloud your view of the new.
So what is Fate, really?
3) Fate wants to be Harry Potter, but is really Riverdale with some magic fairy stuff thrown in. Simply put, it’s a teen drama. Oh, and they can use their phones at Hogwarts, I mean Alfea. (How do fairies have public Instagram profiles without revealing magic to the ordinary human world?)
4) The show rides on its casts’ talents and good looks. I admit I sometimes rewound Sky and Silva’s scenes just to look at them both. The plot is also just intriguing enough that you want to find out what comes next. All this makes the show a good binge, even if not every single second tickles your fancy.
5) Speaking of plot, there is a lot of it. Fate tries to cover so much ground in six episodes that a lot of strands feel inconsequential. There is a lot of exposition, ironic when one of the characters tells the others to “show, don’t tell” in the pilot. Talk about not following your own advice. Maybe the show could have used a few more episodes. Perhaps COVID cramped production? Maybe they could have done away with the weird trio vape kissing scene to save valuable screen time.
6) While it feels like the magic often takes a backseat to the teen drama going on, the visual effects are quite good. Make sure you turn up your screen brightness though, because this show has the same lighting budget as the Games of Thrones finale. P.S. to all show producers: you can give a show a dark tone without making it literally dark.
Different is not necessarily bad
Warning: spoilers ahead.
7) You might have heard by now that there’s a Stella/Sky/Bloom love triangle in Fate. Brandon doesn’t exist (yet). Before you get mad, though, Stella and Sky’s relationship is actually very interesting, much more than Bloom and Sky’s. Stella has reasons for clinging onto Sky, and Sky, though it’s clear he isn’t completely buying into some of Stella’s antics, is still about the only one who really knows what Stella has gone through and who can support her properly. Meanwhile, Sky just paid attention to Bloom because she looked like she needed directions on the first day of school, or something.
8) The teachers feel far more real in Fate. They have their own stories instead of functioning as mouthpieces for exposition. Though they aren’t direct translations of the original cartoon characters (headmistress Farah Dowling comes the closest, and only by name), each of them has their own unique personality amongst the adults in the show. They are layered characters, morally gray with their shared dark past while trying to keep their students safe. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
But Fate tries too hard
9) Fate tries really hard to make itself a 21st-century show. So boys can be fairies and girls can be specialists. I’m all for that, but only one male fairy gets any substantial screen time: Sam. Yet even he doesn’t really do anything crucial until the final episode, where his near-death creates a conclusion for Musa’s arc. The female specialists who actually have lines are killed or disappear after their one scene.
10) Some of the lines are so klunky, they ruin what could be good development. Sometimes I didn’t really know what Bloom and Sky were talking about, especially in the casual moments where we could be seeing them be cute with each other. Instead I’m just wondering if that’s what the writers think flirting is. Or how I’m couldn’t be sure if any of the Winx girls really liked each other until maybe the last episode. Or how Stella could have realised her dependence on Sky due to the stress from her personal life earlier if they’d just given her the right thing to say.
11) The show tries SO HARD to be feminist and “woke” but is sooooo clumsy in that regard. First there’s the cringey throwing around of the word ‘mansplaining’ without even using it right. Terra standing up to fat-shaming made a cool scene, but it was ultimately inconsequential. Later on she almost becomes a running gag for not being as fashion-savvy as the other girls.
12) Speaking of Terra, I really enjoyed the character. Eliot Salt is a fantastic young talent, and it’s high time we had more body representation outside of Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson. But her character is replacing a latina character, Flora. Another instance of white-washing is Elisha Applebaum as Musa, who is east asian.
When following the original doesn’t always work
13) Fate makes itself so dark and gloomy that when they finally give us the anime transformation, it feels so out of place. The closed-caption read “uplifting electronic music” and I just laughed out loud. Also, if you’re gonna have an anime transformation, just go all out and let her magically change her whole outfit.
14) Riven was such a frustrating character in the cartoon. Whenever it looked like he was about to have some nuance, they sent him right back to being a stereotypical bad boy type. And Fate just about pulled the same trick with him again. The one redeeming factor is that while he crawled back to the Trix (or in this case, Beatrix,) he sort of hyped up Terra and we learn that they grew up together. Maybe this will be the basis for an actual sustained redemption arc.
Fate is quite an interesting show, with the elements it needs to become good, but the jury is still out on whether it can handle it the right way. It would be unfair to write this show off just based on the knee-jerk “it’s not Winx Club except for the names” reaction (lots of which were probably based on only the first 20 minutes of the show). It won’t garner any critical acclaim, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to move it up my ‘to watch’ list, but it’s worth a punt for any curious viewer looking for their next binge.
(featured image: Netflix/Fate: the Winx Saga)