Appellate Judge Mac McEntire isn't winking at you, he's just got some crud in his eye.
Stella: "Winx? What does that mean?"
Fairies are among the classic images of fantasy, their presence immediately evoking magic and otherworldliness. Back in olden times, when humble villagers were so sheltered and simplistic that just venturing into woods represented the unknown, unexpected phenomenon was often attributed to fairy magic. These days, "fairy" is, sadly, a mostly derogatory term, representing what some people think of as "sissy" or "girly." But, every so often someone comes along attempting a new spin on these classic fantasy creatures such is the case with Winx Club, in which fairy magic gets the Clueless treatment.
Facts of the Case
Bloom (Liza Jacqueline) is an ordinary teen girl living on Gardenia (which is Earth, I guess?) who one day gets caught in the middle of a fight between a fairy and an ogre. Thanks to this encounter, Bloom learns she too is a fairy. Bloom is whisked away to Alfea College, a school for fairies. There, she makes new friends, romances a good-looking guy, and runs afoul of some sinister witches.
Winx Club originated in Italy, and was imported to North America via Nickelodeon and 4Kids Entertainment. The folks at 4Kids are often maligned by animation fans for their treatment of foreign properties, and they did indeed work their bad juju on Winx Club, reediting and redubbing the show as to change storylines, character names, and characters' relationships. What you need to know is that this four-disc set of the show's first season is the original, unedited, episodes, and not the 4Kids versions. As much I'd love to tell you that "unedited" means all kinds of lurid material cut for sensors, all it really means is that episodes are longer, voice actors are different, and the show is slightly more an ensemble piece than just Bloom's story. This is good, in that it's the show the creators intended, but not as good in that fans who enjoyed it on Nickelodeon aren't getting the alternate version.
Now that we've established which version of Winx Club this is, the big question is whether it's any good. It's…middling. The show's many influences are evident. The "magic school" stuff immediately recalls the Harry Potter franchise, while the many "magical girl transformations" will remind viewers of Sailor Moon and similar anime, and the seemingly countless shopping and trying-on-new-clothes montages are reminiscent of, well, of anything marketed to young girls. Winx Club is such a mish-mash of other franchise's styles and ideas, it has a tough time staking out an identity of its own.
Any given episode has Bloom and her fairy friends having fun while exploring their magical school, while also fending off the witches' evil scheme of the week. Events build slowly, with Bloom discovering her powers and romancing the hunky Brandon (Dan Green), but each episode still feels like the same thing over and over. If you can hang in there until episode 17, "Secrets Within Secrets," you'll be treated to a multi-episode arc in which Bloom, after suffering some of the ol' teenage heartbreak, leaves Alfea and returns home to Earth. (Gardenia is Earth, right? Can we agree on that?) This is the closest the show gets to injecting some real human emotion among its shopping montages and magical girl transformations. Then, in the multi-part season finale, the show pulls out all the fantasy stops with the witches leading a full-on attack on Alfea, and Bloom right in the middle of the action. Of course, "action" on this show means fairies throwing beams of sparkly light at each other, but it's still good to see the creators showing some ambition in the latter half of the season.
To enjoy the show's good points, though, you've got to trudge through a lot of blandness. Characters are slight at best. Bloom is the nice girl, Stella (Amy Birnbaum) is the girly-girl fashionista, Flora (Kerry Williams) loves nature, Musa (Lisa Ortiz) is into music, and Tecna (Dani Schaffel) is the requisite smart girl. What little traits these are come and go in any given episode, as the other girls too often fall into the category of Bloom's friends, not showing much personality. The villains are stock "mean girl" types seen in a lot of shows and movies like this. Brandon the love interest is hiding a secret from Bloom, but other than that, he's a perfectly plain Ken doll. The animation, although colorful, is clunky, with jerky movements and dead-eyed facial reactions.
The DVDs look fine, with bright colors. Audio is decent, with no overt problems. The first two discs are labeled "Realm of Magix," and the second two are labeled "Defeating the Trix," if you're interested. The only extra is an eight-page booklet with bios and artwork of the main characters.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can't believe I've written more than 900 words about fairies. So, how 'bout them Red Sox?
Let's be honest with ourselves here—Winx Club was created to sell dolls, toys, and "dress-up" video games. As such, the only audience for this is the very, very young, who can respond to the bright colors and the cute outfits. For the rest of the viewership, you're not missing much.
Guilty. Squash these fairies inside Lady Cottington's book. (Anybody get that reference?)
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