Okay, this review's gonna get a little weird, and it's gonna get a little wild. I will start it off by stating that Star vs. the Forces of Evil is the best thing to happen to American television animation since Gravity Falls, but then it becomes one of the WORST things to happen to American television animation since The Simpsons, after season 8. It's a hilarious take on magical princesses, high school, and overly-complicated, epic series that take themselves way too seriously, but by the fourth season it actually becomes one of those wannabe "epic series" that takes itself too seriously. It's fall from grace saddens me.
Its enormous cast of repeating characters — as well as some of the situations that said characters find themselves in — reminds me of the utterly amazing Urusei Yatsura, and that is high praise indeed. But it's fourth and final season forgets everything that makes the first few seasons so exceptional, and it slowly dies of its own storytelling cancer. It shits itself in its bed and tries to tell tales that mean something, but it's too weak and confused by this point, and so it just rambles on, forsakes all its beautiful character development, and most grievously, it disremembers how to be funny.
The Introduction to Star vs. the Forces of Evil
Let me back up a bit here. I was on baby-duty over my two-week Christmas break, and I was growing a bit tired of watching episode after episode of Sesame Street with the little one. So I pulled up Disney Plus and found Star vs. the Forces of Evil just sitting there. I had heard about it, and I must have seen pictures of Princess Star Butterfly and her Earth-Dimension friend, Marco Diaz, somewhere before, because they looked somewhat familiar to me. I thought that it was a series aimed at toddlers due mainly to the vibrant colors used in the thumbnail for the show, so I figured that the baby and I would try something new, instead of watching Fraggle Rock for the third time or Gravity Falls for the fifth.
The first episode had me laughing out loud at least ten times, and I was constantly chuckling to myself throughout its 22-minute runtime. It felt like a great mix of classic Looney Tunes and the aforementioned Gravity Falls. Its premise was ridiculous and it never took itself seriously. I wasn't totally hooked from the beginning, but I was definitely interested enough to give episode 2 a try. We then finished all 77 episodes ten days later. I had a looooot of free time during this break.
The quick rundown of Star vs. the Forces of Evil is as follows: Star Butterfly is the hyperactive, teenage princess of Mewni. On her fourteenth birthday, she inherits the kingdom's magic wand from her mother and proceeds to set the castle on fire with its power and her lack of control. So Star's mother (Queen Moon) and father (King River) send her to the Earth dimension to train with the magic blue man that lives in the kingdom's book of spells (one Glossaryck). She is expected to learn to keep her impulsiveness in check while she is instructed in the ways of becoming the next magical Queen of Mewni. And if things go wrong, well then, she only blew up Earth and not her home-world.
Once she arrives on Earth, Star gets teamed up with one Marco Diaz by the principal of Echo Creek Academy (the principal gets bribed by the King and Queen into blindly accepting this inter-dimensional transfer student with no questions asked). Marco is a straight "A" and straight-laced student who will hopefully keep Star in-line and keep her from destroying anything too expensive.
Then wacky hijinks ensue as Star uses crazy magic to try and make her life easier, and as Ludo — the kappa-like mini-monster from Mewni (with a small army of other weird-looking monsters) — continues to attack our princess in order to steal the Butterfly family wand.
Despite this show starting off super silly and sometimes over-the-wacky-railing, it gets a bit more serious as things go on, but never to the point of say Chernobyl. And thankfully, after its initial dive into a darker storyline at the end of season two and the beginning of season three, the rest of the series takes its story with a side of Animaniacs-like gusto, but it never fully recovers to season one and most of season two's rambunctiousness. Buuuuuuuut, its change in basic plot will give you whiplash.
Some Spoilers Below
Seasons one and two were all about monsters Ludo and Ludo's usurper, Toffee, trying to either capture the Butterfly magic wand or destroy all magic in the multi-verse. The stakes got pretty high and very scary at times (hence the tonal change that I didn't prefer, although it did keep things very interesting). But then seasons three and four stopped any talk of "megalomaniacal villains who had brilliant, super-detailed plans for power and conquest" dead in its tracks, and instead focused on race relations. Sorry, I mean "Mewman and monster relations."
See, in Mewni, the humans (or "Mewmans") HATE the uncivilized monsters that live in the wilds, and consider them to be evil creatures that should be hunted and killed on sight. Star, and eventually the ancient Queen Eclipsa (who was put on ice for about 300 years, but reawakened after the final Toffee battle), are totally into monster equality in the Mewni dimension, which is admirable, but BOOOOOORING. Yeah, you SJWs out there are all getting pissy at me now, but let me put this to you: Which is more entertaining, Simpsons episodes featuring Homer and Bart getting into zany situations, or episodes based on Lisa trying to get people to sign petitions to save some endangered animal or to free people in North Korean animation camps being forced to draw shitty American cartoons for pennies a day? Getting preachy about social justice is rarely entertaining, especially in a show about an enchanted kingdom featuring a princess with a magic wand and a sarcastic little blue dude who lives in her holy Grimoire (God I love Glossaryck).
This Mewman/Monster equality movement could have been interesting, but it dragged on for like 40 fucking episodes, was boooooring as hell, took giant jumps in logic to even work in the context of this show, and provided us with really lame villains after the writers got rid of the brilliantly-written Ludo and Toffee. It was a giant misstep for seasons three and four. It didn't really feel like a natural progression of the story or any of the characters after what we'd previously seen. Like if Seinfeld had more seasons, but instead of being a comedy show based on every day shit, it involved Jerry and company setting up a relief fund for orphans caused by the Israeli and Palestinian conflict... Yes, that's a noble and worthy goal, but totally out of character and not entertaining at all.
So what did I love about SvtFoE? A lot, actually. Everything in the first two seasons is really good: great characters and character-interactions, hilarious jokes that got me to laugh out loud in every episode, fantastic animation quality (especially in the first season), and a great opening and ending theme song. I liked a bunch of things in season three, but most of season four was ill-thought-out, rushed, and crapilly animated. I don't think that I will ever watch season four again, truth be told, but one through three most definitely.
I love pretty much every main and side character in this series, even that whiny bitch, Ponyhead. And I love the development given to every cast member in the first two seasons, especially Star and Marco.
Star Butterfly is, of course, a14-year-old princess. She starts off as the unrefined and not-so-delicate daughter of the royals of Mewni. She runs around the kingdom fighting evil monsters, rides warnicorns (mounted unicorns that live off the blood of their enemies) through the castle, and wears rainbow socks and devil-horn headbands everywhere she goes. She's not the brightest bulb in the box, and she can be a bit selfish at first, but after meeting Marco and living on Earth with normal (non-richy people) she really begins to grow a big heart and she begins to put other people's needs above her own. It's a gradual change, but very well orchestrated.
Marco Diaz is first introduced as a by-the-book, too-shy-to-even-talk-to-his-crush of ten years, karate-loving boy in So-Cal. Upon being forced to show Star the ropes once she's transferred to Earth, he begins to lighten up, be open about his insecurities, talk to his crush and then go out with her, and soon become the baddest bad-ass in the entire Neverzone.
The characters grow believably (for a fantasy cartoon such as this), and they act and react to the situations they're tossed into in a convincing and satisfying way. And there's so many fun and unique cast members to interact with each other that things rarely get stale (hence my reference to Urusei Yatsura)!
I love that Star's magical powers are never a secret to anyone on Earth and that they don't even try to hide them. Like "Shhhh! Star! Don't let anyone find out that magic is real or you'll have to go home!" Nope, people see that she has magic and they think it's cool, the end.
And I love the great running gags, at least in the first 2, maybe 3 seasons. There are tons of setups and payoffs for things like Saint Olga's School for Wayward Princesses, dimensional scissors, Star's old flame (Tom), where the fountains of magic lead from the Magic Dimension, where Marco kept getting $650 from, all the strange things in Star's room (don't question the disembodied kicking legs!), and the Magic High Commission. Even during filler eps in the earlier seasons, everything Star and Marco learn sticks with them. But then, with season 4, they just chucked all that hard work out the window and continuity errors galore arise. Like I stated above, it was like The Simpsons after season 8: they just pissed all over hard-earned characterizations and running gags for the sake of Flanderizing their own cast and telling whatever story they wanted to tell THIS week.
This is the biggest thing that bothered me with the last two seasons, but especially season four: They ignored crucial personality traits and lessons that were already learned for the sake of pushing their shitty and stale agenda and shoe-horning in a trite and tropey ending that satisfied noone.
Why did the Magic High Commission change from being very likable heroes (see their individual introductions as well as the battle at the end of season two) to being monster-bigoted, giant douchebags in the final two seasons? EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM IS A MONSTER of some sort! Why were they so against monsters in Mewni when they themselves were not normal Mewmans? What they did to the Magic High Commission is some of the worst character assassination work I've ever seen in a TV show, only topped by Queen Moon in the final few episodes.
Queen Moon started out as a beloved monarch, devoted wife, and understanding mother. She feared for her daughter's safety, and that drove her to fight and make a few sacrifices early on. Cool, cool, cool... Totally works for her character and the story. Then she meets Eclipsa, the fabled "Dark Queen" from Mewni's past who was locked up in a crystal for "betraying her kingdom to marry an evil monster lord." Well, as Moon found out, those charges were trumped up and she learned that her indoctrinated beliefs were more than likely wrong and based solely on bigotry towards monsters. Moon's sense of justice caused her to change sides and she began to help the newly freed Eclipsa to stay free.
When Star gave the Mewni crown to its true ruler (Eclipsa) at the end of season three, Moon seemed fine with this, and moved into the woods with River to start a quiet life together. She even learned that not all monsters were bad, and in fact started to warm to Star's monster friend, Buffrog. Okay, I'm still kind of on board here, sure. Then people started gravitating to the ex-royals in their forest utopia, and Moon seemed okay with being an unofficial ruler there. Then BAM, in like the third to last episode we find out that Moon magically created the army of monster-hating bigots that were then sent to attack Eclipsa's castle (where Star was known to be living at the time) and kill Eclipsa and all her monster subjects. What the fuck? That came from out of thin air. It felt like a very forced way to jump into the big finale, which itself was bland, confusing, and tried to rewrite much of what we were already told about magic in this show.
Even Star, Tom, and Marco have their personalities majorly fucked with in the second half of season four. From mid-season two through about mid-season three, the writers felt the need to have Star and Marco have "more than friends" feelings for each other, but when one felt that way the other was in a healthy relationship with someone else, and then vice-versa. It was an unneeded and dumb addition to the story. I'd have preferred if Star and Marco were only just "good friends" myself as I hate "will they, or won't they" cliche-ridden plot points when they're unearned... It's just overused and lazy. Then, for the rest of season three and the first half of season four Tom and Star are in a good, solid, and happy relationship, and Marco was moving on and away from his feelings for Star with super-hair-girl and martial-arts-fan Kelly. The writers appeared to have let the characters breathe and become a bit more adult-like.
But then they re-thought their plans (and apparently caved to all the "Starco shippers") and had the two couples break up for no good reason at all. It really stunk of bad fan-fiction writing when I watched those episodes of stupid breakup drama. Then Star and Marco were FORCED into a relationship in the last two episodes, and in the worst and least satisfactorily way one could think. No drama, no payoff, just OOF! Here's that "ship" you guys wanted! ENJOY, even though thematically and story-wise it makes no sense! Fuck you, lazy writers!
Other Things I Didn't Like
My only real complaint (other than the lame plot of season four and the character assassinations) is that Jeffrey Tambor was replaced with Keith David as Glossaryck's voice actor at the very end of season 3. Don't get me wrong, Keith David has an amazing voice, but Tambor's bored, borderline sarcastic tone was absolutely PERFECT for the blue one's vocals. I understand that Tambor had some sexual misconduct allegations brought up against him at the time (which he continues to deny), but I am so sad that Glossaryck's overall personality seemed to change with David as his new voice. Tambor's version of Glossaryck is my favorite character in this show... Tied with Tom's great-grandfather, Relicor Lucitor.
Well, I guess I do have one more complaint to make, and it's about the animation quality. Season one's animation is INSANELY good! It's so fluid, characters are constantly moving, the colors are vibrant as hell, and their expressions are always changing, even if they're not the focus of the scene. It's so lively and energetic and it fits the show perfectly! Season two is a big step down in this regard, but the animation is still pretty good for a TV show, but the decline is noticeable. Season three looks okay as you watch it, but if you ever go back and watch a season one or two episode after watching something in season three, it's another noticeable downgrade. And season four... well, it's even worse than season three, plus its color palette is about 1/4 as vibrant as the first two seasons, and it's missing any sort of action shots, whereas seasons one and two were FILLED with beautiful movement and battles. Go back and compare how fights were animated in seasons one and two compared to the big finale fight in season four. Four looks like a 10 year-old drew it on an Etch-a-sketch in comparison.
I've read that in order to make their money stretch for a full 21-episode season (after season one's short 13 episode run), they had to go with a cheaper studio in South Korea instead of the Canadian animation company that originally nailed it in season one. It was fine, and I liked getting a full 21 episodes of Star in trade, but damn, going back and revisiting the first season opens my eyes as to what this series used to be and what it possibly could have continued to be if Disney opened its pocketbook a bit more.
By the time season four came about though, it appeared that their budget was reduced even more. Seasons two through four were all animated by the same couple of South Korean studios, so I am confused as to how this drop in quality occurred, but here we are. Honestly, with the added problem of too many shitty filler eps in that final season, the producers would have been much wiser to use their smaller budget to make less episodes at a higher quality than the drawn-out crap they gave us. It is startling how bland-looking, stiff, and boring the animation and backgrounds are in season four. Both Mewni and Earth are no longer bright and interesting places, they're dull and stifling. And any "action" is lame and unexciting, with only an arthritic punch thrown and somebody falling down in a separate cut. Compare that to season one's kinetic and frenetic action pieces with characters constantly running around, sliding through legs, jumping, kicking, flying in circles, and blasting magical attacks while they do it... Season four looks like it's just the storyboards in comparison. But as I stated before, that is the LEAST of season four's problems.
Okay, one final and really big complaint here, then I'll shut up: Why all the shipping? Yes, high school kids are horny as hell and try to "date" and "go out with" (using the terms that the show uses, instead of the more realistic "fuck") people that they're attracted to all the time. Cool. I also get how putting relationships in a show featuring teenagers is necessary, but can we FOR ONCE have a series where the main guy and girl DO NOT end up together in the end just because? It just feels so forced, especially here in Star where they took great pains in the first two seasons to show that the two really were "just friends."
They did a really fantastic job in seasons one and two, wherein they'd have either Star or Marco going out with, or getting serious with other side characters. The problem is that these side characters (Jackie for Marco and Tom for Star) actually became REALLY GOOD people who truly made great mates for their partners! The writers could have just left things as-is and kept Star and Marco platonic buddies. In fact, in season four, the writers give themselves an out in forcing "Starco" from happening with the whole "severing stone" storyline. I rejoiced when this happened! They were going to do something different, but much more natural, I thought! They weren't going to force a "ship" between their leads!... But then nope.
Tom has a change of heart in dating Star (off-screen, mind you), and boom, they're done as a couple. And the second girl that Marco was interested in (Kelly) — who he had brilliant chemistry with — tells another character that she and Marco "broke up" off screen too!... Writers, no. Just NO. This of course made it clear that in the last handful of episodes Star and Marco would hook up. And they do, in a most non-spectacular, non-passionate way. They don't even do anything clever or memorable with their proclamations of love for each other, they just say it, kiss, then move on to other things. If they had just held off this love declaration a few episodes when things were at their worst, they could have at least given said scene some gravitas... And then at the very end, when Earth and Mewni are cleaved together (in some unknown, really stupid, and eye-rollingly bad way), Star and Marco's reunion is just them looking at each other and saying, "Hi" and "Hey." How charming and memorable....
Oh, and the final, final, final thing that I didn't like is the ending. From Star declaring that she doesn't like magic in the second to last episode (with literally zero hints to these feelings prior to this, and in fact the writers showing that Star LIVES AND LOVES magic in every episode we've seen so far), and then going even further and declaring that the only way to stop a psychotic holy knight is to kill magic in all its forms across every dimension, I hated everything about the grand finale of this show. This "destroying of all magic" solution also knowingly murders Glossaryck and all of the members of the Magic High Commission (including Hekapoo, who was back on the side of good in the end), all of whom are apparently made out of pure magic. But neither Glossaryck nor Hekapoo seem to give two shits that Star is planning to kill them both, and the two of them actually assist Star in her plan. The writers had their ending in mind, and logic and proper storytelling best get THE FUCK OUT of their way!
Lots of unanswered questions are left hanging due to the rush of the final two episodes. The biggest of which is "why are Earth and Mewni combined now?" Like, what the fuck? How did this happen, what does it mean for everyone on both planets, and what the fuck was with that lame-ass final scene (where Star and Marco meet up again and just look at each other and say "hi.")? Oh, and didn't Marco just get gored by a unicorn? But he's okay now?... Okay, well... whatever. Also, don't think about the "Inferred Holocaust" that Star inflicted on the multiverses that used magic in their daily lives, not to mention all the sentient spells in her wand, along with any magical creatures that she (or any other being who could wield magic) created. DON'T THINK ABOUT IT.
What would I have liked to have seen in the final two seasons, you ask? Well, firstly, I'd have gone back and started tweaking shit in season three. If Eclipsa was still to be used in the story, I'd keep her actual intentions a mystery, and then reveal (but only to the audience) that she really was a "Dark Queen" in the season finale, and wasn't to be trusted. I would have Star unite all Mewmans and Monsters to fight Eclipsa, thereby still having race unity as a plot point, but I would not drag it out for too long. I would also pull Ludo back into the mix and give him an actually well-earned finale (and not just forget about him and his crew). This would also give the show a big bad in the final season that continued from earlier set-up plot points while still escalating things and building up to a satisfying conclusion.
IF magic still had to be destroyed in order to stop Eclipsa and her evil plans, I would have Star start to dislike magic and its easy "get out of jail free" abilities in mid season three and have it develop to the end of season four where she has to convince the Magic High Commission (who would NOT be assholes in my version) and Queen Moon of the fact that magic must die since she'd need their help to end it. Eclipsa and her Monster Lord hubby would then go down fighting, Star and Marco would be separated for the good of the universe (like Lyra and Will in His Dark Materials), but they'd still have their mobile numbers and be able to talk about their lives every day. We'll say that any technology created by magic would still work, why not?
Oh, and most importantly, Star and Marco would only remain friends! No forced garbage relationships shoved down our throats in the final two episodes.
If you stick to the first two seasons of Star vs. the Forces of Evil you'll have a great time. There is some really good stuff in season three, but there's also a lot of boring episodes concerning monster rights that aren't that funny. Season four is a fucking mess that needs to be retconned out of existence. Skip it and you will be a little happier.
"Ooooo! MegaPlayboy," the Rossman said. "You'll love this show about a magical girl who likes to fight monsters!"
Shut the fuck up, fool! I don't like shit-shows like that! Sailor Moon blows, Nurse Angel Ririka SOS smells like my taint, and Creamy Mami should be run over by a truck! Get out of my face with your stupid magical princess shows! Let me get back to some rugged shit like Vinland Saga, you dumb honky mothafucker.
Ah didn't think Ah'd like this silly little Disney show, but as soon as Ah started watchin' it Ah fell under its spell! Star Butterfly is my spiritual Disney princess. The way she fights, the way she does what she wants to do whenever she wants to do it, and the way she downs a Colt45 shotgun-style (you know she does)... It was like watchin' old home movies of mahself.
Star is the greatest thing that ever happened to cartoons. She's always large, in charge, ready to help her friends, and ready to nuke whomever she don't like with a magic narwhal blast. Just pretend that everythin' after The Battle for Mewni never happened an' you'll be real happy.
Ah know the Rossman wanted more out of me for this review, but Ah got shit to do, laundry to fold, a bottle of Vodka to turn into Jell-O shots, and maybe a few episodes of Star to watch again. From the first season, of course.