In ‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,’ the villains are as beloved as the heroes
“She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” is about a young woman who wields a special sword to transform into a mythical warrior princess. But the show’s real magic is in the characters and their relationships.
At the core of the DreamWorks/Netflix animated series is Adora and Catra — two former friends whose relationship was forever changed when Adora defected from the Evil Horde after learning she is the new She-Ra. Despite growing up together, the two now find themselves on opposite sides of a war over the fate of the planet Etheria.
As much as “She-Ra” is about Adora and her struggles to figure out what it means to be a hero and a leader, the show is just as invested in Catra’s journey now that she doesn’t have Adora at her side. The tensions between the pair continue to simmer as the stakes of their choices are magnified in the show’s six-episode Season 3, which was released Friday.
“Catra and Adora and this connection between them is one of the most central parts of the show,” showrunner and executive producer Noelle Stevenson told tThe Times. “I think that Catra and Adora have their work cut out for them if they could ever hope to start to repair the things that have been broken. It’s so broken right now and there’s a long road ahead of them.”
Despite being one of the show’s villains, Catra remains a fan-favorite character because her struggles are relatable. Most people know what it’s like to feel hurt or angry because of the actions of someone they care about.
“I think in a lot of ways, she’s one of the most relatable characters on the show,” said Stevenson. “Seeing [Catra] explore what it means to be a villain and to try and take back through force what she feels she’s lost, there’s something about it that feels just so human.”
Through Catra, “we see the consequences of what it means when you are hurt and you try to put that hurt on everyone else,” she added.
AJ Michalka, who voices Catra, explained that, initially, the character’s mission was definitely about trying to get her friend back.
“But that’s starting to disappear,” said Michalka. “It’s more becoming a matter of winning or losing, and losing for Catra is just absolutely not an option.”
She believes fans have taken to Catra despite her “falling short a little bit in terms of kindness” because there is a very poignant and specific vulnerability in her bravado. The fact that she has grown up in the shadow of Adora’s greatness is also something that resonates with people.
“I think there’s a love for her because she is kind of the underdog,” said Michalka. “She’s this kind of precious, sweet underdog kitten who can also scratch your face off and not think twice about it.”
The cast of “She-Ra” visits the L.A. Times Studio at San Diego Comic-Con.
Michalka credits Catra’s nuance to Stevenson’s nurturing and the writing on the show. And Stevenson admits she’s always had a thing for villains.
“I think I’ve always gravitated to villains,” said Stevenson. “They usually had a very pure want. That didn’t make it the right want, but sometimes it was easier to grasp than what the heroes wanted.”
This was because villains’ motivations were often much smaller and more personal and therefore more relatable.
“They might want to conquer the world, but it’s not really about conquering the world,” said Stevenson. “It’s about proving your worth, or getting back at someone who wronged you, or making sure that you are so strong that no one can hurt you. Things that speaks to some part of all of us.”
Catra is far from the only villain who has captured the hearts of viewers, as well as the show’s cast and crew. Scorpia, a powerful Horde Force Captain who enthusiastically loves her friends, has her own share of fans.
“Scorpia is probably the most loyal individual that has ever existed,” said Lauren Ash, who voices the character. “She is definitely someone who’s driven by wanting the best for the people around her and caring so deeply about her friends.”
Scorpia is a princess whose family ended up on the side of the Horde because its leader, Hordak, just happened to take over her homeland as his base of operations. She’s driven by friendship and personal relationships and doesn’t really have much of an interest in the bigger picture of what the Horde is doing or how it’s affecting Etheria.
“I think she’s actually a really good person who just happened to be doing some bad things,” said Ash. “Her intentions, I think, are not all horrible, which is what makes her really fun and interesting. And I think that’s why people respond to her so much.”
Scorpia’s main motivation is to support Catra, regardless of Catra’s attitude toward their relationship. This dynamic is both funny and heartbreaking and it continues to be explored in “She-Ra” Season 3.
Ash believes most people have experienced a similar relationship, “whether it be romantic, friendships, family, whatever,” with someone they just idolize.
“You just want them to feel the same way about you so bad that you kind of miss that maybe this person isn’t super healthy for you,” said Ash. “I think that the Scorpia-Catra relationship, the way it stands right now, is something that’s so relatable, especially for young people. I think it’s a really cool thing to have on the show.”
Michalka, who describes Scorpia as one of her favorite characters on the show, agrees.
“I think their relationship is precious,” said Michalka. “And I think we’re going to see a blossom into something really sweet.”
Scorpia is not the only princess who has found herself siding with the Horde. There is also Entrapta, whose affinity for science separates her from most of the other characters on the show.
Christine Woods, who voices Entrapta, describes the tech specialist as an insatiable workaholic with “more than genius level intelligence,” but “I wouldn’t say that she’s particularly socially savvy.”
“[Entrapta] also has a very deep need to be loved and accepted just like all the characters do,” said Stevenson. “But she wants people to love her for who she is. She wants to share her interests with people and and have people appreciate them.”
And this is why she has forged a bond with Hordak, whom she sees as a kindred spirit. Entrapta remains with the Horde because they’re the ones who accepted and nurtured her scientific drive. Though she doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the Princess Alliance, it just makes sense for Entrapta that she remains working with the Horde. Like Scorpia, she’s not as concerned about the bigger picture regarding the conflict over Etheria.
“I don’t think she sees the Horde and the Rebellion as being on opposite sides,” said Stevenson. “She doesn’t see the factions.”
Of course, “She-Ra” does not let you ignore the fact that choosing to remain aligned with the Evil Horde does make all of these characters villains, no matter how beloved they may be. And the repercussions of their actions are especially great in Season 3.
But because their motivations are so personal and universal, it’s hard to not cheer for them.
“I think we always hope that they will make the right decision,” said Stevenson. “It’s not like you root for them to win — you root for the characters to do the right thing.”
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