Pilot Program Subject Three: Star Fairies (1985)

The Pilot Program is a look at various merchandise-centric cartoons that were released as specials in the 80s & 90s; while they were clearly set up to go to series, they never did.  Every entry will look at a new show, who made it, what it was selling, and whether it would’ve made a good series.


SUMMARY:  Princess Sparkle lives in the land of Wish-Come-True; from her home at Castle Wishstar, she receives every wish desired by a child who has ever wished on the first star of the evening (you know, the “star light, star bright” rhyme).  However, she’s getting overwhelmed from the sheer volume of requests, so she petitions the Wishing Well for a helper.  It directs her to Mount Wishmore to make her own wish with her magic wand on a shooting star; the magic from the wand then turns into five new helpers for her – Spice, Jazz, Nightsong, Whisper, and True Love.  Each sets out to help a child with their wish, and all but Spice succeeds quickly.  Spice has been saddled with the prematurely cynical Hillary, who thinks that nothing worthwhile or exciting ever happens in her life.  The other Fairies shrink Hillary to their size & take her to meet Sparkle for help, only to discover that Sparkle’s wand has been stolen by the local pesky elf population & all kinds of chaos is afoot.  Their efforts to find the Wishing Well and retrieve the wand sent the Fairies (with Hillary in tow) on a journey to the far-off & dangerous Land of Twixt-and-Tween; happily, creative use of their skills leads them to succeed.  They finally reach the elves & retrieve Sparkle’s wand, only to have the land start tearing itself apart because of the misused magic.  The Fairies combine their magic to restore everything to normal and send Hillary home with a newfound appreciation for life.

MISCELLANEOUS:  This is where I note various things I observed while watching, usually in bullet format.
  • Each of the Star Fairies has a specialization hinted at by their names: Spice brings excitement to people (she’s stuck with Hillary, more on her later); Jazz is into music & creativity (she helps a teenaged girl meet her pop idol); Nightsong helps with sleepless nights & overcoming fears (she helps a little boy cope with his fear of the dark); Whisper is a keeper of secrets (she grants a boy the too-embarrassed-to-tell-others ability to fly, then gives him an R/C airplane when that goes as well as you might expect to apologize); and True Love helps people connect socially (she gives a lonely girl whose family moves a lot a puppy so that she’ll always have a friend).
  • Hoyt Curtin did the music on this, from the earworm theme song to the new wave music one of the wishees enjoys to the action scene scores.  It’s solid as ever, but I’d expect no less from H-B’s composing mainstay.  Odds are if there’s a theme song from an H-B show that gets stuck in your head, he’s the guy to thank.
  • At first, I thought the elves were trolls.  Since their whole motivation is “pester Sparkle and steal her stuff when she tells them to knock it off”, you can see why I made that mistake.  Also, the playground they live in (which the Wishing Well describes as “squalor”) is basically Action Park.
  • Speaking of the Wishing Well, in its first appearance it looks like a smooth fountain in a sleek temple-like locale.  But when the Fairies head off to Twixt-and-Tween to rescue it, it looks like an old-timey well with a little roof.  It’s either due to different studios animating different halves (which is otherwise unnoticeable) or just plain forgetfulness.
  • I might be wrong, but the heads on the two-headed dragon both sound like they’re doing Ed Wynn impersonations.
  • Maybe it’s because of my magical girl obsession, but the Fairies combining their powers to save Wish-Come-True at the end really reminded me of similar techniques used in the genre.  You could make an argument that this could fit into the genre, albeit it would be a tricky one.
  • This is the first special that was designed for an hour-long broadcast slot.  As such, it’s a bit more plot-heavy than the previous two subjects.

PRODUCTION COMPANY:  Good ol’ Hanna-Barbera.  If you don’t know them, then you’re either (a) rather young or (b) just got out from under that rock.  Founded by MGM directors Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera in the 50s during the infancy of television, they’re credited with popularizing the use of limited & stylized animation for television.  (Contrary to popular thought, they neither created limited animation – that was done by UPA – nor created the first animated TV program – that was Jay Ward’s Crusader Rabbit.)  They made a ton of shows, and odds are at least one thing they produced probably made you smile at some point in your life.  Animation historians tend to poo-poo their work, as they do with most TV animation studios, but most TV viewers have at least one thing they remember fondly from H-B.

This special comes at an interesting time in their history – they had lost their borderline monopoly on Saturday morning animation and were starting to send their animation overseas, a practice that would become commonplace (largely thanks to a botched union challenge – I highly recommend reading Tom Sito’s Drawing the Line to understand the Runaway Wars & their aftermath).  This shift was not without speedbumps; one of the anecdotes in Bill Hanna’s autobiography details how a whole series had to be animated twice because the overseas studio decided that Gary Coleman should be white.  You can really see it here with Hillary’s nightgown sleeves, which vanish three times, and with some unnecessary looped scenes near the end. 

VOICE ACTING SPOTLIGHT:   Since we’re talking about Hanna-Barbera here, we need to talk about Don Messick.  This is law.  The work he does here as Bungleboss, King of the Elves, isn’t the most distinct role he’s done (certainly not on par with, say, Scooby Doo or Papa Smurf), but he does a good job as a blowhard comedic villain.  He’s a personal favorite, not just because he voiced Dr. Quest but because he’s just done so much & always swung for the fences in the roles.  The “celebrity” voices are worth mentioning this time, though.  A young Drew Barrymore does Hillary & handles her cynicism well, and Didi Conn does a great job as the enthusiastic Spice.  Billy Barty is good the troll who hates his job but tries to hide it.  And Jonathan Winters, who was already doing quite a bit of voice work for H-B at this time, makes a good showing as the Wishing Well who speaks in rhyme.

THE MERCH:  I can actually tell you all about this line because I have it!  Sadly, it’s still in storage from my move, but I still have it!  Tonka released six regular dolls of the fairies, numerous fashion packs with swappable wings to match, a castle, a carriage, a swan boat, and a unicorn.  There was also an alternate version of Princess Sparkle released as Royal Sparkle in a fancier purple gown.  And like so many other girly 80s properties, there were paper dolls, stickers, and such.  It’s a small line, but it appears to have gone up in rarity/price enough that it’s not as easy to collect now as it was even only 10 years ago.
Once again, we have a super-handy write-up from Ghost of the Doll detailing the history of the line as well, with the figures apparently being recycled from a failed 70s line of garden-themed dolls.  Ties in nicely with the last subject.

COMMENTS:  Hearing the theme song to this special was an instant flashback.  This aired on TV, and my parents taped it for me to watch again & again.  So I have some fond memories of this.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t own the dolls.  Rewatching it as an adult was... interesting.

One of the first things that struck me was the dichotomy in the designs.  The Star Fairies themselves are very grounded designs and rather pretty (to be expected – the designer was Iwao Takamoto, H-B’s resident “pretty lady” designer), while the rest of the cast is pretty cartoony.  The children are largely an in-between level of stylization, while the elves & the various magical creatures are extremely cartoony.  One of the main elves is just a bearded round head with two spindly legs.  And there’s a puppy who looks like Captain Caveman without his limbs or cape, which is disturbing.  It’s an interesting conflict, since it makes the heroines stand out in the more comedic scenes or look odd next to the more cartoonish designs. 

The characters themselves are largely very likable.  Sparkle is a level-headed leader, Spice is all enthusiasm & cheerfulness, Nightsong is gentle & caring, Whisper is super honest to the point of being a smidgen blunt, Jazz is jokey & clever, and True Love is a hair away from being a magical girl thanks to her unwavering faith in love & friendship.  The elves are funny enough (they’re a classic comic trio in some ways), and the 90% sincere apology they offer at the end is quite nice.  Even most of the kids are cute in their wish-granting scenes.  The two-headed dragon is kind of annoying, though, and we need to talk about Hillary.  This kid has the burnt-out cynicism of a 40-year-old, and until she’s used to scare off a bullying giant, every single comment out of her mouth about a land of magic & wonder is a sarcastic complaint.  It sounds like she’s just depressed at first, but it quickly becomes this sort of nastiness that’s really hard to like.  Her attitude change is literally like someone flipped a switch to make her not cynical, and it kind of bothers me, because stuff like that is still being mistaken for good character development & not just hasty writing (*coughCureFortunecough*).

It might just be nostalgia talking, but I still sort of like this one.  Yes, the art split is much more noticeable as an adult.  Yes, Hillary needs counselling more than a magical adventure which she only belatedly appreciates.  But the title characters & the universe are charming enough to negate that for the most part.

WOULD IT WORK AS A SERIES:   Making for a hat trick... yes, it would!  You’d need to rework the villains – I don’t think the elves would be enough to pose a continuous threat unless they were revamped to be more threatening & less fun, which would be a disappointment.  But the Fairies themselves have unique personality hooks, and their mission is open-ended enough to allow for telling everything from the fantastic journey we say in the second half of this special to the smaller-scale wish-grantings of the first half.  Hell, if anyone can figure out who owns the property, call me and I’ll reboot it as a magical girl series!
Forget I said that.

Next time, Fluppy Dogs.


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