Jewel Riders Is the Best Princess Show You've Never Seen

Long before Sofia the First received her magical amulet, there was Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders (also known as Starla and the Jewel Riders). Featuring three girls wielding enchanted jewels powered by friendship, this 1995 series produced by Robert Mandell was a staple of my childhood. To this day, it features everything I love in an animated series--a diverse cast of characters, magic, transformations, flying unicorns, beautiful music, a gorgeous pastel color palette, and a rich world with a well-paced story. In many ways, Jewel Riders was ahead of its time. Instead of focusing on an ordinary girl from the real world who was granted mysterious powers, Princess Gwenevere resides in a completely re-imagined version of Avalon where magic is commonplace and is well aware of her magical destiny. She has been preparing for it her entire life. In this detailed world, young people are chosen by Merlin to wield magical jewels to solve problems with unstable magic outbreaks, commonly referred to as wild magic. Unlike most princess stories of the era, Jewel Riders had very little romance, and it was never a central part of the plot. Instead, the series focused on the magic of friendship, long before My Little Pony coined that phrase. In order to use their enchanted jewels, each Jewel Rider participated in a friendship ceremony, where they bonded with an animal friend that their jewel would allow them to communicate with. Gwenevere's bonded unicorn friend can even fly!


The three central Jewel Riders are as physically diverse as their personalities. Gwenevere, who wields the Sun Stone, is very much a girly girl. She loves shopping, obsesses over her appearance, and can be a bit selfish at times. Tamara, who wields the Heart Stone, is a calming healer who sings and takes care of baby animals. She also has pink hair, which is awesome. Fallon, who wields the Moon Stone, is a skilled athlete and is also the tomboy of the group. When the Jewel Riders are together or with their animal friends, they can use their friendship to strengthen their magic by forming an enchanted jewel circle because friendship is magic and all that good stuff. The story of the first season was that Princess Gwenevere's evil aunt, Kale, stole a magic jewel and used it kidnap Merlin. She then tried to steal the seven crown jewels that balanced all the magic in the kingdom. In an effort to stop her, Merlin scattered the jewels all over Avalon and tasked the Jewel Riders with finding them to restore the balance. On their quest, the Jewel Riders encountered faeries, trolls, unicorns, and everything that girls love. Though they were classified as action heroes, they rarely fought. Instead, they used their jewels for solving problems, healing and befriending many of their would-be foes.

The show featured songs, some of which were performed by the musically inclined Tamara. Several years after Jewel Riders went off the air, a lot of the songs became available for download through the website for the 2001 book series, Avalon: Web of Magic by Rachel Roberts. This series was very loosely based off Jewel Riders. It took place in the real world with three younger girls who discovered their magic jewels by chance. This made the story seem more contrived and less magical. Even though this new story was not as good as Jewel Riders, there are plans to turn it into an animated series sometime next year, so we'll have to see how that turns out. Princess Gwenevere was voiced by the extraordinarily talented Kerry Butler, who recently released a downloadable version of her fantastic "Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust" album. Unfortunately, she was replaced by Jean Louisa Kelly, in the show's second and final season, who was unable to live up to the standards Butler had set as the cheery Gwen. Many other things about the show declined around this time. The animation got sloppier, and the story had less direction now that all seven crown jewel had been recovered. A new line of dolls were planned out to go with the second season, but they never saw the light day in lieu of this decline.

The tragedy of this show is that it could have gotten a lot more publicity than it did. It aired very few reruns, and the inferior second season jumped from channel to channel and time until it was ultimately canceled immediately after the final episode. The reason this is tragic is that there was so much merchandise and memorabilia to supplement the series that disappeared along with the show. I personally went out of my way to collect all of the trading cards which acted as a complete guide to the expansive world, including a full map detailing all the lands of Avalon. What it all boils down to, like most things, is money. The show was produced and distributed by two very small companies, New Frontier Entertainment, and Bohbot Entertainment. The reason you've never heard of these companies is probably the same reason you've never heard of Jewel Riders. They simply did not have the budget to promote the show to a wider audience, which is the same reason there were so many minor errors in the animation. At that time, there was no such thing as a viral online marketing campaign because the internet was still new. It's clear from behind the scenes recordings of the cast that everyone enjoyed working on it, so at least their hearts were in the right place.

The series had a small but loyal fan base. My first online friend, Stormy, had a fantastic website dedicated to the show. She sent me episodes that I hadn't seen on VHS and helped to complete my collection of trading cards. Several years later, I started my own fan group on LiveJournal. More recently, super fans Ronnie and Chris wielded the magic of the world wide web and social media by starting the Jewel Riders Archive about two years ago. They singlehandedly revived the fan community and released all kinds of never before seen pre-production materials, such as scripts, prototypes, style guides, and story boards. There's even an extensive interview with toy designer, Greg Autore, who talks about not only how he influenced the design of the Jewel Riders dolls, but also Barbie dolls, Disney Princess dolls, and more. After all this time, the entire series is now available to watch on YouTube, so if you like princess tales, you should definitely check it out!

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