Sky Dancers Revisited

Sky Dancer dolls were one of the most popular toys for girls in the '90s. They weren't princesses per se, but the dolls granted the fantasy of becoming a faery princess and flying over a magical kingdom. Each one had a set of pastel dragonfly-like wings that spun around to launch the doll into the air at the pull of a string. The toys were so popular that they launched an animated series in 1996 under the same name. However, the dolls were more of a concept than a story, which made it difficult to streamline into one succinct set of characters with a direct conflict that they could resolve each week. In contrast, my favorite magical girl show from that time period, Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, had a fleshed cast that allowed it to tell a strong story with an intriguing beginning, middle, and end. Though I collected toys from both series, I have much clearer memories of the plot and characters from Jewel Riders than Sky Dancers. Thanks to my friends at the Jewel Riders Archive, I was able to revisit every episode of Sky Dancers and pinpoint their failure to tell a fantasy story for girls in the way that Jewel Riders succeeded.

Sky Dancers bumper featuring the female Sky Dancers--Jade, Angelica, and Camille

The most notable difference between Sky Dancers and other magical girl shows is that it contains both male and female protagonists. Slam and Breeze are in the same dance class as Angelica, Jade, and Camille, and get equal billing, which causes them to get in the way of the girls' character development while adding nothing of value to the story. This was an odd choice considering that I've never seen a male Sky Dancer doll. It's clear that the creators of the show were going for diversity and possibly hoping to attract a male audience as well, but that never works for shows like this. (Look up how Kids' WB managed to destroy the anime Cardcaptor Sakura for more on that.) That is not to say that female-oriented shows should not have any male characters in them. That would be silly. Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders did a fantastic job of incorporating Drake, Josh, and Max from the Pack as supporting characters who showed up whenever it was necessary, while the main focus was on empowerment and friendship among the girls. Likewise, Winx Club, another animated series about girls who transform into sparkly flying creatures with superpowers, had a separate school for boys called Red Fountain, which allowed the Winx girls to have love interests that didn't interfere with their personal storylines at Alfea College for Fairies.

The five Sky Dancer students of High Hope Academy

Slam and Breeze are not the only ones who prevent the show from having interesting characters. It is so focused on diversity that most of the protagonists are defined more by their backgrounds than their individual personalities. Each student comes from a different nationality, practices a different type of dance, and has a unique Sky Dancer superpower, but none of these things are related to who they are as people and what their goals are in life. Angelica is a blonde country girl who can freeze her enemies in pink sparkles (kind of like Taylor Swift before she became famous). Jade can turn invisible and has a father who was a scientist that she likes to bring up all the time. She is the only character to have an interesting backstory about her mother abandoning her, but it is never mentioned again after the only episode that addresses it. Camille is defined by her drama queen tendencies because she is the only girl who dates guys outside of the core group, which is kind of weird. Angelica has a crush on Breeze, whose entire personality is defined by his Native American heritage, but he doesn't seem that into her. The same applies to Jade and Slam, the hip-hop dancer, who is by far the most annoying character on the show and derails any opportunity for serious storytelling by making cheesy rhymes and jokes.

King Skyler and Queen Skyla

The fantasy worldbuilding in Sky Dancers, which isn't bad for this type of show. The Wingdom that the Sky Dancers fight to protect is a tiny universe of winged people that exists within a series of music boxes that their dance instructor, Skyla, keeps in her secret room behind the school. The show never addresses what would happen if one of these music boxes was broken or stolen. Even when a devastating earthquake strikes and destroys the entire dance academy, the music boxes are somehow fine. It would have been really interesting to learn how the music boxes in the outer world affect the magical Wingdom inside them. There are many different factions of the Wingdom with different types of inhabitants, including an underwater world of mermaids. It is exactly the type of world I liked to fantasize about as a little girl. Skyla is the de facto ruler of the Wingdom after her husband, King Skyler, sacrificed himself to get rid of his evil brother, Sky Clone. However, the "death spin" attack that he used, only got rid of him and turned Sky Clone into a green zombie-like creature who lives in the Nether World, but is able to come back and reign terror on the Wingdom whenever he wants. It is never addressed why the death spin didn't make Sky Clone disappear the same way it got rid of Skyler. Even when the Sky Dancers manage to bring King Skyler back, he just does the death spin again to restore their powers, leaving Queen Skyla devastated for a second time and making him quite possibly the most useless fantasy king ever. You can do better, Skyla.

The most frustrating thing about binge watching Sky Dancers is that the show has no resolution. Sky Clone is never defeated, Sklya and Skyler are never reunited (though she's probably better off without him), and we never learn what happens to the Sky Dancers after they graduate High Hope Academy. What I liked about Jewel Riders and Winx Club is that the story didn't remain static. The protagonists complete their goals at the end of each season and move on to something new. Sky Dancers ends with the implication that the five dancers will forever be bound to Queen Skyla and torn between the real world and the Wingdom, which I find kind of sad. Though I wouldn't care to see a gritty live-action reboot of Sky Dancers in the style of Fate: The Winx Saga, it does share some similarities to another modern live-action show, Find Me in Paris. The students at the Paris Opera Ballet School can't fly, but both shows feature a diverse group of dance students who are caught between performance rehearsals and dealing with supernatural conflicts. With just a few changes, Find Me in Paris could be the perfect modern-day version of Sky Dancers.

Cast of Find Me in Paris leaping into the sky

Comments

jem said…
I watched this cartoon on my first days on the internet, I thought that the designs are the sky kingdom are cute but the story is really wasted (you can do a lot of things with magical fairies jut look at winx or the tinkerbell movies) the worst part for me are the characters since they never really show any potential. I don't think the show is getting any revival since the doll line is dead an the rights of the cartoon are now belonging to mondo world ( a Italian cartoon company with really bad english dubs whow also had their own versions of cinderella and snow white, you can find it on YouTube)

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