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"W.I.T.C.H." Premiere a Promising Start for Jetix

W.I.T.C.H. began as an Italian comic book series published by Disney Publishing Worldwide. The comic books became a popular series in Europe and other parts of the world. In March of 2004, Disney announced that an animated W.I.T.C.H. series (produced by SIP Animation) would join its new Jetix programming blocks on ABC Family and Toon Disney. To coincide with the announcement of the animated series, chapter book editions of the European magazine series were released in the United States.

ImageThe following message appears before the opening sequence:

There is an alternate universe
where a rebellion is taking place.
The force of Good against an evil ruler.
There are five ordinary kids on earth
who must stand united.
Who might fight this evil…
And who must win.

The W.I.T.C.H. animated series begins with a scene of a rebel leader, Caleb, infiltrating an enemy castle and reclaiming a weapon. Spotted by guards, he leaps into a moat below and escapes with his partner, Aldorn. A snake creature, Cedric, orders that the rebel be found.

Somwhere else, meanwhile, Hay Lin lets out a powerful sneeze that wrecks her room. As she asks her grandmother, Yan Lin, what happened, she notices a glowing box. Her grandmother suggests inviting some friends over. After Taranee Cook, Cornelia Hale, Irma Lair, and Will Vandom arrive, Yan Lin surprises them all by using magic to explain that a Veil was created to isolate a kingdom called Meridian from all other worlds. This is because Meridian is controlled by an illegitimate ruler, Phobos, and it is believed that its rightful ruler is somewhere on Earth. Each of the girls has a power—Irma has control over water, Taranee over fire, Cornelia over earth, and Hay Lin over air. Will has a different power—she is the keeper of the Heart of Candracar, which binds the other four powers and allows them to be summoned. The five girls are the new generation that will assume the responsibilities of being the Guardians of the Veil.

Will decides they should practice with their powers first. Cornelia is doubtful that they have any powers until Will pulls out the Heart of Candracar and shouts, “Guardians, Unite!” which causes the five to undergo transformations that make them appear older and gives them wings. (It also gives them blue-and-green stockings and a blue or pink top that exposes their navels.) The four elemental Guardians practice but have trouble with their powers. Will deactivates the powers, but she has to change them back when a portal appears. Caleb comes through (with Cedric grabbing at him), after which Will uses the Heart of Candracar to close it.

Caleb is captured by Phobos and punished by being sent to the oubliette, a well-like dungeon. There, Caleb meets Blunk, a small, green, hunchbacked creature. Meanwhile, Will is kidnapped on Phobos’ orders by Cedric, but she drops her backpack, which holds the Heart of Candracar. Taranee picks it up and runs to tell the other three girls. The Heart of Candracar begins acting like a compass and guides the other members towards Will in Meridian. They return the Heart to her and the girls transform into the Guardians. They escape, but as they approach an exit portal, a giant cyclops monster with a rock on its head confronts them. However, all of them, including Caleb and Blunk, escape to Earth. At her family’s restaurant and house, Hay Lin discovers the initials of the girls form the acronym W.I.T.C.H.: thus, the title of the show.

The opening has a good catchy theme song, something that should be expected of Disney after Kim Possible and Christina Milian’s “Call Me, Beep Me.” The animation is pleasing, from its design of the highly urbanized seaside town of Heatherfield to the dark, gloomy scenes of Meridian. The contrast between the two worlds works well for the show. The writing for the first two episodes is well done, and, fortunately, the humor doesn’t feel forced. The voice acting is also accomplished. The lack of a transformation sequence for each individual Guardian is disappointing, but understandable, since it could get boring to see the exact same sequence 26 times.

So, how does the new W.I.T.C.H. TV show compare to the chapter books released in the United States? There have been noticeable changes made for the series. For example, in the book version both Will and Taranee are new to the Sheffield Institute, but in the TV version, only Will is new to Sheffield. Also, Cornelia acts more snobby in the first two episodes of the TV show than in the books. Her first act in the books was to help Will out after Uriah and his gang trashed her bike by mentioning a party. But in the series, Cornelia sees Will thanking Hay Lin for an invitation and then says to Taranee, “She invited new girl, too?” In the series, the girls are informed right away Meridian is ruled by Phobos, but in the books they had to discover who Phobos was. The series also has Will shouting out, “Guardians, Unite!” to transform them into the Guardians, but Will never had a specific phrase to call upon the Heart of Candracar in the books.

W.I.T.C.H. definitely stands out as part of the Jetix blocks on ABC Family and Toon Disney. Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide stated in an article at the end of August 2004 that they would like to have the Jetix shows skew in favor of boys by a ratio of 70/30. However, a show with five female protagonists appears to be at odds with that plan. Moreover, based on the amount of commercials that have been airing for the show over the past three months, it seems that W.I.T.C.H. will be taking the role of the flagship animated show of Jetix, especially since there is still no Digimon season five that Disney can hope to dub anywhere in sight. Still, if the story is right and the action sequences interesting enough, the story of a superhero group can appeal to a boy audience, regardless of the gender of the show’s main characters. The premiere of W.I.T.C.H. offers promise to the Jetix block that is desperately in need of new, appealing programming to counter the aging library of shows acquired from the Fox Family Worldwide purchase in 2001.

W.I.T.C.H. premieres Saturday, January 15, at 9:30 am ET/PT on ABC Family, Saturday, January 15, at 12:00 pm ET/11:00 am CT&PT on ABC Kids (check local listings), and Monday, January 17, at 8:30 pm ET/PT on Toon Disney.

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