I was born in the 1980s, but I’m really a ’90s kid. For that reason, when I think back to Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons of my childhood, my mind fills with characters like Pinky and the Brain, Tommy Pickles, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (my personal favorite back then), and Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. I was perfectly content with those shows, and I didn’t bother to ask if there were any other shows worth watching.
It wasn’t until I turned eight or so that I came to realize what a wealth of animated shows I had missed by a decade. G.I. Joe! The Real Ghostbusters! Alvin and the Chipmunks! Inspector Gadget! Fortunately, however, I was able to see most of those shows, thanks to various syndication packages.
However, there was one show I never got around to seeing. That was unfortunate for me, because, to hear people talk, this show was the granddaddy of all ’80s animated shows. That amazing show was He-Man and the Masters Of The Universe!
In my defense, I wasn’t totally ignorant of He-Man. However, for a solid twenty-some years, all He-Man was to me was a mythic TV show and a joke from Ghostbusters II.
That all changed earlier this week. You see, I’ve been spending this past year playing a game of “animation catch-up.” When I became a RotoWriter, I realized that my animation-watching history was riddled with holes. All throughout 2015, I watched all the animated movies that I felt I needed to see. When we came upon 2016, I decided it was time to catch up on animated TV shows. Of course, that meant FINALLY seeing Masters of the Universe for myself!
I took to YouTube, found He-Man’s official channel, and watched a few episodes of Masters of the Universe. I found it to be everything I had been told it was. I LOVE it! Let me tell you why!
Oh, those glorious titles! The show immediately jolts us awake with a mighty cry of “HE-MAN!” Then, once the show has our attention, it proceeds us to fill us in on the mythology of Prince Adam, Castle Greyskull, and the kingdom of Eternia.
Masters Of The Universe‘s opening titles are an excellent example of economic storytelling. I didn’t start with the first episode of MOTU; therefore, I went into my first episode knowing nothing about He-Man’s origins, how he got his powers, or anything else. Within a minute and fifteen seconds, I knew everything I needed to know about He-Man’s backstory. The opening titles are perfect for new viewers, and their dynamic style sets up the show’s visual style well.
One last note about the opening: I love how the executive producer and production director put their personal signatures in the credits. It lends a comic book-y, Stan Lee-esque vibe to the opening, and I love that!
Masters of the Universe‘s animation is the best I’ve seen from Filmation. Usually, when I think of Filmation, I think of VERY limited animation, even more so than Hanna-Barbera. Turn on any episode of The Archie Show or Star Trek: The Animated Series and you’ll see what I mean: parades of characters that all look the same, that stand as stiff as cardboard cutouts, and let no emotion show on their faces. At times, it can be painful to watch.
With MOTU, Filmation took their animation to the next level. Mind you, it’s still limited animation; there are moments where the characters will stand stock-still, with no motion except their eyes moving from one person to another. However, the action sequences are very well done; they’re animated in a kinetic style that’s reminiscent of the Marvel comic books of the 1960s. The facial expressions are also much more detailed than in other Filmation ‘toons; the characters’ faces actually change!
Speaking of characters, allow me to make a bold statement: I think Prince Adam/He-Man is the most well-rounded superhero I’ve ever seen. Everybody, including royal bodyguard (and love interest) Teela, King Randor, and Queen Marlena, looks at Prince Adam as a irresponsible klutz and at He-Man as the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, they’re unaware that Adam’s klutziness is just an act. In fact, behind closed doors, Adam lifts his sword and cries, “By the power of Greyskull!,” transforming himself into He-Man. At first glance, it looks like the classic situation we’re familiar with, thanks to Clark Kent/Superman and Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
However, the writers behind MOTU take the secret identity dynamic to interesting places that no other writer had explored before. Adam enjoys being He-Man, but he struggles with the klutzy act he has to put on. In the wonderful episode “Prince Adam No More,” He-Man spills his feelings to Man-At-Arms, Orko, and The Sorceress (the three people who know He-Man’s secret identity), saying that he wants to ditch his clumsy act and have his father respect him both as He-Man and as Adam. I won’t spoil the episode for you, but I will say that the story crew does an excellent job developing Adam’s conflict and making it an integral part of the episode.
The supporting cast is just as strong as Adam/He-Man. Man-At-Arms and Teela make strong allies to He-Man, being kind, brave, and skilled strategists. Orko manages to be a goofy sidekick without being annoying, which, as you know, is quite a feat.
If I have any complaint about the characters, it’s that Skeletor and his band of villains are pretty buffoonish; if any of their plans (almost) work, it’s more due to dumb luck than any kind of skill. It doesn’t really matter all that much, though; Skeletor, Beast Man, and the gang are fun to watch as they bicker and screw things up! It also doesn’t hurt that Skeletor’s voice actor (Alan Oppenheimer) REALLY throws himself into his role; he really chews up the scenery, and it’s really fun to listen in!
In the end, though, it’s the story crew that makes Masters of the Universe special. I literally shouted with joy when I saw the writing credit on my first MOTU episode: “Holy cow! It’s Paul Dini!” I was quite familiar with Dini (as I’m sure you are) through his work on Batman: The Animated Series, so I went into the episode confident that the story would be strong. I yelped again when I saw a certain name among the storyboard artists. “Hey! Steve Hickner!” With that kind of talent behind MOTU, it’s no wonder that each episode boasts an engrossing, solidly constructed, and well-paced story.
The story crew also lends each episode its heart, and, in the end, it’s MOTU‘s warmth and heart that I’ve fallen in love with. in grand ’80s-animation tradition, each episode ends with Orko appearing and telling us the moral of the episode. Most of these morals are simple ones that we’ve heard ever since we were little kids, like “Don’t do drugs!,” “Stay away from strangers!,” and “Be a good sport!” However, certain episodes boast more complex morals about unconditional love and mutual respect. Some of the morals may sound cheesy to our modern sensibilities, but I love the fact that the show tried to teach kids vital lessons. It’s the effort that I love!
It took me a long time to watch He-Man and the Masters Of The Universe, but I’m glad I finally did. It’s one of the best-written, warmest, most interesting animated shows I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely give it a try!
Do you like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? Why or why not?
AJ's love of movies began when his mom took him to see The Lion King on a warm California day in 1994. He left the theater with his mind blown and with a strong desire to become a filmmaker. AJ's fascinated with films of all kinds, but animated films have always held a special place in his heart, particularly Disney animation, the work of Chuck Jones, and Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson's Peanuts specials. His favorite animated films include (but aren't limited to) Frozen, Beauty And The Beast, Surf's Up, The Bugs Bunny/RoadRunner Movie, and Toy Story 3. Along with films, AJ also loves pop and rock music, hiking, the beach, comic books, traveling, writing, acting, and baseball.