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It’s been 34 years since He-Man and the Masters of the Universe first appeared on our screens. By the power of Grayskull, it captivated young audiences (and their parents) for 130 episodes during its original syndication, and while it only lasted two seasons, during that time it was a phenomenon.
Since then, the show has spawned spin-offs, sequels, movies, reboots, toys, video games, comics and more. Even though it’s been 15 years since we were last treated to a television series, He-Man is never too far from the pop culture discourse. And maybe with the success Netflix’s resurrection of Voltron, it might only be a matter of time before he returns to our screens for brand new adventures. But for now, let’s focus on the original, eh?
The show tells the story Prince Adam, young royalty who learns that he’s actually a hero with the ability to power up and transform into a mighty warrior known as He-Man. Together with his friends (including a Battle Cat), he fights the forces of evil that threaten his kingdom, often spearheaded by the grotesque, skull-faced and super villainous Skeletor.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe catapulted the trend of cartoons that followed in its wake throughout the ‘80s, most of which were deeply connected to mass merchandising campaigns which extended to a myriad of mediums. And while it was set up to empty parental wallets, its popularity resonated with kids well beyond any commercial tie-ins that accompanied the show. With its blend of fantasy, science fiction and rich, colourful characters, this was a cartoon that kids just couldn’t get enough of back in the day.
To this day, He-Man enjoys a loyal cult following; even in adulthood, it’s still a highly enjoyable show that makes you yearn for the days of cartoons of this ilk. So, for the honor of Grayskull, let’s revisit this awesome cartoon and recall some of its history. Enjoy.
11. IT WAS CREATED TO PROMOTE A TOY LINE
Cinematic universes are synonymous with marketing campaigns these days and they have been for awhile, but the trend began in the early ‘80s with Masters of the Universe, an action figure which spawned a comic book series and cartoon to promote its release.
Produced by the Mattel company, the original 1982 action figures were packaged with mini-comics featuring stories about the characters. all of which took place on the planet Eternia. In the early comics, He-Man is depicted as a wandering barbarian, which is a slightly different origin story to the subsequent cartoon series, where the character is a young prince with the ability turn into a badass warrior by shouting, “I HAVE THE POWER.’’
The He-Man toy line built the foundation for a franchise to expand into a variety of media with success. Other franchises took note, and it’s a fad that continues to this day.
10. THE TOY COMMERCIALS WERE BANNED IN THE UK DURING EPISODES
You know what’s a good way to get adults to part with their hard-earned money? Create cartoons that their kids will love and release a bunch of toys to accompany them. Kids can be adamant, annoying, and persistent little torags after all, and eventually even the stingiest mother and father will cave. That, my friends, is the backbone of capitalism… probably. Ask an economist.
That said, He-Man was controversial as advertising to children was itself controversial during the decade. Granted, it wasn’t as controversial as The Flinstones promoting cigarettes when it originally aired, but it was still pretty cheeky. In the United Kingdom, advertising regulations prohibited adverts for toys to accompany the program itself since that’s when the children were likely to be at their most easily influenced. I don’t know the ins and outs of the laws back then, but I do know that He-Man promotion was naughty.
To soften the show’s sneaky capitalist agenda – and this applied to most cartoons of a similar ilk at the time – the episodes included a positive message which taught kids values and moral lessons. I think that’s a fair compromise. It’s good to have values and morals.
9. IT SPAWNED A DIRECT SPIN-OFF SERIES
In 1985, Filmation unleashed She-Ra: Princess of Power, based on the character of the same name from the He-Man cartoon. The show was primarily geared towards young females as a way to counterbalance He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’s popularity with the opposite sex, but unfortunately, the show didn’t enjoy the same success as its macho counterpart.
Furthermore, unlike the He-Man cartoon, which was created because on the Masters of the Universe’ toy line by Mattel, the She-Ra toys were based on characters who had already been created for the purposes of the show’s storyline and established on screen already.
She-Ra: Princess of Power ended in 1987 and the character was dropped for the next two He-Man series, The New Adventures of He-Man and the 2002 reboot of the original incarnation.
8. THERE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL TO THE LIVE ACTION MOVIE
By the mid-80s, the infamous and beloved studio, Cannon Films, was haemorrhaging money left, right, and centre following a string of big budget flops. Eventually, their willingness to spend big despite poor box office returns would bankrupt them, but not before they left the world with a treasure chest of cult movies that would find their adoring audiences years later. One of the classics to emerge from the studio back in its heyday is the live action Masters of the Universe movie, starring sexpot Dolph Lundgren as the mighty He-Man. If the film had been successful, there would have been a sequel… a cheap one, but still a sequel.
Cannon expected Masters of the Universe to be a hit; the toys were still huge sellers a couple of years before and the popular animated series was far from a distant memory. However, the production was hampered by financial problems from the beginning, and when the film was finally released in 1987, it only made $17 million back from its $22 million production budget. The He-Man craze was over, and the underwhelming box office performance quashed any chance of the planned sequel happening.
Masters of the Universe 2 would have been a DTV instalmentl helmed by B movie director Albert Pyun, and a model would have inherited Lundgren’s role since the big man had no intention of returning to a role he’s since been on record claiming embarrassed him. This was also around the same time when the studio hired Pyun to direct Spider-Man, but that didn’t materialise either (which was fortunate for Spidey fans).
Pyun would go on to direct the Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle Cyborg, and that wasn’t a bad compromise at all.
7. HE-MAN IS RELATED TO SKELETOR
In the 2002 reboot of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, it was revealed that the evil Skeletor is the half-brother of He-Man’s old man, King Randor. So, basically, that makes him our hero’s uncle. What a nice family, even if they didn’t always get along.
The connection, however, can be traced all the way back to the 1980s to an issue of Marvel’s Star Comics imprint comic series, “The Search for Keldor.’’ In that story, hints are made that the evil Skeletor was once Keldor, the brother of King Randor who vanished years before.
In the 2002 series, it is confirmed that Skeletor’s real name is Keldor and that he is indeed Randor’s half-broski. Suffice to say, they didn’t get along very well, and surely they must rank up there with the family from The Lion King for naughty uncles.
6. IT WAS INSPIRED BY CONAN THE BARBARIAN… SORT OF
Back in the early ‘80s, Mattel planned to create a toy line on the Conan the Barbarian movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. What they didn’t expect, however, was for the film to be R rated and unsuitable for kids. Therefore, they went back to the drawing board and came up with a warrior figure partly influenced by the buff barbarian.
While we should be thankful for having the Conan the Barbarian movie in our lives anyway, we should be even more grateful to its violent tendencies as it forced Mattel to invent He-Man. Really, that’s two gifts for the price of one; we got a great cinematic adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s fantasy pulp stories, as well as one of the greatest cartoons in the history of mankind.
The original incarnation of He-Man was quite barbaric though. During the early development stages, he was an angry Viking. However, the plan was scrapped as the toy didn’t look friendly enough to play with, which ultimately led to the creation of the handsome, heroic figure we’ve all man crushed on at points in our lives.
5. A BRAND-NEW EPISODE WAS RELEASED IN 2016
Last summer, a brand new episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, titled ““The Curse of the Three Terrors,”premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con and saw attendees crammed into a parking lot to view it.
A natural continuation of Filmation’s original series, with original voice actor Alan Oppenheimer reprising his role as Skeletor, the story followed the villain and his minions as they worked on a diabolical plan to put a stop to He-Man once and for all. However, when they awaken an evil during their travels to the Canyon of Spiders in the Dark Hemisphere, they must take care of the threat themselves.
To make matters even more charming, the episode is presented in the style of the original series – dated animation and all. If you want to view it, you can stream it on VOD now. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re a fan, or if you’re a newcomer looking for a fun introduction to a truly great villain.
4. HE-MAN’S SON NEARLY HAD HIS OWN SHOW
In 1996, Filmation’s Lou Scheimer tried to bring back Masters of the Universe with a spin-off/sequel centred on He-Man’s adopted son, Dare.
Titled He-Ro: Son of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the story would have depicted Adam and Teela as the king and queen of Eternia, while Dare would have inherited the Power Sword and adopted He-Man’s responsibilities as the hero of the land. It is also speculated that Dare would have been Skeletor’s biological son.
But Scheimer’s pitch was rejected and the idea has become a distant memory in the franchise’s lore. This is a shame, as the show had the potential to naturally continue the story with an intriguing new character. Can you imagine the dilemma Dare would have been torn between his adoptive parents and his potential birth dad? It had so many possibilities.
3. THE FRENCH WERE TERRIFIED OR SKELETOR
Rumour has it among Masters of the Universe fans that Skeletor was banned in France for being too scary. While the show itself aired regularly, any episode featuring our skull-faced foe was either heavily-restricted or banned completely.
That said, censorship standards were pretty wild in the ‘80s. So much so that cartoons like He-Man forbade light violent acts like punching. When you watch the old episodes, you’ll notice that our hero has a tendency to throw his enemies away instead of landing one right on their stinker. To be fair, it worked out well for him though.
Given that Skeletor was featured prominently in the series, banning him outright would have posed some coherence problems to the story, I’d imagine. French kids must have been watching one messy cartoon if that was truly the case.
2. THE SHOW DIDN’T ONLY AIR ON SATURDAY MORNINGS
When we think of the Saturday morning animated fare from the ‘80s, He-Man is one of the immediate shows that springs to mind. After all, it is one of the most popular of all the cartoons to ever emerge from those beautiful days. But the show was such a phenomenon that it couldn’t be restricted to just one day.
During its original run, He-Man was a daily syndicated series that aired for 130 episodes and remained hugely popular throughout the entirety of its run. The kids just needed their fix of their favourite show, and who could blame them?
That said, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was the trendsetter for the awesome Saturday morning cartoons we associate with the term, and it certainly fits the image. So it is understandable why it’s lumped in with the rest as well.
1. WE HAVE STAR WARS TO THANK FOR ITS CREATION AS WELL
Conan the Barbarian’s unexpected R rating wasn’t the only factor that led to the creation of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toy line. When George Lucas and co. were looking for partners to create toys based on the characters and vehicles from their iconic sci-fi series, Mattel was one of the many companies that declined to collaborate. Kenner, however, wasn’t as foolish and had the last laugh when they agreed and the toys blew up.
With Star Wars toys selling like hot cakes in a galaxy far, far away, Mattel were forced to come up with their own successful toy line. As we touched on earlier, Conan wasn’t the answer in the end. But, I’m sure we can all agree that Mattel’s idea worked out pretty darn wellin the end, and pop culture will benefit from their creation for years to come.