When toy manufacturing company Mattel first presented the main character of Masters of the Universe to writer Robby London, he thought the name He-Man was ludicrous. It was believed by the entire staff to be nothing more than a working title. However, just last month, there was a third He-Man animated iteration and whether you know the series from the countless toys, the incredible Skeletor jokes or Prince Adam’s beautiful rendition of 4 Non-Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’, you will have at least seen He-Man once since he first lifted his sword to defend Castle Grayskull in 1983. How has this series spawned so many spinoffs, including She-Ra, (both versions) and stood the test of time? By the power of Grayskull, let’s find out.
Filmation was already a famous company when it came to producing animated series. Yet, at the time it was tough to sell animated shows to networks, with He-Man only managing to get first-run syndication and a 65-episode first season after being turned down by companies like ABC and CBS. It went on to surpass the Saturday Morning cartoon setting and held its place as a daily aired series. An amalgamation of spacemen and monsters, the scripts allowed for strong messages directed at children, a large colourful cast and animation that, although dated now, felt fresh and action-packed.
To support the 65-episode run, Filmation built upon Mattel’s concepts by fleshing out the world of Eternia, exploring He-Man’s efforts to protect his secret identity and building a diverse set of friends and foes for the title character. The show came under fire from parental advocacy groups over its violent content even before the first episode aired. It became noteworthy for featuring a muscular superhero who was actually allowed to hit people, something which would have previously been censored.
The animated adventures of He-Man delighted viewers, leading to incredible viewership that translated into toy sales. With executive producer Lou Scheimer maintaining creative control of the series and providing many voices (the voice actors were legally only allowed to perform three voices per episode), the series was able to shy away from just being an action figure advert and actually contain quality storytelling and worldbuilding.
Its success spawned the spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power in 1985 after the second season of He-Man wrapped up, and the legacy of this animated behemoth went on. Not long after, there was a silver screen live-action film in 1987 starring Dolph Lundgren, which is honestly a mess but is regarded in some quarters as a cult classic.
With the first part of the new Netflix reboot Masters of the Universe: Revelation out now, it looks like He-Man might just have the power to excite a whole new generation of viewers. After all, the original series was a piece of animation that broke barriers, made a name for itself and remains to this day one of the most visually recognisable shows of all time.