Nostalgia can be a factor in what gets chosen for a remake. Now that people who grew up in the Eighties are old enough and high enough up to make decisions for studios, cartoons from the era are fair game. Masters of the Universe is definitely a subject of nostalgia, having had two adaptations this year. The first was Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations, but Netflix and Mattel were also working on a reboot, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Lost in Translation has covered the history of Masters of the Universe before when reviewing both Revelations and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The cartoon has turned out to be more popular over time than the original toy line. The series was episodic, with no real conclusion, mainly due to the needs of toy sales. The core heroes with He-Man were Man-at-Arms, his adopted daughter Teela, the Sorceress, Orko, and Ram Man, while Skeletor led a band of villains including Trap-Jaw, Evil-lyn, Beast Man, and Tri-Klops.
The newest new He-Man stars Yuri Lowenthal as Adam/He-Man, David Kaye as Cringer/Battle Cat, Kimberly Brooks as Teela/Sorcerss and Eldress, Judy Alice Lee as Krass/Ram Ma’am, Antony Del Rio as Duncan/Man-at-Arms, Tom Kenny as Ork-0, Fred Tatasciore as King Randor, Roger Craig Smith as Kronis/Trap-Jaw, Grey Griffin as Evelyn/Evil-lyn, Trevor Devall as R’Qazz/Beast Man, and Benjamin Diskin as Keldor/Skeletor. As can be seen already, there have been a few changes to the characters. Ram Man gender-flipped, the villains gained a history beyond just being villainous henchmen, and Ork-0 has an entire episode to detail the changes to his character.
The series starts with Evelyn’s apprentice, Teela, being directed to break into the Royal Palace of Eternos. Her goal, a specific sword. Teela is the lucky volunteer having some skill as a thief. Kronis’ apprentice, Duncan, is more technical, Thanks to the quality of the guards, Teela is able to slip into where the sword is being kept. Getting out is more difficult; the security around the sword is much tighter. Worse, when Teela grabs the sword, a voice speaks to her.
Elsewhere, where the Tiger Tribe dwell, Adam and Krass arrive to help Cringer with his hunt. The wise old tiger lost his claws when he was younger. He can chase with the best of cats, but he’s not able to hold on to his prey. Poacher bots interrupt the hunt, though. Worse, Teela’s escape also crosses the path. With help from Adam and Krass, Cringer escapes the bots, but Kronis takes over the poachers to repurpose them to recover the sword.
Adam catches up to Teela and helps her up from a cliff. What he didn’t know was that the bag she gave him to keep safe was a sword. Adam draws the sword and the magic happens; he transforms into He-Man for the first time. With the Power of Greyskull, he fights off the bots and sends Kronis and Evelyn away.
The core group – Adam, Krass, Teela, Duncan, and Cringer – follow the voice in Teela’s head to Castle Greyskull, where not everything is revealed. At the same time, Kronis and Evelyn have run into an old crony, Keldor. The lack of trust among the villains is palpable. Both groups arrive at Castle Greyskull, with Evelyn using a tracking spell on Teela. During the fight, the heroes discover that they can all transform. However, the villains have experience. Youth and speed can’t really stand up to old age and treachery, but Keldor’s temporary victory is pyrrhic.
The series is set up as episodic, but each episode feeds into the next, leading to a build up to the two-part season finale, “Cry Havoc Parts 1 and 2”. Orko, or Ork-0, gets introduced in “Orko the Great”, earning a place on the team over the next few episodes. This is the first of many changes from the original, which was mostly episodic with no seasonal arcs. The new new He-Man cannot be watched out of order, not without losing character development.
Every character gets character development. Adam’s is accepting who he is, both as He-Man and has Randor’s son and heir. Keldor’s is his descent into pure evil and his quest to replace Randor as king. But even supporting characters, like Ork-0 have a character arc; his is accepting what he is. The characters grow through the series, hero and villain alike, contrasting each other.
The writing is tight. There is a sense that there is a direction and an end even while watching the first episode. Granted, some of that comes from knowing who Adam and Keldor will become. It’s not the knowing that matters here but the journey. The heroes and villains show their counterparts the other side of what they are. Adam and Keldon, nephew and uncle, have different views of what family is and the nature and use of power. The dialogue is snappy. Keldor spends a lot of time eating scenery, with Evelyn and Kronis finishing the scraps leftover. Even the heroes get in on the good lines, with Adam remarking about Keldor, “He just dumped rocks on a bunch of kids. I don’t think he’ll be a good king.”
Being a reboot, characters can change from the original. Adam is still King Randor’s son and the heir, but he’s questioning his father’s rule as an outsider. Krass is not just a gender-flipped Ram Man; as Ram Ma’am, she is one of Adam’s closest friends, even when they disagree. Teela went from being second best warrior on Eternia to being an apprentice witch, giving her a niche of her own. In the reboot, she becomes the Sorceress, but is the second to carry the name. Duncan is not Randor’s Man-at-Arms, but the former apprentice trying to figure out his place in the world away from his evil mentor. Cringer is not the cowardly tiger from the original but a wise mentor who gets noticed wherever he goes because he can talk. Even Keldor, in the middle of gloating, is amazed by the idea. Adam is still Adam, but is also his own character, not a copy of the original. The villains are closer to their original counterparts than the heroes, but there’s more history to them that gets revealed over the course of the season. They work together by necessity at first, without the trust that the group of heroes build amongst themselves.
One thing to note – twenty-five years of magical girls like Sailor Moon and sentai like Power Rangers has led to an improvement on He-Man’s transformation sequence. The original worked thanks to the era and being a relatively new idea, one that would also be used by Jem of Jem and the Holograms. The Kevin Smith sequel’s sequence built up from there with a more fluid animation. The reboot series takes the transformation to new heights. He-Man isn’t the only character to get a transformation sequence; all of the heroes and villains have one, sometimes in combination with other characters.
The new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a reboot of the classic Eighties cartoon. It takes the ideas from the original but puts a new spin on it. Coupled with strong writing and excellent casting, the new series is forging its own way and is well worth watching.