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.
Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations released on Netflix this past week. The stills looked promising. Now is a good time to see if the series lives up to the promise.
The review of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power delved into the history of the origins of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, focusing on the spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power. Both series were based on Mattel’s line of action figures, where the real differences were in the colours and head mold. Filmation picked up the license for both animated series.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe first aired in 1983, two years after the first figure in Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line was released. The series ran for two 65-episode, allowing for twenty-six weeks of second-run syndication without repeat an episode. The characters included Prince Adam, who turned into He-Man; Adam’s pet Cringer, who transforms into Battle Cat; Man-At-Arms, the commander of Eternia’s army; Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard; Orko, bumbling mage and He-Man’s sidekick; and the Sorceress, the guardian of Castle Greyskull. Opposing the heroes are Skeletor, who wants to discover the secrets of Castle Greyskull in order to rule the universe; Evil-Lyn, an evil sorceress; Beast Man; and a number of minor villains, including the three-eyed Tri-Klops. Each character, good or evil, had a schtick of their own.
The series was episodic, with Skeletor enacting a new evil plot forcing the heroes to thwart the villains. Prince Adam would keep his dual life a secret, disappearing when trouble starts to transform into He-Man. Brains and brawn tended to be needed to stop Skeletor. By the end of the episode, the day is saved, Skeletor and his henchmen are on the run, and the status remains quo. That was the nature of television at the time. A permanent end wasn’t possible; that would end the series. Villains couldn’t triumph, especially in children’s programming, so they had to lose every episode. A major victory by a villain would mean a change in the tone of the series.
When the series came to an end, the fate of Eternia was still undecided. He-Man would keep battling Skeletor in second-run syndication. A reboot of the series was made in 2002, but still left things unresolved. Enter Kevin Smith, creator of films such as Clerks and Dogma. Smith is of the age to have watched the original cartoon first run. With Netflix, he produced the sequel series, Masters of the Universe: Revelations to wrap up the war for Eternia. The cast of the new series includes Chris Wood as Prince Adam and He-Man, Sarah Michelle Geller as Teela, Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, Griffin Newman as Orko, Kevin Michael Richardson as Beast-Man, and Mark Hamill as Skeletor.
The first season starts with a new Man-at-Arms being announced; Teela is stepping up as her adopted father, Man-At-Arms, retires. The celebration is cut short, though. Skeletor has tried another gambit to get inside Castle Greyskull, one that works. The heroes head off to battle. The fight, though, ends in an unusual way – both He-Man and Skeletor disappear and the magic protecting Castle Greyskull is all but destroyed. In the aftermath, Prince Adam’s secret is revealed, the Sword of Power is split in twains, and trusts are broken. Teela leaves the Royal Guard and becomes a mercenary, travelling with Andra (Tiffany Smith). A few unusual jobs for an elderly woman, though, brings the past back into her life. The job leads to working with Evil-Lyn, pulling some of the heroes back, and discovering what happened to both He-Man and Skeletor.
The focus of the series is on Teela. She is the one driving the plot as she tries to recover the magic of Eternia before the world and the universe are doomed. Teela is the one to keep the unlikely band of adventurers on the right track. However, the truce rests uneasy. After all, the word “evil” is baked into Evil-Lyn’s name. He-Man appears in flashbacks, being his charming, goofy self. However, the story does revolve around He-Man.
The cast of the new series is top notch. Mark Hamill is more than happy to chew the scenery as Skeletor, and when he’s not there, Lena Headey matches him. The characters reflect who they were in the original cartoon, but are given depth that wasn’t possible in the 80s. Much like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the new Masters is able to take the comic relief and give them more depth, making them sympathetic. The writing is tight; there is nothing wasted in the five episodes of the first season. Smith is aiming for fans like himself, people who grew up with the series when it first aired. While Eternia is bleaker, Smith doesn’t wallow in grimdark. There is still hope thanks to the heroes.
The production value of the new series shines. While the characters are based on their original appearances, the animation is far smoother and not recycled. Prince Adam’s transformation to He-Man is far more involved, with influences from magical girls series like Sailor Moon. This isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s been forty years; time for He-Man to have a proper transformation. The new Masters shows what having a larger per-episode budget can do.
Masters of the Universe: Revelations achieves what it set out to do, to provide an ending to the original series. The characters are recognizable from what they were and are given arcs for growth. The series takes chances, and they pay off. The new Masters isn’t a reboot, it’s a sequel, and after forty years, manages to update the franchise while still managing to keep to its roots.
Netflix, working with Kevin Smith and Powerhouse Animation, have been working on Masters of the Universe: Revelation since 2019, continuing the classic series from the 80s. Stills have been released and a cast has been announced. Playing Prince Adam/He-Man is Chris Wood, with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Teela and Mark Hamill as Skeletor. The series premiers July 23 on Netflix.
The released stills reflect Filmation’s original, but with more detailing. Filmation’s Masters of the Universe tended to re-use models and animation to save on costs. Characters tended to be a bit stiff as a result. Granted, the stills are stills and not animated, but the characters look more fluid, more dynamic. Combined with a strong cast, the Netflix series should gain an audience.
The only caveat is that the new series may not interface well with Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series. The new She-Ra created a new cosmology for the show, shunting the characters beyond the universe, though they did return to one in the final season. Audiences should not expect a crossover right away. The new Masters of the Universe should be judged on its own merits, not in comparison.