I'll apologize right now to the all the hardcore Masters of the Universe fans out there -- and I know that there are at least a hundred of 'em -- because they're going to want my head on a stick for what I'm about to say...
He-Man is a pathetic joke. From the perpetually moronic and flaccid story-lines to the absymal voice-acting, and everything in between: the piss-poor animation, the shamelessly stupid and pandering "morality lessons" that precede each episode's end credits, the tone, the style, the craftsmanship...
Frankly I'm stunned to realize that so many of my generational brethren hold He-Man in such high regard, nostalgia-wise. I understand how much we all love "the stuff we grew up watching," but I simply can't imagine the now-grown-up who can revisit the old He-Man show and somehow convince themselves that it's a quality piece of animated fare.
Because it's not. It never was. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was an infomercial; an insidiously tacky and shamelessly money-hungry shill of a show that existed solely to show off the newest in similarly-shaped yet endlessly colorful heroes and villains. It was a 30-minute commercial that occasionally took a few minutes off to hawk someone else's products before getting back to the Mattel Buy Me extravaganza.
I can hear what you She-Ra fans are thinking already: "Dude, lots of animated shows had their own toys, so why all the hate for He-Man?" And it's a good question. My main sticking point was (and still is) that He-Man was about commerce first, second and third. Stuff like animation, writing, and storytelling came in a distant 231st. Just about every other week we'd get a new hero or villain, a chintzy plastic likeness of which would grace the department store shelves a few days later. Some of the characters were, I'll admit, pretty colorful and cool, but that doesn't excuse the more-than-mediocre series of 22-minute advertisements that posed as kiddie entertainment.
So clearly I'm not a big fan of the show, but with the arrival of He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special, I figured it was time to give the show a second shot, with older and more objective eyeballs.
To say I shouldn't have bothered is an understatement in league with "Hitler was not a really nice guy." This thing is just biblically awful. A Christmas Special deserves a shelf-spot right next to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Christmas with the Kranks, and The Star Wars Holiday Special. You can call the shelf "dagger in the face Xmas programming." Produced by the churn-'em-out cartoon factory known as Filmation, this stuff represents the absolute nadir of American animation product. (OK, so it's tied with The Care Bears.)
I'd try to offer a sensible and cohesive plot synopsis of He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special -- if I thought it was even possible. But this ADD-afflicted marketing tool is content to jump all over the place, making very little sense while actively damaging your eyes, ears, and whatever portion of your brain you'd require to sit through He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special. Basically, thanks to the consistent stupidity of "Orko the floating wizard," a pair of Earth kids find themselves transported into the world of Etheria, which is where He-Man and his twin sister She-Ra do everything they can to make sure that their freaky-looking allies are not harrassed by Skeletor and his freaky-looking allies. It's basically like the Middle East conflict, only with more capes, lasers, and various items sold separately.
As a full disclosure I must admit that I watched He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special with only one eye, so perhaps I missed some of the subtler nuances of the plot, but I tuned out right about the time Skeletor became "nice" and discovered the Christmas spirit by being licked by a puppy. Yep, a villain thought to be on par with Darth Vader, Jason Voorhees, and Gargamel ... is all of a sudden smiling a bony smile and dancing around the Christmas tree. Had I ever been a real fan of He-Man, this is the moment that would have cured me.
Nothing more than a 45-minute miasma of atrocious writing and painfully cheap animation, half-coated with a sickly Christmastime sheen that never once feels sincere or appropriate or charming, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special is a special kind of wretched, and it's only the fans of amazingly bad pop-culture detritus who'll need to add this thing to their collection.
Video: Full frame and fuzzy.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, in your choice of English, Spanish, or sweet merciful Mute.
Extras: In order to sell a 45-minute TV special, you have to throw some extra goodies into the basket, and, to their credit, the Brentwood Boys did precisely that. And the extras are precisely as ripe as the main feature is.
The painfully overlong and misnamed The Holidays and Morals of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe runs over 35 minutes long, and consists mainly of He-Man writers and animators as they discuss the deep and integral social siginificance of the show. (At the end of each He-Man episode, one character would look directly at the screen and remind children that fire is dangerous, sharing is important, parents are to be obeyed, etc., etc.) And now all these years later we have a bunch of former Filmation employees clamoring to pat themselves on the back for the unending litany of "good behavior" platitudes. For 36 minutes.
The Heroes and Villains of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (30:42) features even more from the old writers and animators. Here we learn all about the deeper motivations and (singular) personality trait of characters like He-Man, Orko, Teela, Man-at-Arms, Battle-Cat,
Evil-Lyn, Skeletor, and Beast-Man. The old crew members talk about He-Man like it was The Lion King instead of a worldwide marketing gimmick, but I digress. (My favorite admission was that "Orko was crafted with no mouth and no feet so he'd be 'easier' to animate." Gotta love the work ethic over at Filmation.) Anyway, fans should enjoy this featurette a bit more than the first one, so there's something positive.
The "I Have the Power" music video featurette runs about 8 minutes and focuses on the previously unreleased video to a song that was in He-Man's Secret of the Sword movie. Got all that? Good. I suspect this goofy little music video will be a real find for the He-Man enthusiasts. But as someone who really loves and respects the craft of animation, I barely made it through the thing without puncturing my ear drums. On purpose.
He-Man's Montage of Morals (4:18) is a collection of prologue preachfests in which various characters inform your children that drugs are bad, smiling is good, explorers are worthy of respect, love is nice, selfishness is mean, smashing things with your head hurts, the art of memorization is crucial, and the Magna Carta is important. I know, weird stuff.
Keep clicking around and you'll also find a bunch of character profiles, Orko's Fun Facts and a CD-ROM accessible script for this godawful Christmas special.
A lump of digital coal. Worth renting only if you're very stoned and willing to revisit some childhood memories while laughing your ass off at them.
And if you're a big fan, please save your hate mail. Go enjoy your Christmas Special DVD, because you'll never convince me that this horrific series was nothing more than 750 hours of blatant, ravenous advertising. The only reason we remember He-Man today is because the ads worked so perfectly.