Spin-off series are nothing new in the world of television. Frasier was a spin-off of Cheers, Joey was the same for Friends, and Angel was a continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well before those came along though She-Ra was the Princess of Power and found her home in the He-Man universe.
If you were a child of the 80s you knew the drill. You'd sit down and watch He-Man with your action figures piled in front of you waiting to see what new character was going to find himself cast in resin and on the shelf at your local department store. It's no secret that the series was a glorified commercial and marketing tool to pawn off cheap action figures, but you do have to admit that for its time it was a lot of fun to watch. Seeing Skeletor fumble his way through some diabolical plot as He-Man deal with his lackeys were one of the reasons kids tuned into TV back in the day.
As He-Man's popularity and run began to dwindle the creators of the series had to find something else to market to kids. The answer was a hybrid of He-Man that was supposed to appeal to girls as much as boys. The result was more or less successful since She-Ra ran for a total of 93 episodes before getting cancelled. The fan-base of He-Man seems to be split down the middle between those that loved the show and those that hated it, but one thing is certain; this is a series that deserves more than a "Best of" DVD release.
When I heard that She-Ra was finally going to get released on DVD I was pretty excited though disappointment settled in when I found out it wasn't a complete collection (that's coming later this year). I mean the fact that this show is getting released at all is a great thing, but my nostalgic inner child wants to have it all. Instead of the whole shebang we get the original He-Man/She-Ra movie (Secret of the Sword) and a selection of the "top 5" episodes as voted on by fans.
"Secret of the Sword" was originally aired on TV over the course of a week as five episodes. It told the origin of She-Ra and brought He-Man fans up to speed on who the character was, where she lived and who she fought for. It may not be the most unique tale in the world but Adora (She-Ra) is actually the long lost twin sister of Adam (He-Man). The evil Hordak stole her from Eternia and brought the child to Etheria where she was raised under his cruel tutelage and dark magic. When He-Man arrives with a gem-encrusted sword he breaks the spell put upon Adora and helps her awaken her inner power.
Adora then joins a band of rebels in their fight against the Horde in an effort to reclaim Etheria for all that is good. This feature film is basically an introduction to the new series and we get to know many of the key players such as Bow, Glimmer and Queen Angella. The villains prove to be just as zany as Skeletor's gang as well thanks to Catra, Shadow Weaver and Mantenna. As an origin story it was pretty good and it played the whole He-Man handing over the reigns of power quite well.
The five episodes included here are (presumably) presented in the order of popularity because they certainly aren't shown in the order they aired in. First up on the second disc is "Of Shadows and Skulls." I particularly enjoyed this one because Shadow Weaver (Hordak's magic sidekick) gets ticked off at her fearless leader and brings Skeletor over from Eternia. While Skeletor and Hordak may be the main bad guys in the He-Man universe they certainly don't get along with each other. Shadow Weaver helps set up a trap to ensnare Hordak but finds herself double-crossed by old skull face.
"Sweet Bee's Home" was a nice addition because it introduced Sweet Bee's character into the show. She has the misfortune of flying over Etheria while Hordak is feeling particularly trigger happy. He shoots her down and tries to recover her ship but She-Ra and the gang beat the Horde to it. This episode proved to be an instant classic thanks to the interaction between Frosta and He-Man. She forcefully tries to seduce him at every turn and I honestly don't recall ever seeing He-Man blush before.
Up next is "Horde Prime Takes a Holiday" which is kind of nonsensical but very entertaining. Hordak's boss, Horde Prime, goes on vacation and leaves his underling in charge of his big space ship while he's away. Hordak uses the ship as an opportunity to rid himself of She-Ra and her rebellion once and for all. Things don't go quite as planned when Skeletor shows up wanting to use the ship for his own goal of conquering the universe. This particular episode was probably my favorite in this set.
"The Stone in the Sword" featured She-Ra losing her powers and becoming regular old Adora when the gem in her sword cracks. She then has to climb to the top of Sky Dancer Mountain to find the Crystal Castle and get it restored. It's not quite that easy though since she has to go to the Etherian Underworld and pass a series of trials before the stone can be made whole again. Things wrap up this set with "The Price of Freedom" which brings He-Man into Etheria yet again. This time war has hit the land and the Horde has unleashed an all out offensive that seems to threaten the lives of villagers and our beloved siblings of power.
In the end even though this is a "Best Of" release She-Ra finds a welcome home on DVD. The introductory movie and "top five" episodes included here are very good and symbolic of what you'd expect to find on the show. Fans looking for a fix will appreciate this release but may want to hold out for the complete set coming soon.
She-Ra looks just as good, if not better than, it looked back in the 80s when it aired. The video quality may be a little touch and go at times but for the most part the transfer here features vibrant colors and a dirt free image. There are quite a few scenes where speckle, a faded palette and compression can be found, but considering the age of this animation you can't complain too much. The quality of animation is something else that you have to take age into consideration with. Characters move in limited fashion and most animations are reused frequently so unless you have a nostalgic connection to the show it doesn't hold up as well.
It should be no surprise that She-Ra is presented on DVD with Dolby Digital Stereo. The sound is pretty decent considering the age of the material though there are times where it sounds almost like a mono track instead of stereo. For the most part the audio is free of static and distortion though at times the volume pitches enough to the point where you'll want to adjust your controls. It's an overall acceptable presentation but nothing that will blow your socks off in the end.
On the second disc which features the five episodes there is a nice documentary with a medley of producers and writers talking about She-Ra. They go on to discuss the character and how she came about, what changes took place and what it was like working on the show. It's a nice inclusion on the set and definitely gives it that personal touch. For "Secret of the Sword" the supplemental features are a pair of trailers and some stuff for the "I Have Power" music video such as sheet music sing-a-long, alternate recordings and a featurette.
A commentary for the film is also included which is pretty informative and entertaining. Lou Schelmer, Larry DiTillio, Gewn Wetzler, and Alan Oppenheimer are the commentators. Their topics vary greatly. Sometimes they reference what's happening on screen and other times they spout out information they talked about in the documentary found on the second disc. Overall though it's worth watching with the track and it definitely adds to the experience.
I typically shy away from "best of" collections but since there isn't another alternative out "right now", this set is as good as it gets for She-Ra. The content included here is arguably the best that the series had to offer but it doesn't mean it's accessible to everyone. You need to have some knowledge of the show in order to truly appreciate what's going on. Due to the random nature of the episodes many characters don't get an introduction before they appear so unless you already know who Frosta and Mermista you'll probably be scratching your head. Even so this is nostalgic entertainment that actually holds up fairly well on today's market. Recommended