Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Cartoon Historian Lesson 4: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Welcome Students to the next Cartoon History Lesson. Today we will learn about The origins of the He-Man Cartoon series.

He-Man is one of America's most iconic cartoon heroes. In fact,some people say that he's even More iconic than the legendary Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He-Man and the Masters of the the Universe spawned 3 Cartoon series,3 toylines,2 comic book series,and even a live action movie.

Of course,being the Cartoon Historian,I'll only be covering the Cartoon series. Well,let's get started.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a television series produced by Filmation based on Mattel's successful toy line Masters of the Universe. So contrary to popular belief,The Masters of the Universe was originally a toyline.

The show, often referred to as simply He-Man, was one of the most popular animated shows of the 1980s and has retained a heavy following to this day.
ow how He-Man's popularity got started.

The Show made its television debut in 1983 and ran until 1985, consisting of two seasons of 65 episodes each. Reruns continued to air in syndication until 1988, at which point USA Network bought the rights to the series. USA aired He-Man until September 1990.

The show takes place on the fictional planet of Eternia, a planet of magic, myth and fantasy. The show's lead character is Prince Adam, the young son of Eternia's rulers, King Randor and Queen Marlena. Whenever Prince Adam uses the Power Sword, and when he holds it aloft and says the magic words "By the Power of Grayskull...I have the Power!" he is transformed into He-Man, The Most Powerful Man In The Universe.

Of course,that was an exaggeration.

He-Man,with the help of Battle Cat, Teela, Man-At-Arms and Orko,defends Eternia from the evil forces of Skeletor. Skeletor's main goal is to conquer the mysterious fortress of Castle Grayskull, from which He-Man draws his powers. If he succeeds, Skeletor would be able to conquer not only Eternia, but the whole universe.

Despite the limited animation techniques that were used to produce the series, He-Man was notable for breaking the boundaries of censorship that had severely restricted the narrative scope of children's TV programming in the 1970s.

For the first time in years, a cartoon series could feature a muscular superhero who was actually allowed to hit people (although he more typically used wrestling-style moves rather than actually punching enemies). He rarely used his sword and he often picked up his opponents and threw them.

The cartoon was controversial in that it was produced in connection with marketing a line of toys; advertising to children was itself controversial during this period. In the United Kingdom, advertising regulations forbade commercials for He-Man toys to accompany the program itself.

In similar fashion to other shows at the time,notably G.I. Joe,He-Man and the Masters of the Universe would include a "life lesson" or "moral of the story" at the end of each episode. This moral was usually directly tied to the action or central theme of that episode.

The show was so successful that it spawned a spin-off series, She-Ra: Princess of Power following the adventures of He-Man's sister. Mattel's subsequent attempts to relaunch the He-Man toy line have also led to the short-lived sequel series The New Adventures of He-Man in the early 1990s. As well as a 2002 remake.

I don't feel like covering the other 2 series,but I will say that The New Adv. of He-Man was not that well known. and some people were even upset with it because it strayed too far from the original animated series. Both series were also darker than the original.

It is also noted for featuring early script-writing work from later Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, Paul Dini of the 1990s Batman-fame, and David Wise, head-writer of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One episode, "Battle Cat," was written by Star Trek's D.C. Fontana.

In 2009, IGN ranked the series as the 58th greatest animated show of all time in their Top 100 list. Amazing,huh?

Many episodes, particularly the early ones, are about Skeletor's repeated attempts and failures to enter Castle Grayskull. He-Man invariably defeats these attempts. Though the animated cartoons were similar to the version of the story presented by DC Comics, Filmation focused more on the lighter, humorous elements of the story rather than the violent ones, in order to render it more suitable for a younger audience. A new character was also introduced in the form of Orko, a small alien magician who shares Prince Adam's secret and provides the comic relief for most episodes.

The cartoon series was also remarkable because it was one of the first animated series produced directly for syndication, as opposed to most other syndicated cartoons of the time which were re-runs of old Saturday morning cartoons.

The most notable production fact of the series was that it was the very first animated series where a bulk quantity of 65 episodes were produced so that the series could be expanded across 13 weeks.

Due to the budget-constraints by Filmation, the He-Man cartoon only featured a voice-cast of four to five people, after Erika Scheimer joined the cast.

Linda Gary, who through an early mis-crediting was often assumed wrongly to be actress Linda Gray, single-handedly provided voices for nearly all the female characters, but the bulk of the character voices were provided by the show's executive producer, Lou Scheimer, one of the founding producers of Filmation and at the time still its chief producer, who in the earliest episodes went under the name Erik Gunden. The character voices of He-Man and Beast Man were provided by John Erwin; that of Skeletor, by Alan Oppenheimer.

A common misconception about the cartoon series is that it was cheap to produce, due to the small number of voice actors and heavy reliance on stock animation. In fact, the series was one of the more expensive 1980s animated series to produce, primarily due to the entire series production being handled in the U.S., rather than having the animation done in another country.

There is an enduring urban legend about the so-called "Conan toy line." The story is that the Mattel Toy Company originally intended to base an action figure line on Conan the Barbarian, the pulp fantasy character created by Robert E. Howard which at the time was the lead in several popular series produced by Marvel Comics and due to be the subject of a major movie.

However, after viewing the film, the Mattel executives despaired at the thought of promoting a children's toy with ties to a film featuring such graphic violence. Thus they gave their doll blonde hair and re-dubbed him "He-Man".

The legend is unverified but persistent, and most likely false since the first He-Man action figures were produced in 1981, a year before the first Conan film. Roger Sweet, the originator of He-Man, asserts that the He-Man/Masters Of The Universe concept definitely was not an outgrowth of Conan.

The He-Man concept, later renamed the Masters Of The Universe, was originated and developed by Roger Sweet in late 1980. Later, that initial concept was followed by the original comics by Donald F. Glut.

The Conan license had been dropped by Mattel months before the He-Man concept was begun. Such fantasy artists as Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo,who were known for their barbarian themed art, were undoubtfully a great inspiration for the MOTU creators.

For instance, while designing the first He-Man prototypes, some artists like Mark Taylor brought forth a very Conan-esque dark haired He-Man bearing a horned helmet and barbaric outfit

Although Conan is not "officially" a source of inspiration, Mattel may have taken advantage of his resemblance by hiring comic book artists (mostly working for DC comics and Marvel Comics) to design the mini-comics and box art. Earl Norem for instance, having worked on countless Savage Sword of Conan covers for Marvel, was kept in high esteem by Masters of the Universe fans for his astonishing posters, package inlays and box art.

The confusion and "Conan toyline" urban myth may have stemmed from the striking similarities between Norem's Conan and He-Man depictions. This particuliar art can be seen in his galleries on the official Earl Norem site.

In conclusion,He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a Classic Cartoon that's proved it's worth. With it's popularity still going,I wouldn't be surprised if we saw yet another rendition of the series in the future.

Well that's gonna do it for now. I hope ya'll found my Lesson interesting and entertaining. Class Dismissed.

Rock On and Stay Cold,

1 comment:

KingsSideCastle said...

O_O Loved the He-Man series...awesome lesson. :-D