I’ve been a fan of He-Man for nearly all of my 29 years on this planet, but I’m only now getting around to watching his classic cartoon show.
I can’t remember when I first became enamored of the He-Man concept, but it must have been around 4 or 5 years old. Even before my parents finally agreed to get the muscle-bound action figures for me, I had spent hours and hours combing through every He-Man storybook, working on He-Man puzzles, coloring in He-Man coloring books, and so on. I sought out everything related to He-Man I could find.
The single exception was the cartoon show. This was partly because my parents kept pretty strict limits on my TV-watching; at that age, my brother and I were pretty well satisfied with the few hours of PBS we got each week. But I distinctly recall that my parents once had a moment of weakness and agreed to let me watch “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”
To put it mildly, this is a show that does not stand among the great achievements in animation history. It was conceived as a half-hour toy commercial for Mattel’s line of action figures, and its budget was minimal. But it was the first time I’d ever seen my beloved hero battling Skeletor for Eternia’s future in full-color animated glory.
It seemed so real that it terrified me. (At this age, I was also scared by Mr. Roger’s toy trolley venturing into the Land of Make Believe. What can I say.)
So my parents rightly decided the TV show wasn’t for me, and I went back to making up my own less-intense plotlines for my action figures to act out.
Then last week, I discovered that every episode of the old 1983 cartoon is available for free on YouTube.
It is, shall we say, no longer terrifying. It exemplifies all of the worst trends of 1980s cartoons — the same animation sequences used over and over to save money, the arbitrary plots, the weak scripts and voice acting, the morals tacked on to every episode. Also, no characters are permitted to fight physically with one another — a result of very strong parent activist groups at the time. But while this is an obvious hindrance for what’s nominally an action cartoon, He-Man’s show somehow manages to weather this restriction more effectively than the Superfriends.
The show occasionally shows other flashes of inspiration, too — in a stunningly rendered background here, or a clever bit of animation there, or the occasional episodes wherein one of the writers seems more concerned about developing the characters than about selling toys.
I’m only halfway through the first season, so I still have a lot of show to get through. I’m hoping I soon unearth that one episode I saw as a kid — it’ll be nice to watch it this time without cowering behind the couch.