Last time, I shared about my introduction to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I’d like to expand on that a little today and talk about some of the ways that He-Man was influential and the impact that the show had in a wider scope.
I’ve heard it described as a “generic rip-off of everything from Conan to the Jetsons,” but it’s a lot more than that, if you consider the time it was being written. It may have been conceived as a half-hour toy ads, but it became a cultural phenomenon. It was innovative for its time , and it changed the way that children’s television is produced and marketed.
The planet Eternia featured a mix of fantasy/magic and science fiction elements. The show also frequently relied on classical mythology. Genre-bending and mixing mythological influences is trendy now, but in 1983, it was pretty unusual, especially on television.
Hanna-Barbera did it a little bit with The Herculoids, but that cartoon was a series of short segments that ran together with other stories. Technology was usually the province of one-off villains who appeared and were roundly defeated by Zandor and the Herculoids.
There were some superhero cartoons set in the modern world where the characters had quasi-magical abilities, but “magic” wasn’t common, and there was usually a dichotomy between magic users and the rest of the world. That’s actually still true most of the time. He-Man was the first time science and magic were incorporated equally into the setting of a children’s show and utilized by the heroes.
Of course, there was Star Wars, which popularized mythic storytelling and translated a lot of common fantasy tropes a futuristic setting on the big screen. Star Wars dances a lot more closely with “science fantasy” than “science fiction.”
For television audiences, though, there was really nothing like He-Man. It caught my imagination in a way similar to Dune, but with the addition of magic and constant presence.
Which brings up another first. He-Man was the first time that an animated television program ran 5 days a week. That was a big deal to a lot of kids, and it certainly became a big deal with its impact on modern television for children. Before that, most cartoons ran in segments of about fifteen minutes and different “episodes”/characters were mashed together for a half-hour slot. Think Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry. Those shows have their origins in an era when cartoons were run in movie theaters before the main feature.
He-man was a lot more influential in its time than it ever receives credit for today. If it hadn’t been successful, popular 90s shows like Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated Series would never have been attempted. My Little Pony is a Hasbro product, but I doubt that Friendship Is Magic would be on the air if Mattel hadn’t made its first big television/ toy-tie in such a success with He-Man.
Usually, He-Man and She-Ra are just mocked for bad production values, 80s-brand cheesyness, etc.
I can acknowledge those things and laugh at them, but I won’t dismiss He-Man as “just a cheesy toy ad.”
I mentioned last time that I’d be sharing a personal story today too, but I’ve been on my soapbox too long. I’m gonna get down now and save that for another time! 😉