Review: 'Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe'
To anyone who grew up in the 80s, this new He-Man doc is a fun and insightful trip down memory lane.
"By the power of Grayskull! I...Have...The...POWER!"
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is one of the most iconic toys of the 1980s, and the toy-line, TV shows and movies that it spawned have a rich history all their own. They have a unique origin that sets it apart from every other popular toy franchise, in that He-Man and company were not based on a pre-existing property...the toy line was created by Mattel specifically to cash in on the popularity of action figures that came in the wake of the Stars Wars phenomenon in the late 70s. And cash in they did: With their exaggerated muscular bodies and great attention to detail, the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line stood apart from what was out there at the time, and made Mattel over 38 million dollars in their first year, 1982. By 1984, it had earned over 1 BILLION dollars.
If that sounds astounding, He-Man's rise is only matched by his fall. By 1987, the franchise had completely bottomed-out, after flooding the market with questionable peripheral characters (Stinkor, anyone?) and facing competition from other rising franchises like The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and video games.
"Power of Grayskull" tells this entire story, from the people that would know best: Original artists, voice-actors and marketing people inside Mattel are all on-hand to explain how He-Man was created and how he evolved. It goes into the successful female spin-off, "She-Ra," and the failed 1987 "Masters of the Universe" movie, starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as the evil Skeletor. Both actors talk extensively in this documentary about their roles, their characters and why they think the movie didn't connect with audiences (it only made 17 million worldwide, against a total budget of 22 million).
And while everyone is waxing poetic about this beloved franchise, there are also interesting nuggets along the way to discover: Like how in response to political backlash and parent groups that were concerned about kids being exposed to violence, the cartoon producers at Filmation had He-Man appear at the end of every episode to give little "moral of the story" summaries to the audience. And did you know that, in ALL of the cartoon's original 131 episodes, He-Man never ever even once used his sword on offense? If it was ever involved, it was to deflect, etc., but never once did He-Man directly harm another character on the show. Hmmmmm.
He-Man has endured past its original popularity to become something of an icon, and this documentary is a comprehensive collection of all that you would ever need to know about it. It's also landing with good timing: Writer/Director/Producer Kevin Smith has just recently announced that he will be reviving He-Man with a new animated series for Netflix sometime in 2020, which will act as a direct sequel to the original Filmation cartoon series.
It seems He-Man still has the POWER, as the character enters his fifth decade.
Run Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes.
Written/Directed by Randall Lobb and Robert McCallum ("Missing Mom," "Nintendo Quest," "Unearthly").
"Power of Grayskull" will be released on streaming and on DVD on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019.
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