Master Piece: By the power of Greyskull, He-Man returns to TV (Cartoon)
Paul S. Katz
He-Man was the original master of his domain. Now, the `80s hard-bodied hero is back with 26 new episodes of the cult action series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (Cartoon Network, Fridays, 6 P.M./ET). And the Greyskull posse is not alone. Featuring a new Japanese anime slant, Optimus Prime and his crew are back for Transformers: Armada (Cartoon Network, premieres August 23, 4 P M./ET). Couple that with the reappearance of Alf in commercials, a recent Rhino Records release of a seven-CD `80s pop-music boxed set and planned big-screen adaptations of The A-Team and The Greatest American Hero, and there`s more than enough proof that oddball gems from the Decade of Greed are cool again.
But why resurrect characters whose heyday peaked while the Cold War was still hot? "Good against evil never goes put of style," says Sam Register, senior VP of development for Cartoon Network.
"Kids who watched 20 years ago are all grown and nostalgic for that time." Adds comic-book guru Stan Lee, whose Spider-Man has enjoyed a recent resurrection in a feature Film: "People always have a soft spot about things they remember from the past. But these cartoons have to be well done in order to be successful in the present."
Who da man? `He-Man`: "By the power of Grayskull: I have the power!"
Twenty years ago, millions of 7-year-olds ran around with that slightly redundant slogan burned into their brains. It was the battle cry of He-Man, and no other character ruled the imaginations of action-figure fans in the early '80s so completely as this Nordic warrior and his brethren, known as Masters of the Universe.
The characters spawned an animated series that ran in syndication from 1983 through 1985. This month, well rested after a 17-year hiatus, He-Man returns to the spotlight courtesy of the Cartoon Network. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" takes aim at a new generation of young action fans beginning with a 90-minute special at 4 p.m. Friday, followed by 26 new half-hour episodes at 6 p.m. Fridays starting Aug. 23. "He-Man" headquarters is in the basement of a bland Los Angeles building where two dozen writers and artists dressed in cowboy hats and T-shirts are hunched over computers. Surrounded by pencil drawings, action figures, scripts, storyboards, posters of Lara Croft and caricatures of staff members sketched on cocktail napkins, they're intent on building a brighter, better "He-Man."
To make sure "He-Man" gets his due, Bill Schultz, the two-time Emmy-winning animation producer in charge of the new series, surveys the controlled chaos. " 'He-Man' was huge," he says. "It completely saturated the marketplace, like the Ninja Turtles did later, and Pokemon after that. So now, 20 years later, how do you revive it? How do you capitalize on that kind of loyalty? You have to be careful not to turn off the old fans, but at the same time you have to bring something new to the party." In updating "He-Man," Schultz and his team have borrowed freely from more contemporary reference points. "The action is kind of like 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' " he says. Richer colors and epic background settings pay homage to the anime style of Japanese animation introduced to American moviegoers in "Kiki's Delivery Service." "All the artists here are huge fans of the genre," Schultz says. "They'll have anime films playing on their DVDs to get inspiration while they're working. Our 6- to 11-year-old viewers really respond to anime as well." Another trend likely to benefit "He-Man": Swords are in, lasers are out.
"In the movie world, the science-fiction and outer-space elements have been replaced by the swords and sorcery of 'The Lord of the Rings,' " says Sam Register, Cartoon Network's senior vice president for development. " 'He Man' has a little of both, but it feels like it comes out of the 'Lord of the Rings' world more than the 'Star Wars' world. With two more 'Rings' movies coming out over the next couple of years, there's probably going to be a little halo effect there." Cartoon Network executives hope "He-Man" will tap into a growing demand for what Register calls "retro-tainment." "There are so many cartoons and shows and movies out there now," he says.
"We thought 'He-Man' had this marquee value as a brand that can come back and be remembered. That's part of what made the 'Scooby' movie so popular this summer. 'Scooby-Doo' first came out 1969, and there's this huge generation that grew up between then and now. So for this show, kids who collected 'He- Man' back in 1984 are now parents themselves. They're able to rediscover a brand they grew up with and share it with their kids. We felt there was something very appealing about that." Schultz says new viewers will especially relate to Prince Adam, the mortal who becomes He-Man when duty calls. "He's this 16-year-old goof-off and all of a sudden the safety of the galaxy is in his hands," he said. "He starts off as the reluctant hero, the chosen one who wonders, 'Why me?' The show has all those classic storytelling beats in there."
Before joining Mike Young Productions, which produces "He-Man" for the Cartoon Network, Schultz oversaw adult-targeted animated series, including "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill" and "The Critic." He enjoyed the sophisticated humor on those programs, but says the aim with "He-Man" is different. " 'The Critic' was one of my favorite shows," he says, "but I think only 5 percent of the audience got 100 percent of that show. On something like 'He- Man,' the network wants 100 percent of the show to be gotten by 100 percent of the 6- to 11-year-olds. We have rich texture in our characters, and the bad guys sometimes have a little bit of humor in them, but we haven't tried to overcomplicate it. "If you look at 'He-Man' and boil it down to the essence, the fundamentals are the same between the new show and the original: It's good versus evil. In a world where there's a lot of gray, I think kids enjoy just sitting down and watching a half-hour cartoon where they know who the bad guy is, know who the good guy is, and can just go, 'Please, good guy, save us all!' " "He-Man' The special is on at 4 p.m. Friday on the Cartoon Network. The series is on at 6 p.m. Fridays beginning Aug. 23.
Meet the Masters:
The original Masters of the Universe were one strange bunch. Fisto, Grizzlor, Hordak, Man-at-Arms, Buzz-Off and Faker were among the quirky characters collected by action-figure fans in the '80s. Here are some of the heroes, villains and sidekicks making a comeback in the new series:
The good Prince Adam: The 16-year-old slacker learns he's been chosen to defend his kingdom, Eternia, against the forces of evil.
He-Man: The warrior Prince Adam turns into whenever he utters the magic word hidden in Castle Grayskull.
Teela: She has no idea that the superhero she adores is really her lazy neighbor Prince Adam.
Orko: The show's designated comic relief, this annoying jester for Prince Adam's court flies, sings and cracks corny jokes.
The evil Skeletor: He-Man's archenemy.
Beast Man: A dimwit, spike-backed gorilla-like thug.
Evil-Lyn: A sarcastic sorceress who skewers enemies and minions with equal venom. "'How dare you bring that vermin in here!' she says to Beast Man when he brings in a snake. When Beast Man apologizes, she retorts, ""I was talking to the mutant eel.''
Clawful: Dumber even then than Beast Man, this mutant crustacean clobbers foes with his lethal crab claw.
(San Francisco Chronicle)8/13/02