IT'S PUMPING PLASTIC TIME AS HE-MAN AND HIS MULTI-MUSCLED
MINIONS RULE TOYLAND'S BATTLEFIELD. (MATTEL'S MASTERS OF THE
UNIVERSE TOYS FOR BOYS)
BYLINE: By CARL ARRINGTON
you're looking to strike up a conversation with a boy over
the age of 5 these days, you'd better be thoroughly versed
in the nuances of the magic kigndom of Eternia, whose denizens
are known throughout toyland as Masters of the Universe. The
hero of Eternia is He-Man, a hulking 5-1/2-inch blond with
muscles bulging grotesquely beneath his armor plate (which
bounces back at a touch after being dented by a sword). From
his abode of Goodness, the Castle Grayskull (about $28, depending
on the store), He-Man ($5-$8) and his cohorts battle their
nemesis, Skeletor. A purple-hooded skull-head with remarkable
sky-blue pectorals and deltoids and special battle armor liek
his foe's, Skeletor hangs out at his palace of Evil, Snake
Mountain (about $44), which boasts a hidden microphone that
transforms a child's piping voice into a deep and scary "voice
have to be in some other galaxy today to miss these hulks,
who now rule the world of play. Mattel expects to sell 55
million of them this year alone--far outdistancing the upstart
Cabbage Patch Kids (produced by Coleco), which sold a mere
two million last year. As for those classic Mattel idols Barbie
and ken, it's taken more than two decades to sell about 200
million of them--a wimpy performance compared with that of
He-Man and his scantily clad female partner, the goddess-warrior
Teela. Their appeal is bolstered by the daily syndicated TV
show Masters of the Universe, a top-rated series watched by
millions of tots in 32 countries--and by some 190 Masters-related
products: lunch boxes, watches, pajamas and even an electric
toothbrush from which He-Man's voice booms forth with a plug
for dental hygiene.
the first He-Man rolled off Mattell's assembly line in 1982,
some 24 characters have joined the polychloride pantheon,
among them Fisto, Ram-Man, Man-E-Faces (all good) and Clawful,
Tri-Klops and Evil-Lyn (bad). All have bursting biceps, some
skill--a spring-loaded fist, a periscope neck--and vivid colors,
of which flesh is the most prevalent. And after five straight
quarterly losses, Mattel has posted a 51 percent gain in sales
attributed mainly to Masters of the Universe. Last year the
collection grossed a whopping $736 million for its creators.
perfect fairy-tale beginning would have been if the designer
of these muscular money- makers had been a modern-day Geppetto
toiling in his Mattel Workshop. Alas for fable tradition,
they came about as a result of extensive market research conducted
by Mattel because of their competitor Kenner's successful
Star Wars dolls. Mattel ran 17 different studies on evertything
from boys' play habits to their hair-color preference.
went back to the basics of value, durability and imagination,
rather than leaning so heavily on fads and technology,"
says Paul Cleveland, a Mattel vice-president. The finding
showed that boys like figures that represent strength and
power and prefer a fantasy environment. If they acquired one
doll, Mattel further found, they were likely to become collectors
of the set.
on these results, Mattel gambled 15 percent of its production
on the muscle-bound stable and a whole line of gadgetry, which
now includes Dragon Walker, a "beast/vehicle," Stridor,
an armored war-horse, and a Roton "assault vehicle."
Within five months the factory in Taiwan couldn't turn out
enough creatures to match the demand. Now Mattel executives
are pondering the weightier implications of their creations.
Vice president Joe Morrison has gone back to reread such classic
studies as Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces
and Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. "I think
we plugged into a basic human archetype," he says modestly.
Richard Stamp, a professor or archaeology at Oakland University,
offers a more prosaic conclusion. "Most cultures have
mythical figures that are superhuman or have supernatural
powers. The only thing new is that technology has finally
created doll figures that have sparked little boys' imaginations."
And, happily for Mattel, magically lightened their parents'