As a filmmaker, imagination may quite possibly be one of the most important things during the creation process.
In your mind, your imagination plays the fiddle. An epic story of heroics and villainy. The light of God cast on your characters. Music so sweet the Sirens themselves sang it. Visuals so stunning that Rembrandt would be impressed.
But the root of our imagination begins in our childhood. Recently on ‘The Fortress of Dorkness’, we discussed the comic series, Saga. Creator Brian K. Vaughn crafted Saga over a number of years, a result of his imagination when he was a child.
Today I’m going to speak of something that inspired my own imagination, Mattel & Filmation’s Masters of the Universe.
The Eternian adventures of the scantily clad barbaric hero, He-Man, and the villainous bone-headed wizard Skeletor, was perhaps the most important cartoon produced in the United States in the 1980’s.
On the surface, MOTU, as it’s often abbreviated, was your typical cartoon about good vs. evil. GI Joe was doing it. The Thundercats were doing it. My personal favorite, Transformers was doing it.
But when we dig a little deeper we see that Masters had something…more. Another layer down we have a story where barbarians, wizards, robots, cowboys, vampires, and a ton of other beings lived in the same universe, letting my imagination soak it all in.
A little further, and we start seeing the deep roots of the stories. Masters wasn’t just another cartoon where toys were being forced down our throats. It was threaded with a rich, fantastical tale of heroism, loss, pity, consequences, and, yes, even lust.
Look at the infamous episode ‘The Problem with Power’. Skeletor tricks The Most Powerful Man in the Universe into thinking he accidentally killed a man, causing He-Man to relinquish the power bestowed upon him. He beats himself over his own negligence, and regardless of the outcome or the circumstances, a strong lesson is learnt about the consequences of wielding such power.
Or perhaps we can look at ‘The Search’, where He-Man is overcome by the cosmic power of The Starseed, and must rise above his own temptations of destroying Skeletor. And who can forget ‘Prince Adam No More’, where Adam puts his own desire to be approved by his father above his duties.
Stories like these sparked the thought process for me, where heroes could be damned by their own actions. I learnt that you could still make a fun story about fantasy and science fiction, and retain a solid, character driven tale, with strong moral implications.
Credit has to be given to Filmation. Lou Scheimer and his team pushed the boundaries of a cartoon in a way that I, as a fan of animation, had not seen in any other cartoon of that period. Yes, other cartoons ended their episodes with a short moral snippet, but the consistency of Masters was unmatched in the western market.
To give you an idea of the impact of this cartoon, look at some of the names involved: Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Bob Forward, Haim Saban, David Wise, J. Michael Straczynski, and Larry DiTillio. These guys went on to spearhead some of the most memorable cartoons, television series, and films ever, even winning numerous awards along the way.
He-Man and The Masters of the Universe is by far one of the important pieces of media to ever be produced. Though it’s faced moderate success with its many attempts to come back, the series, comics, and the films it spawned following it may be good, but lack the soul that made the original so special.
With another film in the works, I hope that they remember the heart of what made the Filmation series so unique, and not make it another mindless action film to appeal to a ‘grittier’ audience (I myself would love to see one done with this flavor in the styling of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal).
The potential now exists to bring that same heart & soul out for the imaginations of the modern age, and hopefully, we’ll all be a little more inspired.