Sunday, February 14, 2010

Entertainment: Finished watching The NEW ADVENTURES OF HE-MAN

I finished watching THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HE-MAN (NA) this week. The series contained 65 episodes, most of which were written by series creator Jack Olesker. NA was quite a departure from the original HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE cartoon series in just about every way - new animation and design style, new characters, new voices, a more cohesive story line... Now, keep in mind, this is a show that was created for kids to promote toys, so to be a 30-something criticizing the quality of the show could be questionable.

HOWEVER, there have been cartoon series over the years that have not sacrificed story and character development for the sake of keeping it dumbed-down for the kids, and just selling toys. BEAST WARS and BEAST MACHINES, the Beast Era Transformers cartoon series, were successful in attracting adult collectors and new kids alike...

But we're talking about the late 80s here, and NA came at a time when something new was happening to all those great 80s toy franchises that sprung up and created a marketing phenomenon- the nececessity to recreate the toy lines for a new generation of kids.

This was the challenge presented to the creators of the NA toyline - bring in a new generation of kids. What they DIDN'T consider was that: just because there was a need to draw in a new target audience didn't mean that the original target audience had to be sacrificed. NA was launched only 2-3 years after the original He-Man line was ended...not necessarily long enough for the fans/collectors to grieve and completely move on. Action figures are made for Ages 4+ Boys, so if you're 12-15 you don't necessarily fit in this bracket. What was later discovered was there were kids going well into their 20s and 30s that were still ravenous about this stuff.

The decision was made to make NA more or less a totally different show from the original - there are the basic connections - He-Man is Prince Adam from the planet Eternia, son of King Randor and Queen Marlena, and sworn enemy to Skeletor of Snake Mountain. That's about it. Everything else is pretty much left in the past. He-Man, Skeletor and even The Sorceress's costumes change without any explanation. Even He-Man's iconic sword is changed. In retrospect, not a good move. But the age of the original He-Man had passed - his sales had declined significantly. Mattel figured by casting the futuristic barbarian in a more futuristic design and esthetic would appeal to new audiences. It may have worked had they not purged the entire franchise of all those iconic characteres that made the He-Man brand so great.

To old fans, it was a slap in the face. To new fans, well they were lost. Mattel didn't reboot the franchise for the new fans to pick up and delve into. The NA franchise was more or less codependent on it's predecessor, although it did everything to be nothing like it.

In Mr. Olesker's defense, he made due with the commands he was given. The show is more cohesive than the original ever was. We were never treated to an origin episode or mini series for He-Man in the original - we were just dropped in. The NA series had a definitive beginning and ending, showing He-Man's journey into the distant future as he joins forces with the Galactic Guardians to defend them against the relentless attacks of Skeletor, Flog and the Evil Mutants. He-Man learns more about his powers under the guidance of Master Sebrian and the Sorceress. The hero experiences homesickness, but stays true to his mission. The villain Flogg even comes to see the error of his ways in attacking the Galactic Guardians and the planet Primus, realizing that over the course of the series it was Skeletor that was manipulating and dragging out the conflict to advance his own devious goals.

What makes this show work in my mind is that it is one adventure - though a rather long one - that He-Man experiences in his career. It's a time travel adventure that many fans loose sight of. The main fan criticism is: How could He-Man just leave Eternia behind to go help Primus? And I've always held that with this being a time travel adventure, He-Man could easily return to his own time only seconds after he had left. Time travel stuff always gets tricky doesn't it?

New Adventures of He-Man has a hero's journey, and the characters do have development over the course of the show. However, there are the weak points - the annoying scientists, and a few other characters like the Mites and the Gleenons, meant to cater to the kiddys, and the departure of the show from the original. The show is watchable compared to the painfully plotless Voltron series for example, and deserves recognition in the history and story continuity of the He-Man franchise.

Those are my thoughts on the matter. I'd like to hear from you what your thoughts are about the New Adventures of He-Man and it's place in the Masters of the Universe franchise?

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