What are some interesting facts about the 80s cartoon He-Man?
Syndication Sensation. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was the very first cartoon in the United States to go straight to syndication and air on weekday afternoons, instead of the industry-standard of Saturday mornings.
Voice Acting Challenges. Alan Oppenheimer, the prolific voice actor who played several recurring roles on the show, including Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, and the dual role of Cringer and Battle Cat, was usually given lines by his various characters in quick succession within the scripts, as the writers found watching him switch between roles during the recording sessions to be very entertaining. Oppenheimer is amazingly still working today at the age of 89, with roles that include this year’s Toy Story 4.
Too spooky overseas. Episodes in which the villainous Skeletor appeared were never broadcast in France, as his skull-face was considered too frightening for children’s programming. This decision definitely makes sense, but in hindsight Skeletor comes off as a rather goofy character by today’s standards.
Similarities to that OTHER famous barbarian character. According to rumors, toy maker Mattel had originally planned to make a line of toys based on 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, but this plan fell through when the film was rated R by the MPAA. Instead of completely scrapping the line, Mattel created He-Man. Roger Sweet, a key figure in the development of the toy line, has refuted this rumor, by stating that the He-Man toys were in production a good two years before the Schwarzenegger film released. There was even a lawsuit in which the owners of the Conan IP sued Mattel for copyright infringement, but Mattel ultimately won and was able to retain the rights to He-Man.
Influence from Another Genre. The biggest influence in the creation of He-Man was actually George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise, after Mattel declined a deal to create a toy-line for the 1977 blockbuster sensation. After the success of the Star Wars toys created by rival Kenner Products, Mattel launched several competing toy lines to get in on the hot trend. The original three prototypes for the He-Man toys presented to Mattel executives included the character as a barbarian, as a soldier, and even as a spaceman. They ultimately decided on the barbarian design, but he was slightly altered from his original black-haired, dark-skinned look.
Deciding how to tell the story correctly. Executive producer Lou Scheimer played a key role in developing the concept of He-Man that had been established by Mattel Toys and DC Comics. That’s right, DC Comics was the origin of the He-Man story, releasing the comic series He-Man and the Power Sword: Masters of the Universe alongside the first toy line in 1981. This was the introduction of Prince Adam as He-Man’s alter ego. The Filmation animated show made changes to the character of the Sorceress, combining her with the falcon Zoar, as well as introducing Orko, the comic relief, to make the show more kid-friendly. Despite these changes, the show still came under fire from some groups as too violent, with some even accusing it of having hidden Satanic messages.
Animation Corner-Cutting. The original name for the character of Orko was actually “Gorpo”. The reason they changed his name was to save on animation costs, as the “O” shape for a character’s mouth was symmetrical, allowing the animation cels to be flipped, then used a second time.
Another change made for animation reasons was Prince Adam’s design. Yes, he is He-Man’s alter ego, but as a character he is supposed to be a teenager, not an adult like He-Man. To save costs, they both were animated with the same design. We didn’t really care as kids though, as the show let us use our own imagination to see Adam as a teenager!
The REAL Secret of Castle Grayskull. The secret of Castle Grayskull was a pivotal plot device used in many storylines of the show. Behind-the-scenes, it was conceptualized as a sphere that contained the combined consciousness of Eternia’s ancient scholars. It eventually had to be dropped from being directly mentioned in the show, but references were of course still made to this great power. In the 2002 reboot of the show, this concept was explored much more in detail.