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Review: 'He-Man and the Masters of the Universe' is a breezy watch

The Netflix show is a happy return to your childhood Sunday mornings, but with better animation and dialogue.

September 19, 2021 / 01:29 PM IST

Make yourselves some cheese toast! It’s He-Man powering up with the white rays from Castle Grayskull. But remember, this is not the He-Man you grew up with; it's a Mattel type (child friendly) Origins story.

So Adam is a very young lad who’s rescuing cats with his gal pal called Krass (Erm. Their branding sorta sucks with this one), Cringer has no claws and they all live in the Jungle with the Tiger Tribe. Takes time to come to the present because we have seen the jungle part of the kingdom to be filled with villains when we were kids…

Thankfully, there’s Teela who turns into the Sorceress, Cringer into Battle Cat, Duncan into Man At Arms, and Krass turns into a ridiculous Ram Ball. And the same bad guys wreaking mayhem on the kingdom of Eternia: Skeletor, Evil-Lyn and Trap Jaw are there too.

He man Skeletor

The animation is super modern but the writing never fails to remind us that we are watching a kids show, so there are no decapitated limbs and blood in battle, but magic. It’s good too. And the writing will make you smile: when Adam becomes He-Man for the first time, everyone gawps in awe of the upper torso that becomes musclebound. Even Adam grins at this bizarre transformation. Duncan discovers his visor can come ‘on’ in battle, and his response is, 'Isn’t that cool?’ The puns come at you out of nowhere but you smile because the episodes are full of action and very little exposition. This version of He-Man is fun.

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For those of us who grew up not caring about pronouns, it was easier to see muscle bound He-Man wield a sword that looks impossible to handle without magic. We didn’t care as long as the creepy Skeletor was thwarted from taking over Grayskull. We had countless arguments about Castle Greyskull having nothing on Phantom’s Skull Cave. We envied our American cousins who owned the Mattel Castle Grayskull when we had only what they call ‘Second copies’ of He-Man made in the bowels of Ulhasnagar or somewhere in a dank sweatshop in China…

The show Toys That Made Us has a He-Man episode that made me yearn for simpler times when we didn’t expect Skeletor to scare us to the bones. Skeletor always had this cartoony voice and an evil laugh. He was no Darth Vader and even though his plans were always scary, there was a fun part: In one episode, a creepy creature emerges from the bubbling swamp pot in Skeletor’s durbar, with a crystal that will power the machine that will destroy the mystic wall…Evil-Lyn says, 'Two years to find the crystal, and you couldn’t even find time to clean it?’ The swamp creature goes to Fur-Man and wipes the crystal on his hide. I grin. These days, animation takes itself very seriously. This kind of silliness is gone. But the dialogue in this series is smarter and will not treat kids like they’re dumb. No more explanation, but you will know Havoc is bad, power from sword, good.

(How do I know this? I am old-school. I have the DVDs!) Fans know that they spent 65 Sunday mornings of their life watching the Dolf Lundgren animation doppelganger (he starred in the film which everyone but us kids hated) fight villains called Daimar, Webstor (I swear he exists!), Catra, Modulok (he belonged to the Evil Horde). Shokoti, Kobra Khan, Count Marzo, Beast Man, King Hiss, Sh’gora (looks a bit like Jabba The Hutt, but drawn for kids) and a character drawn to induce nightmares, Hordak. He was scarier than Skeletor in my humble opinion.

But this is season 1 of the animation series on Netflix and very well planned. At the end of each episode is an awesome black and white art piece that gives you a hint about the next episode. The artwork is phenomenal, old school. And I’m sure older kids today will appreciate this classic style too. So each episode gives a chance for the Masters of the Universe to shine, bringing an old favourite Orko the magician to offer comedic relief. But a niece (who watched it at the same time as I did) insisted that many kids who have been compared to older siblings who are smarter academically will identify with Orko who bumbles and fails even though he has the knowledge. And we thought animation shows were for fun!

Thankfully, the stories have twists that are completely unexpected. And even though you know that the good guys will win in the end, Skeletor does not make it easy. It would be good to watch a few YouTube videos about the origins of He-Man. It’s good to see Uncle turn into a monster (reminds you of The Lion King, no?). And speaking of monsters, Cringer mentions Mer-man, whom I hope to see in season 2.

I still want to own the castle that can be opened only by putting Skeletor’s staff and He-Man’s sword together, but times have changed and the kid Masters of the Universe are living in Grayskull. I want to see He-Man’s mother Queen Marlena appear in some future episodes and I will learn to like the fancy CGI that makes this show on Netflix quite flawless. But I do prefer the old He-Man show tune that made us grab breakfast and sit in front of the TV sets. The new song isn’t a patch on the old Shuki Levy, Haim Saban and Erika Lane theme:

Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.
first published: Sep 19, 2021 01:22 pm

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