the Masters of the Big Ripoff
The surprising cheapness of many
December 9, 2009
By Avi Green
I once stumbled over this
site called 11 Points that talked about how the old Masters of
the Universe cartoons (usually beginning with He-Man and possibly
She-Ra’s names as a quasi-adjective) were some of cheapest animated
cartoons ever made, not just because of the limited motion involved,
but because there was so little action to watch as well. All the
kinds of things, that, as children, we were not commonly prone to
consider during our youth. On top of all that, it was more a toy
commercial than anything else.
Indeed, thinking about it
nowadays, this would-be Saturday morning cartoon series, based on a
toy line from Mattel first launched in the early 80s, was one of the
most underwhelming I’d ever seen, with animation and voice acting
that was kept to the utterly threadbare minimum. He-Man’s animated
series, made by Filmation, which has been defunct for 2 decades now,
ran between 1983-85, and its followup in She-Ra during 1985-87.
There were plenty of scenes like where He-Man, star of the first
official series, would change from his regular guise as the planet
Eternia’s Prince Adam into the silly strongman (and his own pet
tiger into “Battle-Cat”), letting out that laughable line of his, “I HAVE THE POWER!” that were
stock footage used over and over ad nauseum. Same goes for She-Ra,
when Princess Adora changed into the funny female warrior with that
laughable line of hers, “I AM
SHE-RA!” (I can’t recall what her white stallion was named
now though). And there were even plenty of times when Orko, the
goofy little gremlin who was one of their best pals at Castle
Grayskull, would be shown using one panel sketch that was flipped
back and forth like a mirror, done to keep yet more expenses as low
as possible. Apparently, that’s why plans to name him Gorko didn’t work out; how can
you reverse the letter G at ease? It does make me wonder though, why
they couldn’t have dropped even the letter O from his cloak and
saved a bit more money while they were at it!
The executive producer, Lou Scheimer, provided a ton of the voices
for many of the male characters, while his daughter did many of the
female voices. Yep, MOTU was a family affair. Who knew? Not the
children, who didn’t typically care to read the staff credits,
that’s for sure.
And, lest we forget, there was no personality or character
development of any kind, and the villains were there just so they
could sell action figures in real life. Skeletor would often have a
different minion working for him almost every consecutive episode,
and – no surprise really – there was never any romance between
He-Man and his female counterparts, or She-Ra and her male ones. Or
at least not what might be considered groundbreaking, like
lovemaking. (Sadly, some young boys seem to think lowly of that.)
There’s a few other details I decidedly won’t get into just now, but
on top of all that, while the article made for great reading, what
do people expect of an American-made cartoon like that, honestly?
See, that’s the problem with a lot of American-made cartoons: in
contrast to Japan, where they can have writing more sophisticated
than you think, most of those made in the United States and Canada
are not being done with giving children something really intelligent
to think about as they grow older in mind. Translation: these
American made cartoons are dumbed-down. Certainly there are some
exceptions like Filmation’s earlier Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,
which ran during 1972-85, but for the most part, they are just dumb,
dopey popcorn nonsense with only the interest of keeping the kiddies
“entertained”, nothing more.
In fact, even the cartoons based on GI Joe and Transformers were
pretty cruddy, and the one based on the first of Hasbro’s franchises
was a far cry from the comics written by Larry Hama during 1982-94.
Featuring mostly wooden animation, they told their juvenile tales
without leaving much to think about in the aftermath.
In fairness, when the 1990s came around, animation did improve a
bit, but was still a far cry from the mastery Japan has succeeded in
presenting, whether in cels or in computerized format.
That aside, what was so great about Masters of the Universe, really?
Back in my childhood, I only owned exactly ONE toy from that line,
and it was an action figure of Hordak, and I’ll say in fairness that
it did come with a nice little mini-comic included. But other than
that, I never owned nor cared for any more of that line, which,
after several years, lost popularity faster than the Cabbage Patch
Dolls and never regained the full recognition it once had in the
kiddie market. And if my major lack of interest in the MOTU line is
any indication, one has to wonder if it was ever popular at all. At
least I for one wasn't as much a victim of the ripoff as others
Aside from all that, one cannot expect animation in the US and
Europe to improve much, if it’s still at flat levels after all these
years, nor can we possibly expect them to gain writing as
sophisticated as what some Japanese cartoons can have. It’s a shame
of course, but the main reason why it may not happen seriously, as I
realize, is because animation as a whole, doesn’t have a big enough
following among adults in the west, and is unlikely to gain a
sizable audience in the future either, for as long as we have
television and movies.
Copyright 2009 Avi Green. All rights reserved.
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