With the new ‘Masters of the Universe’ movie actually looking as though it might get made in the next few years, it’s the perfect time to bring “The Power” back into the public consciousness and the FauxPop and High Octane Pictures documentary ‘Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ is a perfect retrospective of the brand’s nearly 40-year history. This doc is already available on Netflix, but is now being released on digital and DVD so that all fans can take a deep dive into how this billion-dollar franchise came to life.
Hurting after the failure of several toy lines that tied into mediocre films, Mattel attempted to craft its own brand that wasn’t tethered to anything as ephemeral. Smashing past the scale of ‘Star Wars’ (but shy of the 12″ scale of the original ‘G.I. Joe’), the ‘MotU’ toys were hulks of muscle on top of muscle, merging conventions of science fiction and fantasy.
In the ‘Power of Grayskull’, Mattel employees recall the brainstorming and spitballing that went into the early creation and development. The exact genesis (and more specifically, the credit) of this line has been somewhat controversial over the years, and this doc attempts to reconcile the memories of the various designers, incorporating fascinating concept drawings that depict the drastic evolutions of the toys from conception to production, and offer glimpses of certain products that were produced. Also included is promotional footage used to sell the line to retailers, and other obscurities, as well as details about the various comic and storybooks, which explain why there are so many contradictory elements in the ‘MotU’ mythos.
The film also highlights the creators of the hit Filmation cartoon, including Skeletor voice actor Alan Oppenheimer, and Erika Scheimer, daughter of Filmation founder Lou Scheimer (who also voiced Orko), who took this successful toy line, and turned it into a plastic supernova. Once again, loads of things that have never been shown to the public are offered, including preliminary animation (which looks nothing like what ended up on TV screens) and the cartoon’s Hollywood red carpet premiere, complete with actors dressed as the heroes and villains.
‘Power of Grayskull’ also touches on ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’, ‘The New Adventures of He-Man’, the failed 200x revival, and the more successful ‘Masters of the Universe Classics’ line. (Example, before ‘The New Adventures of He-Man’, Mattel considered recasting He-Man as a G.I. Joe-like military man, and an ecowarrior, under a hilariously branded line that would have been called “He-Manintarian.”
‘Power of Grayskull’ delves deep into the 1987 live-action movie, including interviews with Dolph Lungren (He-Man) and Frank Langella (Skeletor), the latter of whom divulges that he lobbied the filmmakers to let Skeletor show more skin. The biggest complaint about the movie, which flopped at the box office, has always been that it deviated so heavily from the cartoon– something that also frustrated Mattel at the time– but it was Cannon Studios that forced the alterations. Interviews are conducted with folks from both sides, and each seems to exhibit the same enthusiasm for their own work, so it’s hard to pick sides.
‘Masters of the Universe’ was the subject of a great episode of the documentary series ‘The Toys that Made Us’ (also on Netflix), and many of the same talents appear in both. But obviously, at one hour and 35 minutes, ‘Power of Grayskull’ has much more real estate.
If you were a casual fan– or even not a fan– and found the ‘Toys That Made Us’ segment more than enough to satisfy any curiosity you had, ‘Power of Grayskull’ may be too much for you. It does spend a lot of time on minutiae and secondary subjects. To be honest, even being a fan, I felt the doc spent a little too much time on the live-action movie. Having enjoyed the 200x line, I felt that got glossed over a bit too quickly.
One question I’ve always had is why certain characters were so radically different in cartoon form from the toys they were based on. Was there a reason why the Filmation folks decided to give Man-At-Arms a mustache? Why was Evil-Lyn Caucasian and not yellow like the toy? Those questions remain unanswered.
‘Power of Grayskull’ is a celebration of the brand, so there are very few criticisms within. ‘The Toys That Made Us’ goes into greater depth regarding the original toys’ decline. There’s no evidence of the online fury expressed by fans regarding the 200x line– lack of unique characters, poor distribution– or early issues with the ‘Classics’ line– production errors, limited runs, poor customer service.
If you are a fan, ‘Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ is a must-watch. You may already know a lot, but there is probably enough you didn’t know to make it worth it. But if you are only a casual fan, or simply a general fan of toys or ’80s properties, it may cut a little too deep to entertain you for the duration. And if you watched it on Netflix and loved it, it may be a good idea to grab a DVD in case the streaming service ever removes it from its lineup.
Check out the trailer below:
From Randall Lobb and Robert McCallum, THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL : The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe chronicles the beginnings and blockbuster-success of ‘80s toy sensation He-Man in an exhaustive, captivating 95-minute documentary that melts back the plastic on Eternia’s best-kept secrets! Featuring Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Richard Edlund, J. Michael Straczynski, Alan Oppenheimer and many more, the “fantastic documentary”* THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL will be available on digital and DVD for the first time this September from High Octane Pictures. In the early 1980s He-Man arrived on the scene and hit the world with a punch as powerful as the character himself. Designed in the wake of Conan the barbarian and under the shadow of Star Wars, He-Man’s surprising popularity spawned a multi-billion dollar empire that included toys, comic books, cartoons, live-action movies and a literal sister spinoff show – She-Ra – and continues to appeal to a ravenous fan-base today. Watch as artists, creators and collaborators dig deep, tell tales and share the surprising developments of an unlikely, unparalleled pop culture success in this Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Do you have the power?
‘Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ will be released on DVD and digital on September 3.