Friday, December 10, 2010

A Very He-Man Christmas Special

Y'know, I'm not actually real big on the "holiday spirit." I haven't listened to Christmas music outside of pesky commercials in years, my family doesn't have big celebrations anymore, and I hate "A Wonderful Life" to death. (So does my mother.)

But recently, I've been re-watching the complete DVD collection of Filmation's He-Man (I finished last night), and I suddenly thought that it might be entertaining to see if I could find some of the He-Man/She-Ra Christmas special from back in the day.

Guess what? Apparently, a whole bunch of companies put their Christmas specials up on Hulu for the month. I watched this one yesterday; hopefully, I'll remember to catch the Jackie Chan Adventures one.

I had a lot of fun, partly because I'm willing to forgive and ignore a lot of cheesy cartoon foibles, but it's also a rather fascinating piece as part of the wider franchise that it was connected to. It also had some parts that I genuinely found to be good entertainment (as well as some awful bits).

First up-the writing credits go to Bob Forward and Don Heckman. Bob Forward co-wrote several of the best episodes in the series, most notably "The Problem With Power" (an episode so popular that it essentially was retconned into being the He-Man series finale). According to Forward in some DVD commentary, he got his start as a writer because he was doing storyboards for a Fat Albert episode and made some changes to the story without authorization for it, then got in trouble when the writer found out after the episode was finished... and then the episode won an award.

Don Heckman, on the other hand, wrote at least one episode that was so bad that my sister and I don't watch it when we go through the series.

So if it seems kind of schizophrenic, that might be why.

The story starts fairly mundanely for an episode of He-Man-Orko gets into trouble, and they need to rescue him. What's unusual is that the cast of She-Ra is hanging around the Eternian royal palace alongside the He-Man cast, because Adam and Adora are about to celebrate their birthday.

It watches like a huge crossover comic event, except that they're sitting around decorating for a party.

But I think I'll skip over that bit.

Adora turns into She-Ra and goes back to Etheria because in order to rescue Orko, they need a magic crystal that can teleport things, and for some reason, it's underwater in an area with big monsters. She sends her mermaid friend to retrieve the crystal while she distracts-by which I mean "beats the tar out of"-the monster.

One of the things I've always loved about Filmation is that as often as not, they have pretty sharp monster designs; this one isn't one of their best, but it's still pretty nice. I'm pretty sure it's essentially one of their dragons with a different head and other dragon features removed, but it's still pretty nice.

The part where the story starts using elements that are interesting is shortly after She-Ra obtains the magic crystal thing. Suddenly, the ground bursts open...

...and these sensor tentacles pop out, followed shortly... this guy.

This giant robot is leader of the "Monstroids," a group of robots who show up without any warning, buildup, or explanation, and start roaming around generally causing all kinds of trouble. (There's a toy they were named after, but there's essentially no resemblance.)

What's really hilarious is that, once they've trapped She-Ra and her flying, talking unicorn in a magic bubble, they boast a bit...

...then they transform and drive off, to aforementioned unicorn saying "They're transforming? What evil robots!"

This would have been contemporary, of course, with the Transformers cartoon of the '80s, which was one of the He-Man and She-Ra series' main competitors for the "primary boys' toy/entertainment" position. That this line may well have been penned by Bob Forward (I'm inclined to think it was), who later worked on Beast Wars, the strongest of the Transformers cartoons, is a very special kind of irony.

Momentarily, She-Ra demonstrates one of the biggest issues with her cartoon: Her sword.

It was once stated by somebody, though I can't recall who, that She-Ra's sword was basically the biggest Deus Ex Machina in the entire series. He-Man's sword occasionally saw such uses, especially in lazily written episodes, but She-Ra's explicitly had Deus Ex Machina powers. All she had to do was shout "Sword to (fill in the blank)" and her sword could turn into the second thing, in this case fire. Yes, she turned her sword into fire.

Once she gets back, she gives the crystal to Man-At-Arms, who uses it to teleport Orko and the spaceship that he got into trouble with back from where they ended up... Earth.

And naturally, because this is a Christmas special, a couple of Earth children come with Orko.

That's right: Orko essentially just kidnapped some kids. The only place I remember Orko doing something potentially worse was when he glued Cringer to the floor so that he could experiment on him (thanks, D.C. and Richard Fontana).

Anyway, the only concern the children have, since Eternians are nice folk and plan on returning them once the magic crystal recharges (why not send them home with Castle Grayskull? There's a suspicious absence here) is that they're going to miss Christmas, so King Randor and Queen Marlena plan to expand the upcoming birthday celebration to include Christmas.

Unfortunately, Horde Prime, the most powerful villain in the He-Man/She-Ra series universe, hates Christmas spirit, so he decides to send the other villains, namely Skeletor and Hordak, to capture the children so that it can be disposed of.

While Skeletor's apparent allegiance to Horde Prime is extremely dubious because he's always fighting the Horde, Hordak especially, I can't help but find his eagerness amusing.

We soon see just what kind of thing Christmas spirit on Eternia spawns:

Music and dancing. (The She-Ra cast member Bow actually composed a song. I couldn't listen to it and had to turn the sound off.)

No wonder Horde Prime wants to get rid of it.

Hordak shows up in a helicopter (never mind that he has trouble reaching Eternia) and kidnaps the children, who are consecutively kidnapped from him by...

...the Monstroids.

Why are they doing this? Because they expect Horde Prime to show up to get the children himself, and they apparently are planning to have a supervillain rumble with him. On Christmas.

Yes, the Monstroids are just that awesome.

He-Man, She-Ra, and some weird little robot people show up to fight the Monstroids, and utterly maul them. In the process, She-Ra once again demonstrates her sword's powers, this time by turning it into some rope. While she does this a few times in the series, it was the first time I saw her do it with this much style.

I admit, I find this a rather cool image, even though it's totally silly.

Then, Skeletor shows up on a souped up Sky Sled.

Normally, there's only space for one person on there, but his is kind of a "stretch" Sky Sled, you might say.

While it would appear at a glance that the only function of this modified Sky Sled is to give the kiddies a place to sit, there's one other thing it can do:

Pop a cannon out its thrust vent.

Unfortunately for Skeletor, he was being followed by Hordak in a much bigger aircraft, and his sneaky cannon didn't do much good. He and the kids (and a robot dog) crash land in some mountains, where the kids promptly collapse.

He shouts at them to get up for a while, until he finally acquiesces to their complaints and gives them parkas with his magic powers. His attitude seems particularly odd-why is he treating his captives so horribly?-until one realizes: He's walking around in a hood and underwear! He doesn't even realize they're cold!

Eternians are a tough bunch.

Anyway, the little girl wants to get the creepy robot dog, but Skeletor browbeats her into leaving it behind. However...

...the dog gives him a soulful and incredibly creepy look, and the kids keep crying that he'll freeze, so Skeletor goes back and picks him up.

As you can see, Skeletor isn't too pleased with this development.

They then have a hilarious conversation about Christmas, which leads to Skeletor wondering if there are lots of fights on Christmas and whether the presents explode. Dude sounds like he'd be a blast at parties, doesn't he?

They later are attacked by a King Kong sized, ice breath blasting saber toothed polar bear (a similar creature appeared in the series, but much smaller), but Skeletor defends the children from it.

They tell him he's very kind, which ticks him off horribly.

Then Hordak and his army show up and take down Skeletor, and He-Man and She-Ra show up and start fighting Hordak's army.

Then Horde Prime shows up in his space ship and attacks with this... implement.

Sorry about the imagery.

I could have sworn I had a picture of the dog licking Skeletor's face to wake him up, but I guess you'll just have to imagine that bit. (I probably already met my quota of horribly embarrassing pictures of Skeletor with the last one in here.) Skeletor gets up, shouts "I must SAVE the CHILDREN!" and blasts the living daylights out of Horde Prime's ship (I mean, it was really pretty impressive), causing it to crash.

Horde Prime isn't pleased...

...but He-Man and She-Ra run over and throw it back into deep space, which elicits a rather angry tirade from Horde Prime.

I quote, "BLAST! BLAST! BLAST! BLAAAAAAST!" Considering this is a cartoon and that "Blast!" was one of Skeletor's stock angry words, that's kind of like dropping a cluster F-bomb.

Anyway, then everybody is happy that things are better. Except Skeletor.

This image is basically my favorite He-Man/She-Ra related image in the history of ever, by the way.

So why is Skeletor upset? Because the spirit of Christmas has turned him good. Yes, really. For Skeletor, that basically means his life is over, and he stands there with his face in his hands, bemoaning the end of his career of villainy.

The heroes give him hope, however, when they explain the simple facts to him: Christmas only comes once a year. He immediately responds with "Oh, THANK GOODNESS."

The kids are later sent home, where they shock their parents by turning on the flight belts that "Santa" (Prince Adam) gave them. I think "Santa" should have asked his mother (who was originally an astronaut from Earth, in case you didn't know) for slightly more appropriate gifts.

I can't say that this is a shining star from Filmation or anything, but I certainly enjoyed it.

-Signing off.

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