Monday, November 24, 2014

Five Things To Love About Filmation He-Man

I've mentioned a few times that I'm a genuine fan of the original Filmation He-Man cartoon (and its literal sister series She-Ra, for that matter).

Having just started a semi-regular rewatch that my sister and I do periodically with our complete collection of the series, I decided I'd catalog some of my favorite things in the series.

5. Our car is a badass.

So He-Man is technically a toy commercial, right? And the toyline is a typical boy's toyline, with figures with silly gimmicks and dopey little vehicles that are often even more ridiculous.

Hypothetically, Attack Trak is an advertisement for a similarly named toy, which was a typical weird little one-man vehicle. The series writers developed the concept-a tracked vehicle that "only He-Man can drive" because it perceives who's trying to operate it-into something completely different, that being the amazing character Attack Trak. (I add the "c" primarily for purposes of distinguishing the two.)

This is Attack Trak, casually ascending a cliff face.

And he doesn't have a driver, because Trak doesn't need a driver.

Imagine if KITT from Knight Rider was a tank that could climb anything and armed with lasers, and was kind of a jerk to boot. Some episodes didn't give him any dialogue or autonomy, but there was also an episode which displayed an entire fleet of Attack Traks; I'm pretty sure, from his ability to handle most of Skeletor's minions by himself, that if they'd just had a fleet of him that Skeletor wouldn't pose any threat at all, so presumably the production version lacked the sapience and for some reason they just didn't use Trak himself sometimes.

One of the last episodes of the series even expanded on the idea of the sentient/sapient vehicle, portraying Skeletor's Land Shark as Trak's bestial rival that he really didn't care for at all; sadly, the Land Shark's only other appearance in the series was as a generic bad guy car.

There are a lot of characters from this cartoon that I really like, but Attack Trak is probably my personal favorite case of a character arising from Filmation deciding to go their own way with the concept.

My biggest regret about Lou Scheimer's He-Ro, Son of He-Man pitch being a thing that never happened was that apparently all the vehicles were going to be large sapient mechanical creatures, a bit more in the vein of the Land Shark, but still enough like Trak that I have to think he was an influence on the idea.

4. How weird can this show get?

There's an episode of He-Man where Castle Greyskull gets pulled into another dimension, and they follow it...

...into a Steve Ditko-drawn issue of Doctor Strange.

There's another episode where He-Man gets thrown into another dimension, and things get even weirder.

Like, he fights what's basically a Captain Planet villain, Plundor, but Plundor is a pink bunny man and the cuddly animals he's threatening are called Schminavits (or something like that) and look like cutesy video game critters.

And the rescue party sent to find him just kind of floats through space on their way there.

They pass through more Ditko space on the way, incidentally. Filmation kind of liked Ditko space.

And Plundor's pollution machines looked like Dr. Seuss drew them.

That's not even getting into episodes featuring other characters from Orko's homeworld of Trolla (or Trolla itself) or Orko's Missing Magic, which involves traveling to another weirdo dimension with weirdo inhabitants who happily flout normal laws of anatomy/physics. Like, do you think a guy built like this...

...should really be able to do this?

I don't know that this show was the first to essentially go with the idea that other dimensions with weird physics can just use cartoon physics, but it is the earliest one I know of that does it.

(It's also interesting to note that the inhabitants of that world, Omiros, actually have distinctly different magic visually from all the other magic-users in the series. A little touch, but a nice one.)

3. Yog.

That is all.

(More generally, Filmation had a lot of great creature designs.)

2. Mom is also a badass.

Okay, so here's a little secret about Filmation's He-Man: Its version of Queen Marlena (Prince Adam's/He-Man's mother) was amazing.

Granted, a lot of writers kind of ignored her, to the point where a lot of people don't even seem to be aware that Marlena's full name is Marlena Glenn and that she was a spacecraft test pilot/explorer from a slightly nebulous future version of Earth. (Probably an explorer in the Star Trek sense; her spaceship had missiles.)

She spends most of her time hanging around being a queen and a mom, but then there's The Rainbow Warrior... where she demonstrates that she's actually still the best combat pilot on Eternia and personally shoots down about half of Skeletor's air fleet.

...Calling her the best pilot on Eternia isn't saying that much, because Eternians seem to be crap at three-dimensional thinking, but still.

1. The Dragon Invasion.

When I was a kid, The Dragon Invasion was one of two episodes of the show that my family owned on VHS since almost before I could remember. (I actually do remember it being purchased at the Wal-Mart that had just moved into town a little while before. It was a strange release for various reasons, but then, a lot of late '80s/early '90s VHS releases were pretty odd.) That means that it's one of two episodes I've watched more than any other.

It's still one of my favorite episodes and is probably among the reasons I get nostalgic about the series. And there's a good reason for that:

Skeletor is awesome in this episode.

Even when he's being written poorly, Skeletor is very entertaining, because he's a bright blue guy with a yellow skull for a face who's in it for the cartoonish Evulz, and his voice actor, Alan Oppenheimer, is a real treasure. (In all seriousness, I rate Oppenheimer higher than Frank Welker and Peter Cullen, probably the most famous voice actors of the era, for the specific purpose of villain voices-in fact, in that specific category he's probably tied with the amazing David Kaye, whose Beast Wars Megatron is probably my favorite cartoon villain of all time. All his villain voices and a goodly number of his not-villain voices are fricking amazing.) But this episode was written by Michael Reaves, who would later write for Batman: TAS and Gargoyles, which I will point out are generally very well-written series.

Skeletor is on his A-game here.

First off, I should establish something about Eternian dragons. Aside from Granamyr (who qualifies for everything I'm about to describe but is also the most powerful wizard on Eternia, and yes, he's much more powerful than Skeletor or the Sorceress-there's an episode where He-Man's solution to a problem, that problem being an evil wizard dragon, is "get Granamyr to notice the problem"*) and his fellow sapient dragons, there's a pretty fair population of unintelligent animal dragons. Among other things, they're capable of flying at speeds comparable to Eternian aircraft, breathe fire of destructive power comparable to Eternian vehicle-mounted weaponry, withstand Eternian artillery fire without apparent injury, demolish buildings with their tails, and have a limited degree of resistance to being controlled by the telepathic powers of Skeletor's minion Beast Man.

Specifically, a mother dragon protecting her eggs can't be controlled by Beast Man, and the episode opens with Skeletor and Beast Man raiding a dragon nest for eggs.

When Beast Man freaks out because he can't stop the mother dragon, Skeletor basically calls him a wimp and sends her plummeting into a nearby abyss. (Presumably, she didn't fly because she was surprised; she also wasn't seriously injured by the fall, because she showed up later.) Then he has the eggs dropped all over Eternia, uses magic to make the dragons grow instantly to adults and has Beast Man force them to rampage, and does all this just to distract He-Man from his real plan, which is using a magic artifact called the Dragon Pearl (he must have been feeling thematic that day) to capture the Sorceress and Castle Greyskull, puts up an impenetrable forcefield around Greyskull, and when the heroes break down the forcefield anyway (ironically with help from the no-longer-manipulated-by-Beast-Man dragons), uses the Dragon Pearl to tap into the captured Sorceress's powers and turn himself into a giant version of himself that's actually strong enough to bring He-Man to his knees.

He still loses, of course; this is He-Man we're talking about.

But The Dragon Invasion is the quintessential He-Man action episode, and probably the purest example of such.

...I'm probably going to talk about She-Ra before too much longer, because this was going to be a bit more general of a post and instead it ended up being just about Filmation's version of He-Man specifically.

*He-Man does this by being a bit of a jerk, by the way: He deliberately crashes his flying car into Granamyr's house.

-Signing off.

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