Despite it being 2021 and not, say, 1984, there’s A LOT of Masters of the Universe in the pop culture panorama at the moment. Not only are toy aisles of major stores carrying its quasi-vintage-styled items—peddled to a new generation—brandishing the classic blue logo bursting through red rocks, but the streaming arena of Netflix is doubling down on the franchise, having first unveiled animated series Masters of the Universe: Revelation in July. Now, the second part of this double-header (which would have been a triple-header had recent live-action movie plans not fizzled), CG animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, has heralded its imminent arrival with a trailer.
With just a quick glance at the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe trailer, it becomes quite clear that the series is not only a different take on the franchise, but a ground-up reinvention of the classic story—albeit one that, at the same time, has curated some elements from across its past iterations. While this particular take borrows the exact title of the fabulous-secrets-showing, disco-theme-thumping 1983-1985 animated series from studio Filmation, it also brandishes a technological sci-fi aesthetic that seems reminiscent of the 2002-2004 animated revival of Masters of the Universe from Mike Young Productions. The result is an intriguing hybrid series from the animators of House of Cool (Trollhunters) and CGCG (Star Wars: The Clone Wars/Rebels/The Bad Batch) that resets the mythology in a manner that aims to be accessible to impressionable younger fans; ones who might become molded on the concept that Skeletor has a bony yellow left hand!
With that said, check out the trailer for Netflix’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe just below!
Standing separate from Kevin Smith’s Revelation, this particular take comes from creator Robert David, who also happens to serve as an executive producer on that series. Yet, David happens to know a bit about reinventing classic franchises for contemporary kid audiences, having headed the 2008-2009 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and also worked on an animated iteration for another Mattel Toys property in 2016’s Max Steel: Team Turbo. Indeed, the new series may be based on a nostalgic brand, but—in a stark contrast from Revelation’s rapid, arguably-excessive references to classic concepts—its sanguine tone, loud voice work and wide-eyed looks typical of modern CG-spun serials clearly delineates a separate branch of the franchise; one that makes no pretense of continuing and/or emulating any vintage iterations. This approach potentially relieves the series of the segmented fan-fueled backlash that Revelation has endured after its now-famous protagonist twist.
The notion of a bifurcated franchise is demonstrably apparent in the Masters of the Universe franchise’s bread and butter business: toys. While Revelation has just started to release premium-priced, highly-articulated 7” scale action figures aimed at the nostalgic adult collectors it covets, new series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe seems to have taken that age-old strategy further in the very design of the show’s primary characters such as He-Man and Skeletor, each of whom share an artfully disproportionate, torso heavy, skipped-leg-day look that resembles, well, actual toys. And sure enough, complementing the unveiling of the trailer, Mattel has revealed the first look at the new show’s attached toy line, which consists of figures scaled at 5.5” (the franchise’s classic scale,) that conveniently look as if they jumped straight from the screen.
Of course, that is not to say that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is missing the franchise’s primary pillars, since the upstart Prince Adam’s struggle, as He-Man, to protect the secrets of the mystical Castle Grayskull from the evil clutches of Skeletor remains the central premise amidst the updated bells and whistles. The characters, in a very toy-line tie-in manner, even call themselves “Masters,” notably with the quote, “To know oneself is to truly become a Master of the Universe,” and Skeletor referring to his evil warriors as “Dark Masters.” Additionally, the trailer further reveals that the series will even come to the table with a vintage-minded take on a classic concept that Revelation has yet to touch—at least in its initial five episodes—that being the origin of Skeletor. Indeed, in a crucial bit of exposition, we see a sinister goateed villain call out Adam for not recognizing his “Uncle Keldor,” one who we also saw superimposed with Skeletor, implying a transformation of some kind.
While the 1983 animated series rarely delved deep into backstories, and didn’t really provide one for its fists-shaking, insult-dishing rendition of Skeletor, a 1987 mini-comic included with the Mattel action figures, titled “The Search for Keldor,” first dared such an attempt. The story centered on the mystery surrounding the missing brother of King Randor (Adam/He-Man’s father), and ends with the ambiguously implied suggestion that Keldor was actually Skeletor the whole time—thereby making him He-Man’s uncle. This idea would be expanded upon in the 2002 series, in which a flashback prologue shows that Keldor is Randor’s half-brother of the blue-skinned Gar race. When a failed rebellion to take the throne left Keldor gravely injured after acid splashed on his face, he made a dubious deal to save his life and gain more power by merging with a demon, thusly becoming Skeletor. However, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe seems to be taking a different approach by not making Keldor a Gar, potentially changing the context of the Skeletor change, and altering the timeline of the origin story to be contemporaneous with Adam’s.
The voice cast for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe consists of Yuri Lowenthal as He-Man/Adam, David Kaye as Cringer/Battle Cat, Grey Griffin as Evelyn, Antony Del Rio as Duncan/Man-at-Arms, Kimberly Brooks as Teela/Sorceress, Trevor Devall as R’Qazz/Beast Man, Judy Alice Lee as Krass/Ram Ma’am, Ben Diskin as Skeletor, Roger Craig Smith as Kronis/Trap-Jaw/General Dolos, Fred Tatasciore as King Randor/Baddrah. Creator Robert David is joined by story editor Bryan Q. Miller (Motherland: Fort Salem, Shadowhunters), heading a long line of writers.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe hits Netflix on Thursday, September 16.