Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017) – A Review
I stumbled onto this documentary quite by accident on Netflix. It’s a history lesson of sorts about how the popular toy He-Man and the Masters of the Universe came to be and how unexpectedly became one of the most popular toys in the 1980’s.
It also delves into the the background of the cartoon series which further helped make the brand grow, the expansion of the female character She-Ra and the 1987 live-action film, which would signal He-Man’s demise.
For toy fans, Power of Grayskull is somewhat like an expanded version of the He-Man episode of The Toys That Made Us. Here, there’s more time to dig deeper into the history of He-Man. It’s a colorful, nostalgic look back at what I still think of as a very strange story – how did this muscle-bound barbarian and his goofy cast of characters become so popular so fast with 1980’s kids.
It’s well put together and moves at a nice pace. We hear from toy designers, animators, writers, artists, voice actors and a whole host of people who are part of the He-Man story. Their accounts are nicely complimented with footage from the past of He-Man’s heyday and how this bizarre toylike became a billion dollar empire to Mattel. It’s all makes for an enjoyable tale to sit and watch.
I am always fascinated by early concept drawings of characters and how they evolved into what we would know. There are a lot of illustrations showing us the evolution of He-Man and his crew. I’m also always amazed to learn just how seemingly random and unplanned certain parts of the brand came to be. A lot things just fell into place because of concessions or just plain luck.
I was most surprised the filmmakers were able to land interviews with not only Dolph Lundgren who would play He-Man in the 1987 film Masters of the Universe, but also Frank Langella who brought to life Skeletor!
He describes his experience in The Masters of the Universe as I had heard before. He has fondness of his chance to play Skeletor and says how it remains one of his favorite characters he has played. It’s nice to hear he doesn’t have any embarrassment about it. Despite the films failure he still has an affection for it.
The portions that cover the films production is interesting. The filmmakers were forced with restrictions by Mattel of how to present He-Man and famously the budget was cut and concessions had to be made, a fact that still disappoints Langella and Lundgren.
The abrupt collapse of He-Man from his toy throne is a bit more rushed in comparison to his creation. That’s one thing The Toys That Made Us covered very well. At a certain point the toyline became just a grab bag of such outlandish and wacky characters and such bizarre decisions it’s funny to look back at now. Mattel lost direction with it, and I think the collapse could have been more heavily focused on.
Overall, I did very much enjoy it. Obviously, He-Man fans will be the ones who will be most interested in watching. Yet it’s a well put together doc I think casual fans can get hooked in to it.
After watching this, I learned this was one of those kickstarter funded projects. It’s another demonstration of a film that has been fueled by fans of a niche topic. There might be small audience for it, but their passion is what made it happen.
It’s great that today projects like this can be accomplished and not just be sitting in a wish list of films that one would like to see. And fortunately, the filmmakers were just as excited about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe story and telling the story as the fans who wanted to see this.
He-Man fans will be well rewarded with the results.