Holiday Horrors: The He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

hemanxmas.jpgUPDATE 12.10: I received a copyright claim from Classic Media regarding the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special video clips. Rather than endanger the rest of my YouTube bounty, I made the executive decision to take them down. I apologize that they’re no longer available but these terrible videos died so that the rest may live. A moment of silence, if you please.

There’s an important milestone in every adult’s life when you realize most of the things you liked as a kid aren’t very good. Most kids’ tastes aren’t too refined, and they’re also easily swayed by peer pressure. If everyone else at your school likes something, there’s a good chance you’ll “like” it, too. There’s no such thing as a hip 8-year-old who eschews Pokemon to dig on Wes Anderson movies and Captain Beefheart.

I don’t think you should turn your back on everything you loved as a kid. (The enormous amount of posts about things from my childhood should indicate that.) But there’s a big difference between appreciating the touchstones of your childhood in a nostalgic way and insisting these things actually have quality, which most of them don’t.

Trust me, I have a little girl who’s into lots of things that are terrible. They look like complete garbage to me, but I’m sure that one day she’ll look back on them with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Twenty years from now, we can look forward to glowing essays on the metacritical themes of iCarly.

Here’s a prime example: He-Man. I watched this cartoon every day, without fail. I had many of the toys–not as many as I wanted, of course, since there was a new Masters of the Universe figure every three days or so. My poor mom still tells the story of traveling all the way Poughkeepsie and fight with other desperate parents, just so she could bring home a Castle Grayskull playset for Christmas one year.

And yet, I remember virtually nothing about the show. I remember some of the characters’ names, the theme song, and that’s basically it. I don’t think this is because I was so young, because I can remember other things from around the same time, and vividly. I have clear memories of both Transformers and Thundercats, which both had a distinct, sometimes dark style to them. (Ever read the Transformers comic book Marvel put out in the 1980s? It was dark as hell. So was the G.I. Joe title. They knew their main audience was kids and killed people left and right anyway.)

The reason He-Man was lost in the mists of my brain is because it wasn’t very memorable. The few times I’ve seen it as an adult have confirmed this. The animation is decent during action sequences, but the animators seemed to struggle with dialogue; any word that matched a character’s lips was purely coincidental. The voice acting was stilted, and the dialogue just as wooden. And there’s rarely any real sense of drama. Someone gets in trouble, Adam turns into He-Man, and he beats the crap out of everyone. The end, ho hum.

Not to mention that the show was a shameless vehicle for selling toys. Mattel would put out a new figure as often as humanly possible, and lo and behold, he’d show up in next week’s cartoon! When they ran out of ideas for new characters, they’d just fit the old ones with squirting backpacks or chests that got dented for some reason Even among its peers, who basically did the same thing (see: the aforementioned cartoons), He-Man stuck out as being quite obviously only one arm of a larger marketing strategy. It was like the KISS of superhero cartoons.

However, one He-Man episode has remained in my mind, because of its craven attempt to both capitalize on Yuletide joy and introduce a whole new line of toys. This was the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special. Yes, He-Man and She-Ra (who are apparently twin brother and sister) teamed up for this event, which was about as successful a crossover as The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones.

As the action opens, He-Man and She-Ra are together for the first time to celebrate their birthdays together (no explanation of why She-Ra has returned, or why they haven’t had a birthday together every, of course). We’re treated to a scene of all the He-Man characters and all the She-Ra characters decorating and tidying up the royal palace for the party. Yes, that’s why we got all these heroes together in one place, so they could clean up! If you tuned in late and missed this scene, don’t worry, you’ll see it at least three more times.

The action (such as it is) begins when Orko accidentally sets off a rocketship and, after a run-in with Skeletor, winds up crash landing on Earth. There he meets a couple of kids, Miguel and Alecia, and does something useful for once by saving them from an avalanche. The kids take shelter in Orko’s stolen spaceship.

When the kids mention Christmas, Orko has no idea what that is, so they fill him on the whole “away in a manger” story. The cartoon cuts away before the kids can tell the whole Biblical tale, but I still find it weird that, in a special that is otherwise completely middle of the road, they would touch anything religious with a 10-foot pole.

To get Orko back from Earth, She-Ra has to rescue some sort of gem from a lake, which is guarded by robots who look suspiciously like Transformers. They capture She-Ra in a bubble, then inexplicably leave to “prepare for battle.” Given this reprieve, She-Ra returns the crystal, and the spaceship is transported back to Eternia.

Unfortunately, it brings the kids with it, and now they’re going to miss Christmas! Don’t worry, kids. A couple of magical fairies and some beefy dude with a heart on his chest will cheer you up. Until a boner-shaped ship comes to take you away, that is.

Why are the kids wanted? Because Horde Prime fears their presence has brought “a great spirit of goodness to Eternia!” So he charges Skeletor and Hordak (She-Ra’s mortal enemy) with reining these kids in. Would you like an explanation about who Horde Prime is and what power he holds over these super villains? Too bad!

Much wackiness and one-upmanship ensues. Hordak loses the kids when they’re claimed by the aforementioned Transformer-rip-off-bots, who want the children for reasons neither they nor anyone else bothers to articulate. They languish in prison until rescued by this special’s Ewok equivalents, cutesy little robots called Manchines. Then He-Man and Sh-Ra beat up the Fake Transformers and everything’s cool, right?

Nope! Skeletor swoops in to take the kids, but his Air Rascal is shot down by a jealous Hordak. They land on a snowy mountain, where the evil villain suddenly feels himself overcome by an odd sense of charity that makes him feel ill. He gives he freezing kids jackets and even takes care of the sickeningly cute Manchine puppy that stowed away with them. And when Horde Prime attempts to kidnap the kids, Skeletor even blasts his ship and saves the day.

Naturally, this Grinch-like turnaround ends with a fade-out on everyone laughing. This was actually the law back then; every pivotal cartoon scene had to end with all the characters chuckling at something, even if it wasn’t remotely funny.

The special ends with He-Man playing Santa and giving the kids flying belts. That seems a tad irresponsible; I can only imagine what kind of trouble a kid could get into while levitating. Why, just watch the mischief they play on their parents! (Who seem weirdly unphased that their kids were missing FOR DAYS.)

Why is this a Holiday Horror? If you did not grow up in the 1980s, there is absolutely no reason for you to watch this thing. I can’t imagine what would compel you to do so, and even if you did, you’d surely turn it off five minutes in.

Even if you did grow up in the 1980s, I’m sure your opinion of this special will range somewhere between excruciating and unwatchable. All the dialogue sounds like it was slowed down or delivered by voice actors on Xanax. The non-action animation is robotic. Even the simplest plot points go unexplained. And the Manchines are annoying as hell, apart from being another blatant attempt to create a new set of figures for kids to scream at their parents to get (which, near as I can tell, did not succeed).

I often get annoyed when The Baby makes me watch something like Caillou or The Fresh Beat Band. And then I remember I watched garbage like He-Man all the time as a kid, and consider this my karmic payback.