Kevin Smith Raises the Stakes in Masters of the Universe: Revelation

Making Skeletor scary and bringing a darker tone to the universe, which includes beloved '80s cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, made sense to both the Clerks creator and Netflix. Plus, Orko is now cool.

by | July 22, 2021 | Comments

Masters of the Universe, both as a toy line and 1980s cartoon, holds a peculiar place in the modern fandom economy. Those who remember it as more than just an obvious 30-minute toy commercial do so with a special fondness. Beyond key characters like He-Man and Skeletor, they hunt down mint condition examples of puntastic figures like Buzz-Off, Clawful, and Man-E-Faces, and support more modern toys from the likes of Mattel and Super7.

But unlike many of its contemporaries, MOTU remains somewhat niche without a major motion picture success  – despite one being in development for decades ­– or an animated update capturing the imaginations of the next generation of fans.

Kevin Smith

(Photo by Netflix)

Netflix’s new Masters of the Universe: Revelation may finally kick-start the second major wave of MOTU fandom. But as executive producer Kevin Smith recently told Rotten Tomatoes, its first job is to key into the minds of those who were there in 1983 and held aloft their love for the concept ever since.

“Mattel television and Netflix said to me, ‘We want to make a series for the people who love the old series,’” he explained. An upcoming series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, will start over from scratch, leaving Revelation more of a free hand to “do something that completely honors the franchise, honors the toys, [and] sequelize, spiritually, the show.”

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

(Photo by Netflix)

And boy does it. Taking its cues from Filmation’s 1980s series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – although, because of a complicated series of acquisitions and rights issues, don’t expect to hear the cartoon’s iconic title theme – Revelation moves the story past the stalemate of the original cartoon with Skeletor (voiced by Mark Hamill) finally getting the upper-hand on He-Man (Chris Wood). In the process, he alters the balance of power on their planet, Eternia and the original series’s status quo – and that’s just the first 10 minutes!

Skeletor’s actions reframe his bumbling in the ’80s cartoon as a sort of long-con against the defenders of Castle Grayskull. To Smith, making Skeletor more of a figure of menace was key to story.

“Number one: Skeletor is visually one of the best villains of the 20th century, right up there with Darth Vader and stuff. Everybody knows the guy. Even if you don’t know f—ing Masters of the Universe, you know Skeletor and what he looks like,” he said.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

(Photo by Netflix)

But that imagery, inspired by toy designer Mark Taylor’s childhood memory of seeing an actual mummified corpse at an amusement park, was always at odds with his persona on the cartoon, which turned him into a high-pitched buffoon to appease stringent regulations for children’s programming at the time. And though subsequent MOTU projects, like the low-budget Cannon feature film and the short-lived 2002 animated program, made Skeletor a darker presence, his presentation from the ’80s remained definitive. Smith made presenting him as a figure of menace a key part of his pitch to Mattel and Netflix.

Luckily, Netflix Director of Original Series Ted Biaselli agreed with Smith’s idea.

“He always wanted to see this version of Masters of the Universe,” Smith said.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

(Photo by Netflix)

In their initial meetings, the executive talked about the sensation of jeopardy the old cartoon conveyed to younger viewers despite being outwardly silly. To his mind at the time, it was possible for Skeletor to win. Only with as he grew older did he come to understand why that would never be the case on the Filmation show. Nevertheless, the experience of that potential jeopardy stayed in his mind.

“The dude kind of charged us with recreating a memory, if you will, of [that] feeling,” Smith said. And as viewers will see, jeopardy is definitely part of Masters of the Universe: Revelation. There are big shake-ups and, indeed, revelations that will surprise fans of the old show: from the selection of featured characters to the way it incorporates ideas from other MOTU projects.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

(Photo by Netflix)

Another of the program’s interesting twists is its focus on Teela (Sarah Michelle Gelllar), a member of He-Man’s inner circle despite being denied key secrets about the world around her. When she learns about one of them at the beginning of Revelation, it sets her on a new path. According to Smith, giving her a bigger role in the series was part of a desire on both Biaselli’s and Mattel’s part to give the other characters more of their own individual stories. Or, as Smith phrased their request: “Look, we love that He-Man sells, but we got a bunch of f—ing toys. So use all the characters.” As it happens, a lot of Teela’s story was already suggested by ideas in the toys and the 1980s series. But the format of both meant she could never find resolution – something which is possible in Revelation.

“We started diving into the Teela of it all, man, and then realizing like, ‘oh, s—, this is a story of betrayal,’” Smith said.

Fans of the Filmation cartoon may remember two secrets withheld from her by He-Man, Man-at-Arms, and the Sorceress. One is definitely more important to the events of Revelation’s first batch of episodes while the other is … not forgotten.

“That created rich situations for drama,” Smith said. “To me, [He-Man and Masters of the Universe] has always been family melodrama. You go back and look at all the shows, and it’s all about like, ‘We got a problem. We’re going to get through it together’ and stuff like that. All the characters like and respect one another on each side and whatnot.”

The old show was also famous for recapping its moral quandaries at the end of each episode. “So for us, the same thing is going in here,” Smith continued. “The idea is like all the relationships are the absolute same [from the old show]. They just have to deal with death and consequences for the first time.”

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

(Photo by Netflix)

That sense of consequences extends out to other relationships like Evil-Lyn’s (Lena Heady) and Beast Man’s (Kevin Michael Richardson) devotion to Skeletor. It also changes the way Teela regards her adoptive father Duncan — aka Man-at-Arms — especially after the events of the first episode, which really alter the Eternian battlefield after nearly 40 years.

The overall effect is not a bleaker Master of the Universe, but a more serious version in which even joke characters like Orko (Griffin Newman) can carry dramatic content. As it turns out, giving the character a chance to shine was something Smith and the other writers seriously debated.

“Some people swear by him, and other people [were like,] ‘He ruined the show for me. I hate the stupid magic jokes and [things] like that,’” Smith said of the writing room conversations.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

(Photo by Netflix)

The floating and legless magician of questionable skill was a favorite of Filmation co-founder Lou Scheimer, who also voiced the character in the ’80s. He was popular enough to get a toy of his own in the classic MOTU line, but his presence made the old series feel more, well, childish. Watching episodes of the show now — or clips from He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special — will definitely illustrate why he can be a divisive character for anyone over the age of 9.

But that debate led to a mission statement: “How do we make Orko tattoo-worthy?”

“We knew that Orko was a kid’s way into the show, right? Every kid who watched the show, they’re going to dream about being He-Man. They can aspire to that, but who do they identify with? The dude who is always shoved to the side and not as good as the adults and can’t be counted on to do the right thing. And he’s little as well, so that’s their way in,” Smith explained. “In this iteration, it’s telling the kids like, ‘From little acorns, great oaks grow.’ The smallest can, at the end of the day, become the biggest under the right circumstances. So we thought so much about Orko. We wanted to make him bulletproof, so much so, that if anyone was like, ‘Orko sucks,’ it’s like, all right, we failed.”

Smith also credited Newman, who actively lobbied for the role on Twitter, for bringing an extra level of pathos to the part: “That f—ing speech … I’d give Griffin Newman a f—ing Emmy right now for his performance, where he’s just like, ‘Take me on an adventure. I promise I won’t mess up like the old days.’”

Masters of the Universe: Revelation poster

(Photo by Netflix)

Click image to open poster full-sized in a new tab.

Smith also noted that unlike Scheimer, whose voice was processed to give it a wobbly, otherworldly quality, Newman was able to deliver a similar sound without any electronic additions to his performance.

Smith is also convinced Orko’s role in the story will inspire a new generation of fans – particularly if their parents were also fans back in the ’80s.

“We also know that if you’re [like] me, you’re going to bring your kids to watch this, because it means something to you. You’re going to bring your wife to watch this or your husband, because it means something to you, because you grew up with it. And this is how we share ourselves with other people,” he said. “People with kids are going to meet this guy. And Orko is going to come up, and kids are going to fall in love with f—ing Orko.”

Masters of the Universe: Revelation launches on Friday, July 23 on Netflix.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

comics Best Actor summer TV preview DGA Brie Larson Broadway true crime Adult Swim royal family Awards Tour Nominations unscripted rom-coms comic new zealand Elton John foreign docuseries Tumblr political drama live event WarnerMedia based on movie concert MCU TLC rt labs critics edition FX on Hulu wonder woman Holiday dogs Fargo supernatural PlayStation jurassic park Food Network Biopics streamig films Apple marvel cinematic universe technology sag awards adventure Apple TV Plus Super Bowl Quiz Logo Action women BBC One Black History Month Song of Ice and Fire Discovery Channel cats Ghostbusters Ovation Year in Review Holidays franchise Mary poppins casting elevated horror posters breaking bad YouTube Red australia Lifetime french Endgame Emmy Nominations superman Spring TV Bravo Animation See It Skip It suspense 73rd Emmy Awards Reality Competition japanese Disney Photos chucky blockbusters ITV Fantasy mob Image Comics cults asian-american Star Wars mutant 20th Century Fox comic book movie CMT leaderboard New York Comic Con Sci-Fi stoner cooking Sony Pictures slasher romantic comedy cancelled TV series Pixar Marathons romance sports scene in color series TCM IFC laika comiccon book Esquire teaser disaster anthology GLAAD Classic Film SXSW Women's History Month trophy japan Star Wars Celebration mcc high school Instagram Live Grammys National Geographic Paramount Pictures pirates of the caribbean Starz Black Mirror quibi zombies toy story BET Awards Tokyo Olympics stop motion 90s game show Toys TV One FOX Paramount Film TV movies BBC America cancelled television Comedy Film Festival animated boxoffice TruTV Hear Us Out Extras green book Marvel Studios composers A&E genre Acorn TV dceu Best Actress Election Fox News Drama harry potter spanish 007 Horror Podcast reviews Musicals AMC Plus scorecard rotten movies Awards Pet Sematary cars ratings Cartoon Network Geeked Week YouTube ESPN crime drama Disney+ Disney Plus emmy awards justice league dexter miniseries 2019 Oscar new york Video Games CW Seed ABC Oscars hollywood docudrama dramedy DC Universe HFPA Sundance TV OWN TV renewals Crackle Star Trek Pop ghosts transformers NBC TCA Awards best The Walking Dead festival Rocky Sneak Peek Vudu The CW crossover prank 71st Emmy Awards Musical USA Network robots travel VOD screen actors guild summer TV 72 Emmy Awards Teen SXSW 2022 SundanceTV Television Critics Association Spectrum Originals singing competition fresh Peacock cancelled medical drama Mudbound TV Land Red Carpet doctor who Pirates deadpool Thanksgiving cinemax Reality aapi Infographic archives Funimation cartoon 24 frames james bond Countdown hispanic heritage month streaming Walt Disney Pictures IFC Films sequel Baby Yoda YouTube Premium Music Nat Geo black game of thrones 2016 Writers Guild of America vampires Hallmark The Walt Disney Company satire nfl Captain marvel festivals Superheroes facebook jamie lee curtis VICE debate NBA Crunchyroll Lionsgate Winter TV critics American Society of Cinematographers TIFF Television Academy Summer BBC 2020 adaptation psychological thriller interviews SDCC LGBT Lifetime Christmas movies historical drama die hard Wes Anderson Superheroe Fox Searchlight telelvision worst movies Best Picture Comedy Central hispanic rotten movies we love Comics on TV ABC Family comedies target Alien action-comedy Britbox DirecTV Native screenings Comic Book Freeform Anna Paquin Columbia Pictures Martial Arts CBS All Access scary movies Universal Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Polls and Games superhero italian TCA blaxploitation trailers dc target scene in color comic book movies E3 Nickelodeon Tags: Comedy HBO Go criterion serial killer finale President critic resources Certified Fresh Sundance Now Hallmark Christmas movies Mystery BET Sony broadcast Dark Horse Comics directors IMDb TV marvel comics zero dark thirty natural history boxing Kids & Family Tarantino new star wars movies spider-man universal monsters thriller blockbuster talk show dark 2017 biopic 79th Golden Globes Awards NYCC police drama Turner Classic Movies Mary Poppins Returns Shudder MSNBC know your critic TBS spinoff Shondaland VH1 X-Men Comic-Con@Home 2021 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Sundance mockumentary 1990s discovery obituary aliens Rom-Com video on demand cancelled TV shows spanish language Spike king arthur cops Emmys RT21 2015 crime lord of the rings Universal Pictures LGBTQ nature documentaries live action Christmas theme song Lucasfilm kids football heist movie comic books social media scene in color film series witnail The Purge Hollywood Foreign Press Association Premiere Dates Set visit Disney Channel godzilla monster movies Travel Channel scene in color movie Western Amazon spider-verse biography Chernobyl sopranos golden globe awards summer preview Hulu 4/20 twilight strong female leads a nightmare on elm street Chilling Adventures of Sabrina indie RT History batman adenture AMC Trophy Talk popular The Arrangement Amazon Prime MTV streaming movies war feel good dragons mission: impossible Turner Trivia Tubi parents Cosplay Epix Heroines sitcom ID Netflix independent children's TV Rocketman what to watch politics Mindy Kaling PaleyFest Disney Plus USA Indigenous E! black comedy DC streaming service fast and furious Masterpiece Schedule halloween History reboot Avengers spain Stephen King TNT nbcuniversal First Look ViacomCBS 94th Oscars christmas movies WGN CBS Amazon Studios binge DC Comics worst Character Guide international YA Prime Video kaiju CNN OneApp basketball Syfy series HBO Max APB Marvel Television El Rey Focus Features obi wan HBO Legendary venice halloween tv gangster Tomatazos canceled Netflix Christmas movies Disney streaming service documentary Best and Worst Apple TV+ Valentine's Day TV Exclusive Video Opinion South by Southwest Film Festival latino 21st Century Fox Winners Arrowverse sequels canceled TV shows video Family scary Paramount Plus rt archives Warner Bros. spy thriller child's play art house revenge vs. news psycho Binge Guide versus 45 saw The Witch crime thriller indiana jones Neflix name the review Trailer Pride Month hist space renewed TV shows king kong Country olympics First Reviews BAFTA rt labs Cannes 93rd Oscars Marvel joker tv talk Box Office werewolf 2021 award winner MGM TCA 2017 Creative Arts Emmys A24 GIFs dreamworks FX legend PBS slashers golden globes Ellie Kemper Paramount Network diversity remakes hidden camera classics Pacific Islander Amazon Prime Video razzies period drama Calendar Mary Tyler Moore south america Watching Series 2018 Fall TV Showtime Best Director The Academy ABC Signature TCA Winter 2020 San Diego Comic-Con Rock all-time toronto kong free movies richard e. Grant GoT young adult FXX book adaptation Pop TV television stand-up comedy zombie anime 99% science fiction Academy Awards Interview