Cartoon Producer Lou Scheimer passed away recently. If you don’t remember Lou, he was one of the key players behind the creation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. (You should read his Wikipedia page. There’s a neat little story there about how his dad may have punched out Hitler.)
I was just a little too young to remember much of the original He-Man, but I remember watching a few episodes of the spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power. I caught up on She-Ra in my adult years, which was probably even better than watching the show as a kid. There are things about She-Ra that adult me finds awesome but young me would have taken these details for granted.
I’ve put together a list of my top 5 favorite things about She-Ra. Please note that this list is based on my memories of watching the 80’s cartoons, plus about 15 minutes on wikipedia. I don’t remember much of the movie and I haven’t read the comics or watched any of the 2002 series. Many of you readers probably have He-Man knowledge that would put mine to shame. Please be kind to a causal viewer.
1.) She-Ra’s Powers were Mostly the Same as He-Man’s Powers
Before She-Ra was created, Flimation already had a hit with He-Man. He was super strong, super tough and could kick everyone’s butt. When they decided to create a female version of this popular character, they decided that her powers should be… super strength, super toughness and the ability to kick everyone’s butt. In short, they didn’t try to give her the “female version” powers, like only making her super fast, or agile, or magical. She pretty much got the same powers as her male counterpart.
2.) …And They Played it Straight.
These days, female warriors in fiction tend to overplay their roles. Their stories are forever trying to evoke reactions like, “What’s this?! The beautiful lady is also strong and good at fighting?! How Unexpected!” The obvious problem with these stories is that they disempower average women by overreacting to how extraordinary it is when women are tough. In She-Ra’s world, neither the heroes nor the villains acted like a female warrior was an anomaly.
3.) She-Ra had Both Men and Women on her Team
A common complaint with princess stories is, while they are designed to appeal to little girls, the lead character is the only significant female character. Any other girls in the story are either third-tier characters or villains. The concern is that these tales might accidentally be teaching little girls that A.) If you’re not the lead girl, you’re not important or B.) girls don’t need to cooperate with other girls. She-Ra, meanwhile, had a nice mix of competent males and females on her team.
4.) Masculine Women and Effeminate Men
Every thing in He-Man’s world had a manly quality to it. Even the women. Don’t get me wrong, they were still female and had many feminine qualities. They just had a little machismo as well. Conversely, in She-Ra’s world most of the men had a feminine side. When I was a child, I remember thinking that She-Ra’s friend, Bow, was rather dashing. As an adult, I think he looks like a super hero-themed chippendale waiter, or a chippendale waiter-themed super hero (hang on, I just thought of the best idea for a new comic book). Looking back, I think the writers and artists did a fair job of designing female characters that a male audience can be comfortable with, and male characters that a female audience can be comfortable with. Plus, it sends a nice message to kids about not letting your gender limit your friendships.
5.) She-Ra was a Bit More Hardcore than He-Man
Despite what I said before, He-Man and She-Ra didn’t have exactly the same powers. He-Man was a little stronger and She-Ra’s sword could do that transforming thing. But She-Ra definitely had a tougher back story. For those of you who don’t remember, Adam (A.K.A. He-Man) was a prince on the planet Eternia. He-Man’s job was to keep the bad guys from conquering Castle Grayskull. When the writers decided to give him a sister, they had to come up with a reason why we had never seen her before, even though many of the adventures began with Adam and his parents living in the family castle. So it turns out that She-Ra was kidnapped by the evil Horde and raised to be one of their elite warriors. She-Ra was taken to the planet Etheria, a place which was just about completely enslaved by the bad guys. He-Man eventually finds his sister and tells her who she really is and they escape to their home planet. BUT THEN She-Ra decides to return to Etheria and leads a revolution against The Horde. Okay, clearly He-Man and She-Ra had to go where they were needed. But you can’t ignore the fact that one of them gets to stay at home with his parents in a castle, while the other has volunteered to live with outcasts and rebels in hostile territory.
It’s funny. I tend to think that cartoon writing have evolved in the last 30 years, especially when it comes to writing for women. But I wouldn’t mind seeing more contemporary cartoons take a few pages from She-Ra’s playbook. Who would have thought that a cartoon about a barbarian action figure could be so enlightened?