News

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

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