Rebooting He-Man and the Masters of the Universe with showrunner Rob David
Coming to Netflix this week!
Since its creation in 1982, the Masters of the Universe franchise has transcended generations and ignited passion amongst fans around the world. Now, nearly 40 years later, Mattel’s relaunch of Masters of the Universe brings back the thrilling, heroic adventures of the Guardians of Grayskull with new content, toys, and consumer products to delight long-standing fans and introduce an entirely new generation to Eternia.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, produced by Mattel Television and premiering globally on September 16 on Netflix, brings a fresh stylized take on the world of Eternia, designed to reflect the sensibilities and aspirations of today’s kids, while celebrating the evergreen core truth of Masters of the Universe: we all have the power to become the best version of ourselves.
Flickering Myth’s Tai Freligh caught up with Rob David, Showrunner and Executive Producer of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Vice President of Content Creative for Mattel Television to talk about the original series, the new show and how you retool something that’s nearly forty years old for the sensibilities of a new generation.
What was it about the original series that drew you to it?
For me, it was actually the toy packaging art that first hooked me into Masters of the Universe! Such amazing oil on canvas masterpieces from artists Rudy Obrero and William George; the box art was a window into a fantasy realm of magic and technology, populated by warriors and wizards, robots, tiger steeds, skull-faced castles and the demons who covet them. Then, the mini-comics that came packaged with the toys, introduced an epic story, a clash between good and evil over the power that created the Universe.
When the Filmation cartoon came out, it was just like throwing a match on gasoline; my love for Masters of the Universe just exploded. More than anything else in the original cartoon, though, it was the character of Prince Adam that anchored it all for me. He made me feel like I could do anything. Inside Adam was something truly strong and special, and when he unlocked it – and for me the Sword of Power has always been a metaphorical key – he could gain the power to transform himself, and his universe, for good – as He-Man.
What appealed to you about doing a reboot of He-Man now, almost forty years later?
Watching the original cartoon, and playing with my toys, terraformed my imagination; it’s how I first learned to tell stories. It’s what sparked me to become a writer and producer. So, when Mattel recruited me to dream up new adventures for He-Man, and then create and showrun a new Masters of the Universe TV series for this next generation, it became my total passion. This was an opportunity to pass the sword to today’s kids and create an all-new Prince Adam for them to call their own. A kid they can meet the first time he holds aloft his magic sword and says, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the Power.” I wanted to make them feel just like I did – that they can do anything. But it had to be a show that reflects their needs, the world they live in now. It’s 2021, not 1983. It had to feel alive, fresh and full of surprises. It had to be theirs.
How do you take a show that was incredibly popular in the mid-eighties with folks like myself (Gen-X) and reimagine it for today’s kids (Gen-Z)?
The first thing you do is distill all the things that made the original great: all the core concepts, the controlling ideas, the tropes, the archetypes – this becomes the essential DNA, the beating heart, you must retain – and then re-organize it, and re-express it in ways that resonate in today’s world, with who kids are now, and who they hope to be.
You take the character of Prince Adam and He-Man, and you understand that kids want to see themselves in their heroes, now more than ever. They’re no longer looking for perfect heroes who have all the answers right from the beginning. They want the challenge. The journey. The idea that their heroes start off just like them, with great potential, but out of their depths. And through trials, and a journey of self-discovery, they become the best version of themselves.
So I wanted to start off Adam not in the palace — with all the comforts and protections of being a prince — but in a jungle, growing up in a tiger tribe under the care of his adoptive father figure, Cringer, not knowing that he’s actually the Prince of Eternos, destined to wield the Sword of Power. And when Adam gets the sword, and transforms into He-Man, he’s still Adam inside. Bulging muscles aren’t going to change that. He doesn’t have all, if any, of the answers. At first. But he has grit. And the series now becomes about him learning to master his power and grow into being the champion that Eternia desperately needs. But even He-Man can’t do it alone.
More than ever, kids today value their families and friends. It’s not just about self-empowerment, for them. They know that inside everyone is something unique and powerful; something transformative that can change the world. It’s not just “I have the power,” it’s also, “We have the power.” It’s often – and usually only – when we all come together that we can truly change the world. So this became not just Adam’s story. But a story about Adam and his found family.
It’s about four young teens and one talking tiger trying to figure out who they are, inside and out – together. Adam is a 16-year-old kid with a lot of heart but zero experience as a leader; his best friend Krass is a hot-headed smart aleck masking her search for belonging; young Duncan is a brilliant inventor struggling to come into his own; Cringer is a clawless tiger yearning to prove his mettle; and Teela is a fledgling mystic who grew up hearing a strange voice in her head – a voice of an elder Sorceress beckoning her toward her destiny. And when Adam does the extraordinary and shares the Power of Grayskull among them, they unlock their greatest gifts to become the Masters of the Universe: He-Man, Ram Ma’am, Man-at-Arms, Battle Cat and the Sorceress. As they each begin to know themselves, together they’re becoming not just a team of heroes, but a family. Now all they have to do is take down Skeletor and his evil forces before he turns their planet into a grave new world.
Talk about the animation style used for this new show…it feels very modern and almost like something from a video game like FORTNITE. Was that on purpose?
I’m continually dazzled by the animation on this show; our animation studios are House of Cool and CGCG – the same studios behind Troll Hunters. CGCG also produces the animation for Clone Wars and The Bad Batch. Totally cutting-edge work. With this show’s CG animation, we can make Eternia more epic, vibrant and textured than ever before. We can also weave our camera in and around 3D sets, which opens up our storytelling in explosive ways and creates insane, over-the-top action sequences that feel as thunderous as you’ve always hoped you’d see in Masters of the Universe.
The mash-up of magic and technology, fantasy and science-fiction, is core to Masters of the Universe. I wanted this new show to retain that DNA in revolutionary ways. There’s so much hardcore fantasy elements in this series — vistas, characters and scenarios that would make Robert E. Howard blush – but the tech side has been enhanced, too, to feel future forward and arresting. The type of powers the Sorceress and Man-at-Arms display, and even combine…. the horrifying depths of Snake Mountain, and the luminous chambers of Castle Grayskull… I cannot wait for people to see this new take on Eternia.
Are you banking on some folks of an older generation to watch out of nostalgia for the original?
Not banking on it. Excited by it! It’s not just nostalgia. This show is for today’s kids – and for all kids at heart. We’ve baked in so much of the original lore and DNA into this show, us old fans will recognize it immediately, but at the same time it will feel new, unpredictable; it will hopefully make the older generation feel like a kid again, watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for the first time, but this time with our kids leading the discovery.
Tell me a bit about the new show and what themes will be explored?
Teamwork, self-discovery, perseverance, mastery. These themes apply not just to our heroes, but to our villains!
The show has a deep, new mythology built around the concept of the Nemesis. He-Man and his friends wield the Power of Grayskull, and Skeletor and his forces wield Havoc, a destructive power that is Grayskull’s shadow. Each master has their own nemesis, a Dark Master, to overcome on their journey. The layers of this mythology, and how this nemesis battle plays out, is the spine of the series. Plus, Skeletor also happens to be Adam’s uncle, so the battle gets personal.
Did you feel any additional pressure being one of two Masters of the Universe animated shows in development at the same time?
Just joy, as a fan and as a storyteller. Masters of the Universe is a multiverse. The two shows, and two Eternias, co-exist in different dimensions. They complement each other. Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a continuation of the classic storyline, for 80s kids who are now adults; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is for an all-new audience, the next generation of kids. But they’re both MOTU at their core. Kids can watch Revelation with their parents, and parents can watch He-Man with their kids. They’re co-viewing entertainment by design. And who knows? Mattel Television may one day do a cross-over, where the two worlds, and two He-Mans, team up!
Given the original He-Man’s distinction as the first syndicated show to be based on a toy, it feels a little ironic to have a set of He-Man toys based on the new show. Thoughts on this reversal?
I think it was always more than just a toy, or even just a TV show. Masters of the Universe is like a myth, one we all grew up on, and now like any great myth, hopefully will live on forever.
In the past few years Mattel has dedicated itself to unlocking the full potential of its characters and stories. We love play and we know that nothing ignites a child’s imagination more than a universe of story to dive into.
On Eternia, the first planet of creation, a demonic tyrant rises: Skeletor! With dark armies at his command, Skeletor is on the march, hell-bent on capturing Eternia’s kingdoms, and its ultimate prize – Castle Grayskull, the ancient fortress of mystery said to contain the greatest power in the universe. It’s up to He-Man and his brave squad of rookie heroes to stop Skeletor and restore the peace. Both sides come armed with enchanted Power Weapons – transforming them into Masters of the Primal Powers of the Universe. It’s Master vs. Dark Master, He-Man vs. Skeletor – fighting for control of Eternia, Castle Grayskull, and the fate of us all. In the end, who will become MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE?
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe features a voice cast that includes Yuri Lowenthal (He-Man/Adam/Tuvar), David Kaye (Cringer/Battle Cat), Grey Griffin (Evelyn/Evil-Lyn), Antony Del Rio (Duncan/Man-at-Arms), Kimberly Brooks (Teela/Eldress/Sorceress), Trevor Devall (R’Qazz/Beast Man), Judy Alice Lee (Krass/Ram Ma’am), Roger Craig Smith (Kronis/Trap-Jaw/General Dolos), Fred Tatasciore (King Randor/Baddrah), Ben Diskin (Skeletor/Prince Keldor), Tom Kenny (Ork-0/RK Units), Max Mitchell (Kitty), Max Stubington (Young Adam).
We thank Rob David for taking the time to chat with us. He can be found on Twitter.
Netflix and Mattel Television’s upcoming animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is premiering globally on Netflix Thursday, September 16th, 2021.
Tai Freligh is a Los Angeles based writer and can be found on his website.
Photo Credits: Netflix