He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985)


I was 26 when He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premiered, meaning I was way out of its target demographic. In fact, the only reason I knew it existed was due to the insert in DC comic books at the time announcing the fact. It didn’t even appeal to the stoner in me; the stories were too simplistic and preachy, the animation style too limited (and oddly peppered with rotoscoping). No, that part of my heart went out to Robotech (even a bowdlerized Macross was pretty damned good) and later Thundercats. But the kids loved He-Man, and that’s cool. Not every piece of entertainment needs my seal of approval to exist.

Somebody noticed that girls liked He-Man, too and thus was He-man’s long-lost twin sister Princess Adora, aka She-Ra, introduced, and the mythology expanded. It turned out Skeletor wasn’t the ultimate evil, it was a literal shadowy figure called Horde Prime, and Skeletor was only one of his/its minions. The other was Hordak, who had taken over Adora’s planet with an army of robots and some toyetic henchmen equally as incompetent as Skeletor’s. The tone of She-Ra‘s adventures seem different as well: her fellows in the resistance are more focussed on helping and supporting each other than punching the enemy, though She-Ra is not adverse to letting loose with an occasional rotoscoped roundhouse kick.

I’m going to have to leave it to someone who is actually female to judge if this was empowering or not. I do find the inclusion nice, though.

“Hey, a floating space wizard! No problem!”

But we’re here to talk about the Christmas Special, aren’t we? Eternia is prepping for a birthday party for our title characters, and I am surprised to find out that Queen Marlena is from Earth, as she reminisces about preparing for Christmas about this time (like I said, I didn’t follow the show. Probably this was common knowledge among fans). Meantime, Man-at-Arms is preparing a new toyetic jet called the Spy Eye, and floating imp Orko (traditionally referred to as Dorko) breaks into it and while futzing around, accidentally breaks the controls and takes off. After He-Man and She-Ra foil Skeletor’s attempt to steal what they think is an unmanned craft, the Spy Eye breaks some barriers and crash lands on Earth. Dorko… um, Orko… actually gets his magic to work to rescue two lost children from an avalanche. The kids are Miguel and Alisha, and they take shelter in the Spy Eye. They pass the time by telling Orko the Christmas story, though Orko’s more interested in Santa Claus and the gifts than some kid in a manger. They also teach him “Jingle Bells”.

“We would TOO have fetched more than 99 cents at Kay-Bee!”

Meantime our pals on Eternia have figured out that Dorko was on the Spy Eye and are trying to get him back, but She-Ra has to perform an impromptu quest to obtain a Water Crystal to power the Transport Beam (why nobody asks Man-at-Arms how he invented such a powerful device that could only powered by something rarer than unobtainium is open to debate). This she does, but only after encountering the Monstroids, giant robots who are obviously failed toy designs, and are quite bitter about it.

The Transport Beam does bring the Spy Eye and Orko back, but also Alisha and Miguel. So it has to be figured out how to get them home in time for Christmas. Luckily, the Water Crystal only has to recharge, no additional bullshit quests are required. However Horde Prime has sensed a tremor in the Force a new force for good in the universe, and sends Hordak and Skeletor to capture it and bring it to him/it. (It’s the kids and their spirit of Christmas, you see).

“At last I have the means to finally conquer – WHAT THE HELL?!?!”

And there, finally, is our plot major. Bow (the She-Ra male counterpart to Teela) writes a new Christmas song with Alisha and Miguel (gaaaaaah) just in time for them to be kidnapped by Hordak, then captured by the Monstroids, so they get involved with the war between them and the equally failed toy concept race, the Manchines. Then they get scooped up by Skeletor, who gets shot out of the sky by Hordak, and now Skeletor is trooping two kids (and a toyetic robot dog) through a snowy landscape. First he creates arctic wear so the kids won’t freeze, and that is the chink in his armor that lets the children’s innate goodness and love of Christmas leak through.

Skeletor: Tell me more about this “Christmas.”

Miguel: Well, it’s a wonderful time of the year. Everyone has lots of fun.

Skeletor: You mean they get in fights?

Miguel: No, no – they have fun!

Skeletor: Fights are fun. I like fights!

Miguel: And you give each other presents.

Skeletor: And when you open them, they explode, right?

Miguel: No! They’re nice gifts.

Skeletor: Nice? Doesn’t sound like much fun to me!

“Now, He-Man, I am going to destr – WHAT THE HELL?!?!”

All leading up to the final battle, where Skeletor gets knocked out, Horde Prime’s ship grabs the kids in a tractor beam, and Skeletor is awakened by the robot dog licking his bony face until he wakes up and shoots down his boss’ ship to save the children, the most bizarre character turnaround since Jaws turned good in Moonraker. The act makes him feel nauseous, But She-Ra and He-Man assure him that Christmas comes only once a year. “Oh, thank goodness!” Skeletor cries. General laughter.

Oh yeah, the kids get back home. The end.

It’s a generally easy way to beat 50 minutes to death. The most interesting thing for me, only sort of conversant with the world, was wondering who the fuck that was and entertaining myself with imagined names. Skeletor had a double-headed henchman that I was sure was called Twoheador but I later found was the more clever Two Bad; Hordak had a similarly lumpy guy with the more prosaic name Multibot, not Doublebodyor.

I was right about Spikor, though.

“And a Merry Christmas to al – WHAT THE HELL?!?!”

The character that actually triggered my research is only in two scenes at the beginning and end, a guy with an elephant’s head and a telescoping trunk . That was Snout Spout. To think I could have died without knowing that!

People endlessly bitch about Filmation’s limited animation, but the truth is they kept a lot of American animators alive when most of the production companies were going to cheaper Asian houses. I see founder and Executive Produce Lou Scheimer credited with branching out the He-Man universe to girls, and later insisting that the main character of the science-fiction series Bravestarr be a Native American. Those are pretty ballsy moves for a kiddie industry, and deserving of some respect. Even if those closing bumpers were always cloying and highly mockable:

Prince Adam: Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but the spirit of the Christmas season is within us all. It’s a season of love and joy and caring.

Orko: And presents!

Prince Adam: Presents are nice, Orko, but Christmas means much more than that.

Orko: I know, Adam. Christmas is a time of peace and caring and happiness.

Prince Adam: That’s right, Orko. And what would make you happiest this Christmas?

Orko: Presents!

Prince Adam: Oh, Orko!