“The Toys That Made Us” – He-Man
A review by Brian C. Baer
December 22nd saw the release of the first half season of “The Toys That Made Us”, a lively Netflix-original documentary series. Included in this first batch was the highly anticipated episode centered on the Masters of the Universe toy line. While the series as a whole is both fun and enlightening, the spotlight on He-Man proves especially entertaining for both hardcore fans and the casually curious alike.
The episode covers the state of the toy industry in 1981, the figures’ contentious creation, the rise and fall of the franchise, and the current status of global He-Man fandom. To do so, the TTTMU crew assembled a terrific roster of speakers on the subject. The larger than life personalities of Roger Sweet, Mark Taylor, and Paul Cleveland shine through, as do the insights of writers James Eatock and Mark Bellomo, and pop culture historian Joshua Van Pelt from The Power and The Honor Foundation. Folks from Super 7 and the Four Horsemen make appearances towards the end. The producers even managed to bring in Dolph Lundgren to refute Roger Sweet’s claim that his muscles in the 1987 Masters of the Universe film were “painted on.”
The style of “The Toys That Made Us” is the real star. The episode is energetic and flashy, moving along a good pace and keeping a special focus on humor and accessibility. This is not a series made merely for fan service. It’s a re-introduction to the brand, pointing out what makes the characters memorable as much as chronicling how they were made. As such, the episode may not have new information for many dedicated fans.
In addition, the brisk pace of the 46-minute runtime means that certain elements or eras are not delved into as much. He-Man’s sister “She-Ra” is briefly discussed in the episode, and hopefully we will see a full episode dedicated to the “Princess of Power” toyline in the near future. The 1987 MOTU film is dismissed within thirty seconds, and the “New Adventures of He-Man” relaunch from 1990 doesn’t get much more screentime than that. Even the ongoing debate over who created He-Man is hand-waved before it can get too involved.
It is also important to note that the episode is not as family-friendly as one might assume. There has been no attempt to censor the more colorful expressions from interviewees. The result is equal parts humorous and disconcerting.
Still, the MOTU-centered episode of “The Toys That Made Us” is well worth a watch. It’s a fun, well-made celebration of the characters, and the impact they had on a generation of toy buyers and cartoon watchers. It’s also the perfect piece of media to recommend to a friend or loved one who vaguely remembers He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and is curious why you love it so much.
The Toys That Made Us is streaming now on Netflix.