Beware labelled villains

Artless animated ad for TV cartoons

Published: Apr 23 2015, 01:01:am

Monday, September 9, 1985.
THE SECRET OF THE SWORD. Written by Larry DiTillio and Bob Forward. Based on the Masters of the Universe action figures He-Man and She-Ra. Music by Shuki Levy, Haim Saban and Erika Lane (Lou Scheimer). Directed by Ed Friedman, Lou Kachivas, Marsh Lamore, Bill Reed, Gwen Wetzler. Running time: 91 minutes. General entertainment.
CALL IT A SIXTH SENSE. Professional filmgoers develop certain instincts and, over the years, I've learned to be wary of cartoon features in which:
    — the names of the featured characters are trademarked.
    — supporting characters have labels rather than names.
    — merchandising tie-ins were marketed before the movie was even thought of.
    — the idea was first developed as Saturday morning cartoon concept.
    The Secret of the Sword is such a picture. An animated advertisement for the Mattel toy corporation's Masters of the Universe™ line of plastic action figures, it purports to offer audiences the story of He-Man™ (voice of John Erwin) and She-Ra™ (Melendy Britt).         
     Though they are siblings, he grew up as Prince Adam of Eternia. She was stolen away as a baby, and raised as Adora, a force captain in the service of Hordak (George DiCenzio), the beastly ruler of Etheria.
    They have matched swords that enable them to transform themselves into their superheroic alter-egos.
    The bad guys are all ugly, unpleasant and have names such as Shadow Weaver (Linda Gary) and Skeletor (Alan Oppenheimer). Among the good guys are Nordic-looking self-righteous hunks with names like Glimmer (Linda Gary, again), Angella (Erika Scheimer) and Bow (George DiCenzio, again).
    The picture comes from Filmation, a production facility in the utterly artless tradition of Hanna-Barbera. Together with H-B, it is responsible for most of the cartoon pollution that passes for animation on Saturday morning television in the U.S.
    For a while, it manufactured a He-ManMasters of the Universe™ series for that market. The current theatrical feature, an example of limited animation of the least imaginative kind, looks like a lot of those TV episodes pasted together.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1985. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: As it turned out, The Secret of the Sword was a feature-film pilot for the 1985 television series She-Ra: Princess of Power. A spin-off from the He-Man Masters of the Universe show, it made its debut on the morning of September 10 in the half hour that immediately followed He-Man. It ran for three seasons (1985-87), or 93 episodes.
    Alan Oppenheimer, who celebrates his 85th birthday today, has the sort of face that few people remember. A supporting player since 1964, he's worked regularly on television and in the movies — in 1971, he played General Hackett in the first made-in-Vancouver sci-fi feature, The Groundstar Conspiracy
— but was seldom part of the principal cast, and never received top billing. Around 1973, Oppenheimer found his voice. Or, more accurately, he found a second source of income from voice acting, speaking the dialogue written for the characters created by Hanna-Barbera Productions for three of its Saturday morning television cartoon series, Speed Buggy, Inch High Private Eye and Goober and the Ghost Chasers. In his new, parallel career, he became an animation star, with top-billed roles such as Mighty Mouse, Ming the Merciless (on The New Adventures of Flash Gordon), the  Wizard of Oz and, of course, Skeletor in the various He-Man and She-Ra shows. (Of local interest is his 1984 performance as the flying dragon Falkor, in the filmed-in-Vancouver fantasy feature The Neverending Story.) Unlike the viewers of his live-action performances, the animation audience was made up of fans, a community that embraces its stars. Oppenheimer is famous as a result. He is an honoured guest at fan conventions, where he is renowned for his vocal virtuosity.