Matt Originally posted on 8.26.00.
When I heard about the events shown in this article on the radio, I knew I'd have to go. I wasn't really up for the trip, but I'm pretty sure there will never be another chance to get a group picture of He-Man, Skeletor, and Mario Fucking Lopez. Actually, though crowded, the event was real fun and left a great taste in every fan's mouth - whether they were 5 or 50. The Four Horseman, the people responsible for all the new figures and some of the stars of the event, were seriously nice guys and I've heard nothing but great things about them since then.
This past Friday at Toys R' Us in Times Square, one of the strangest, most sense-shattering events of all time took place. Oh, what an event. This was the stuff legends and dreams are made of - the type of engagement that'd have you thanking earthworms and bluebirds because they're the first things you saw and you needed to thank something. I know that last one didn't make sense, but either did the event. What happens when He-Man meets A.C. Slater from Saved By The Bell? I'll tell you what happens. Amazing things happen. This crosswiring of alternate universes has left me without prayer or guidance, but I'd happily trade all those things in to watch Skeletor point a plastic sword at Mario Lopez again.
I'm not sure I believe what I've seen, or the pictures I've taken. I'm not sure you will either. We'll all just think this was some marvelous dream - an imaginary land where Jesse Spanno and Teela can trade woman's rights stories, where Zodak and Zack Morris can compete over who can stop time the fastest. It's a wonderful thought, a wonderful notion. But how could it be true? How could the Masters of the Universe exist in the same continuum as the fine students of Bayside? Sorcery, magic? A chance mishap in the universal balance? Nah, the truth is far more human, believe it or not. See, Mattel and Toys R' Us were so desperate to draw attention to the new line of He-Man toys, they actually built fully functional androids shaped just like He-Man and Slater to serve as spokespeople for the series. The general public thinks they're seeing Prince Adam and Mario standing together for a greater cause, but us? We know better. We know that even people like God and Vince McMahon aren't capable of bringing together a meeting such as this. They had to be robots.
Read on, and draw your own conclusions. For the sake of argument, I'll present the rest of this story under the belief that it really was Mario Lopez and He-Man at the event. The grand gala took place on October 18th, 2002, from 4-6 PM. Those are the two most important hours in our extended written history. Those are the two hours which contained Mario Lopez singing the praises of Ram-Man and Trap-Jaw. Those are some magical hours.
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I arrived early, of course, knowing full well that I needed to do an article on this and hence would need a good spot to take pictures. Notwithstanding that, it wasn't the greatest idea in the world to arrive a full two hours early. Guarding our territory like really geeky loser bulldogs, we stood in one spot for what felt like days with positively nothing to keep us entertained. Well, that's not entirely true. There were some sixty-year-old He-Man fans wearing plastic pink vinyl suits. They were pretty entertaining. Aside from that, there wasn't much to do.
We had the chance to see Toys R' Us get prepared for the festivities - and boy, let me tell you. World wars have been fought and won with less of a fuss. Between the countless camera angle tryouts, mic checks, backdrop setups and whatnot, you would've sworn the Pope was paying a visit. I don't know. To me, this just seemed like a little too much trouble to go through for a paid Mario Lopez appearance, especially since at this point there were only around 15 people there. Honestly, all signs pointed to a major bust. At the rate things were going, all Mario would have to do is sign autographs for me and the pair of idiots in the vinyl suits. Fortunately, the crowd picked up a little later on.
The advertisements were sort of vague - nobody knew what to expect. All we had heard officially was that Mario would be there, along with two guys in He-Man and Skeletor costumes. That was certainly enough to sell me on it, but they also gathered the people who sculpted the new figures there to sign toys and chat with fans. Basically, this was to satiate the older crowd who wouldn't be as interested in a guy in a skull mask dancing around a carpet. We were told that only toys purchased that day could be signed - a dirty trick on Toys R' Us' part, but an effective one. They must've sold 50,000 dollars worth of fucking Stratos figures in the span of three or four hours. Anything that can cause a shortage in the Stratos supply has to be considered an excellent marketing ploy. We picked up the He-Man and Skeletor figures, and hopped back in our spot. Now completely prepared, we were ready to cel-e-brate good times. Come on. Duh nuh nuh nah, nah nah nuh nuh. Woo hoo!
There was a slight problem - the number of older guys and gals there to rekindle nostalgic spirits far outweighed the number of little kiddies there to see He-Man. And this wasn't a close race. There was around fifteen 'collectors' for every kid, and the staff took notice. Obviously, throwing two guys in ridiculous costumes out to this audience wouldn't fly all that great. So, they gathered every small child they could find and made sure they were seated directly in front. Now I can't be certain, but I think the staff took a few creative liberties here. Some of the kids were hesitating, not wanting to go up there because apparently they had no idea who He-Man was. Others were holding onto poles for dear life to avoid being thrown to the front. Out of the corner of my eye, I'm pretty sure I saw a few of the store's hired hands kidnapping kids off the street and dragging them inside while their parents were busy finding exact change for the hot dog vendors. After some tears and much coaxing, the kids settled in for whatever it was Mattel had planned for them.
To keep them occupied, the staff handed each kid one of the new plastic He-Man swords. They tried to get them into the spirit of things by leading them into unanimous 'I have the power!' chants. When that didn't work, they kept insisting that He-Man himself would be there soon to teach them how to sword fight. Still, the kids weren't interested. In fact, there was really one thing on the their minds. Seven simple words that so eloquently mirrored what I wondering myself:
"Hey, do we get to keep these swords?!"
One of the people replied that they 'didn't know,' which in kidspeak usually means 'absolutely not.' Let me tell you, there's better answers you can give a group of rowdy toddlers when they're asking if they can keep toys. 'Yes' springs to mind. Immediately, each child went from slightly agitated to completely erratic, swinging their swords around with reckless abandon, shouting about how they should get to keep them. A few people lost their patience, but others lost one of their eyes. It quickly became a terrible scene. Truly, there was only one person who could calm these kids down and make things run smoothly again. Someone the kids trusted - someone they looked up to. So who'd Mattel cart out to fix the situation?
B) Mario Lopez.
C) A three-hundred pound disk jockey completely unknown to kids.
If you guessed 'C,' you'd be wrong. It was a trick question. She's only 250 pounds.
I forget her name, I know she works for one of our local pop stations, Z100, but the only time I ever turn on the radio is if I want to hear The Beach Boys' Kokomo, and if it doesn't happen to be that song when I turn it on I TURN IT RIGHT BACK OFF, REAL QUICK LIKE. Sometimes I eat the radio out of protest. Anyway, What's-Her-Name was here to rile up the crowd as only a girl with no interest in He-Man or children who like He-Man reading off of index cards possibly could.
"AYYYYY KIDZ, DO YOU LIKE....HE-MAN??!"
That got some applause.
"AYYYYY KIDZ...DO YA LIKE MAH MANG SKELL-E-TOR?!!"
More applause, albeit muffled.
"AYYYY KIDS, DO YA LIKE....MAN-MAN?!!"
"OOPS ESSA-COOOOOOOS ME! I MEANT TO SAY...DO YA LIKE...MER-MAN?!?!?!?!?!?!"
Still no applause. After all, how many kids know who freaking Mer-Man is?
Henrietta Heartbreak was bombing out, and bombing quick. Thank God a certain icon was waiting behind the curtain to save the show and save our lives....
It's Mario Lopez! The former SBTB star walked onstage to a surprisingly loud chorus of cheers. Apparently, he grew up watching He-Man, and had a bit of knowledge on the subject. After introducing a short video clip of the new show, Mario went into his spiel, which I have to believe was scripted. It's not that I don't think Mario's able to string together a few spontaneous thoughts about He-Man - it's just that the stuff coming out of his mouth didn't seem to fit the crowd at hand.
See, nobody could've predicted that almost the entire crowd would be older collectors, almost exclusively more than twenty-years-old. Who knew there were so many of us losers? Who knew He-Man wasn't connecting all that broadly with a new generation of kids? Well, Mario certainly didn't. Or maybe it was the people who prepared his script. After the video clip played, Mario turned to the crowd, and with a look that told me that he knew the ineffectiveness of his forthcoming statements, he sucked up his pride and just let it out:
"Ooooh! Look! He-Man's lion turns into a big lion when he points his sword at it! I remember that!! And then he rides it like a horse, doesn't he kids?!!"
The seven kids in the audience did empathize with and relate to Mario's soliloquy, but the thirty-six thousand other people at Toys R' Us that day looked at him in the same way you'd look at an elephant at the zoo if it turned to you and politely asked if you'd mind it taking a big shit right then and there. It was a dual reaction of shock and disgust. Quickly, security rushed the stage, and my primo spot let me hear the conversation. Mario balked at the opportunity to exit into the night with a protective shield of armed guards, instead opting to finish up his duties as keymaster of He-Man Day 2002. The crowd appreciated his drive, and forgave him for the earlier infraction. A sparse, but unmistakable cheer of 'MAR-REE-OH! MAR-REE-OH!' broke out amidst the more appreciative. This wasn't such a feather in Mario's cap since comments like 'AY WHERE'S KELLY KAPOWSKI?!' were hurled towards him with a lot more energy and volume.
On the plus side, he had a really nice sweater and was very pleasant. Maybe a little too pleasant, because the King of Not Nice ran onto the podium and demanded that things be taken down a darker path. Or something like that. Here comes Skeletor!
The look was sort of a mix between the 'old' and 'new' Skeletor - not sure if it was intentional or if they just didn't have a full costume for either. Whatever the case, there was no mistaking it: this was Skeletor, in the flesh, wearing powder blue cotton pantyhose and, for some reason, beach sandals. I would say the person who forgot to bring his boots was fired, but really, that's a pretty stupid thing to fire someone over. I figure they got a slap on the wrist, with their superiors insisting that they be more careful with Skeletor's boots in the future.
Well, if that ain't a surreal sight, I don't know what is. Random radio DJ, Skeletor, and Mario Lopez. I'm pretty sure that'll flash in my mind right before I die. They had a voice-over for whenever Skeletor spoke, so he actually sounded a lot like the real deal. I can't remember a word he said because this whole scene was so amazing and otherworldly that it seemed to fly by in three seconds flat. I felt like Ralphie on Santa's lap during A Christmas Story. Skeletor would play a good Scott Farcus.
Things took a turn for the worse when Eternia's greatest crimelord focused his attention on cute lovable Slater. Mario tried to play it off like this was all in good fun, but you just never know with Skeletor. He's torn between being a playful thespian and a murderous skull-faced horndemon. Usually the latter wins the war. Somebody better take control of things before they get too out of hand. There's only so much the DJ's jivespeak could do to dissuade Skel from cutting Mario's head off. We needed someone with more power. Somebody with a sword. Somebody half-naked.
The guy playing He-Man certainly looked the part, and looked to be around a legitimate thirteen feet tall. I guess potential basketball players with bad aim typically end up as He-Man impersonators. At least they have fallback options. The He-Man guy had a much tougher job than the guy playing Skeletor, for a number of reasons:
1) Unlike the guy playing Skeletor, the He-Man actor used his real voice. 2) Unlike the guy playing Skeletor, He-Man couldn't hide behind a mask. 3) Unlike the guy playing Skeletor, He-Man had to stand in front of thousands of people without clothes on.
They tried to talk things over, but He-Man and Skeletor could never really agree on much. Especially since Skeletor can't respond to anything He-Man says without tacking on some ancient curse followed by insidious bouts of cackling. Puts a major cramp in the negotiations. No, the only way they can settle things is with a good old-fashioned sword fight.
The battle was even-sided at first, each participant gaining the advantage at various points. Skeletor threatened to eat He-Man's nuts, but since children were present, it proved to be a bluff.
But let's not forget...good always triumphs over evil. He-Man was too much for Skeletor to handle. After knocking Skel's sword clear across the stage, (I think it hit a 60-year-old woman wearing a 'Stonedar ROCKS, Get it?' t-shirt) he was declared the winner. Hooray for He-Man, Champion of Grayskull! And hey, let's give a little credit to Skeletor...
Poor guy. Mario insisted that we applaud Skeletor for surrendering. I never knew surrendering was a virtuous trait, but fuck me if I didn't clap just like everyone else in Times Square. I'm pretty sure they're etching Skeletor in limestone to put next to all the firemen statues next week.
After that, kids were brought up one by one to join He-Man in reciting his 'I have the power!' catchphrase. I then realized that I had been standing in the same spot for hours, and my legs were disagreeing with it more and more with each passing minute. We decided it was time to move away from the stage to see what else was going on at this unparalleled public celebration of All Things He-Man.
While one line formed to take pictures with the costumed characters, a much larger line extended almost across half the giant store. This line was for people who wanted to have their MOTU toys signed by their creators, 'The Four Horsemen.' These were the guys who sculpted all the new figures...
Very, very nice people. We got on line rather late and were definitely in the final contigent of people who got their stupid toys signed, and they were still real friendly and talkative to everyone who came up. Now, I know what you're thinking - you probably think these guys just loved all the attention. After all, toy sculptors aren't the usual type to have people lined up for autographs. That might be true, but really, there were hundreds of people going up to them, rapid fire for hours, and they still made sure everyone felt as welcomed as the last. Also consider that there were a great number of idiots having around ten things or more signed, and it was pretty obvious that some of 'em were looking to make a fast buck with the autographed toys. Still, none of the sculptors questioned anything and greeted everyone with the same level of appreciation. I'm just sad that my picture-taking skills left out the fourth horsemen. Picture him looking a lot like Fisto. I think that'd make up for it.
You can check out their just-opened official site by clicking here. Total class act, and if you like the look of the new figures, these are the guys you should be thanking.
There's the new figures - they look absolutely fantastic. Doubly great since they look like something little kids would drool over, but they've kept enough of the old line's charm in 'em to make people like me spends lots and lots of money. The new line is complete with an updated and souped up Castle Grayskull playset, plus old favorites like Battle Kat and Skeletor's unholy purple panther.
All in all, I'm really impressed with what Mattel and Toys R' Us put together. They didn't even advertise most of the coups, so everyone was pleasantly surprised, and despite the crowd, they kept everything open long enough for all to participate. Definitely a fun little day that'll provide hundreds of people with some really great memories for years to come.
I got my picture taken with He-Man, Skeletor, and Mario Lopez. Now I can die happy.