Okay. Brace yourselves. I've been waiting to do this article literally since the day X-E opened almost three years ago, and through the magic of great readers who send in obscure old videos, I finally have my chance. We just launched our festive X-Mas design, so to celebrate, here's the one elusive review on the one show I've been dying to cover: The He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special!
The episode originally aired during prime time in 1985 - if I remember correctly, it was shown once and only once. I guess because showing it twice would afford people a much better chance at noticing the many animation flubs and mixed-up voice dubbing. I sat beside my parents' old filthy couch, eyes as wide as Man-E-Faces many faces, watching my favorite cartoon heroes break character by talking about Santa and Jesus. It ran around 40 minutes - twice as long as a normal Masters of the Universe episode - and included nearly every character from both He-Man and She-Ra's respective worlds. It's tough to make a crappy cartoon have a 'big feel' to it, but they certainly succeeded here. I watched it this evening for the first time in over fifteen years, and I'm happy to report that Father Time didn't sweeten my memory...this really was a great little holiday special.
Don't think my gushing comments will preclude me from raping yet another childhood memory for the sake of a joke. Some people live to save lives, others live to invent new things that'll change the course of history. Me? I live to lampoon twenty-year-old He-Man cartoons. It's not the most admirable lot in life, but it's what I do. With that, kick back and relax - this is gonna be a long review. Here's how the good people of Eternia celebrated their very first Christmas...
We kick off with a shot of all the heroes preparing for Prince Adam and Princess Adora's birthday party a full week or so early. I guess it would be pretty pointless to hang 30' ribbons from the ceiling only for one measly night. Queen Marlena comments that the festive decor reminds her of all those great Christmas holidays she used to spend on Earth. I had no idea that the queen was originally from here, but now that I think about it - she can't fly, she doesn't have a giant metal hand, her neck doesn't extend for 15 feet, and she's not even adorned with giant bee wings. Obviously, she ain't from Eternia.
You'll notice that this was a special episode right off the bat, since every hero character from both shows are here, putting up decorations all over the palace. You've got everyone from Snout Spout (think He-Man wearing a giant elephant mask) to Bow (think He-Man if he loved Judy Garland) and beyond. Most of the characters only appear in the background, but it's nice that the animators went through the trouble instead of using their usual ploy of doubling stock footage of old nameless Eternian guards and paupers.
Meanwhile, Man-At-Arms and Adam work on a new defense device, the 'Sky Spy.' It's a space shuttle that's intended to track Skeletor's every move. Not sure if the boys are trying to protect the kingdom, or if they're just a couple of perverted voyeurs. Adam's more brash and flippant than usual, evidently feeling extra-important since every freak of nature from two different planets has come to celebrate his impending birthday. You'd act the same way if you walked into a great big hall and saw a guy covered in moss and a guy covered in bird feathers trying to tack up a huge pennant with your name on it. I wish people made that big of a fuss over my birthday. Hell, I'd even settle for just knowing guys covered in moss and/or bird feathers. Flexibility is the key to compromise.
After finishing up, they head back to the castle to see how the party planning is coming along. Orko, poor curious Orko, decides that he should hop into the ship and mindlessly fiddle with the controls. Hey, what's the worse that can happen? It's not like Orko's ever gotten into trouble before by jumping into one of Man-At-Arms creations and proceeding to push every button within reach, right? Unfortunately, there's just no way to teach Orko to stop this sort of behavior. It's not like he's pissing on a rug - then you could just shove his face in his mistake till he stops doing it. What's Man-At-Arms supposed to do here? Make booby-trapped ships that explode when you hit a button just to teach Orko a lesson? He doesn't have time for that shit, and really, people who wear salad bowls on their head aren't ingenious enough to think up a solution like that. PS - I still hate Man-At-Arms.
Orko inadvertently starts up the ship, and once it's airborne, Skeletor takes notice. He's not quite sure what kind of aircraft it is, or who's flying it, but hey, he wouldn't be Skeletor if he didn't try to fuck with it somehow. He's flanked today by a great assortment of goons, a much larger lot than any regular episode typically has. The two-headed idiot up above is named Two-Bad, a villain who proves his effectiveness by getting into fistfights with itself. Before Skeletor can succeed in taking down the Sky Spy, He-Man and She-Ra magically appear to save the day. Nobody's yet realized that Orko's inside the ship, but it's still an expensive piece of machinery, and that's enough to get 'em into battle mode.
By the way, there's a pretty insidious and vague subplot going on throughout this special. It's about He-Man and She-Ra. They kinda flirt with each other. This isn't something I'm making up or imagining, either. If they're not hugging, they're staring lovingly into each other's eyes while giggling awkwardly. And there's no way any sane person would construe the nuances as 'platonic.' Now I know Eternia's culture is different from ours. I know it's perfectly acceptable to walk around the king in your underwear, or to bring a giant human insect home for dinner. But casual incest? I dunno, I woulda thought they'd have drawn the line there. The only time our heroes take a break from all the implied innuendo is when they're punching holes through Skeletor's spaceship, sheerly out of sexual frustration. I haven't seen He-Man punch this hard since Teela's singlet rode five inches up her ass crack. Skeletor might be evil, but at least we never caught him trying to fuck his mother.
He-Man and She-Ra succeed in throwing Skel's ship off its course, and I'm thankful for that, since it leads to one of the only instances in MOTU history where some of the secondary villains actually talk. Spikor and Rattlor try to explain the vehicular damage to their leader, but they speak in the same way one does when they're talking into one of those talk-to-type keyboard transcribers. If that analogy isn't doing it for you, I mean that they separate each word by a four-second pause. It's funny enough when old ladies do it while asking what aisle the lozenges are in, but when it's a purple dude with spikes all over his face telling a guy with a skeleton head that their ship is on autopilot, you've really hit an unbridled opus of comedy. Just when you think things can't get any better than that, Skeletor throws parachutes at all of them and ejects his minions into the air. You knew this episode was better than the norm, since Skeletor usually just flails his arms and yells words like 'idiot,' 'fool,' or 'cornfaced pie-goat' when his troops mess up. Now he's throwing parachutes at them. I love Christmas.
Orko, meanwhile, tries to utilize one of his spells to get the ship safely back to the castle from space. He-Man and She-Ra are also up there trying to find him, which is cool because I've always wondered if Eternia's version of outer space came complete with totally breathable oxygen and a good gravity balance. Now I know for sure. Before they can locate the Sky Spy, Orko's spell makes it disappear and reappear in a realm that, while unfamiliar to him, is quite recognizable to us. Orko's on Earth!
Almost immediately following his crash landing, Orko finds two kids lost in the snowy wilderness, about to become splattered by an avalanche. If Orko was the type who'd get some kind of sick pleasure watching little children die, our story would end here. Of course, Orko isn't that kind of guy. He uses a spell to glide them to safety, and then it's time for the formal introductions.
"Hi, I'm a little kid. This is my sister. Thanks for saving us. I couldn't help but notice that you don't have legs. And that you're floating. And you've got pointy blue years. Tell me, did I recently suffer a stroke?"
"No no no. What you're seeing is real. My name is Orko. I'm from Eternia."
"Eternia? Isn't that the place where all the kids are covered in flies? I think my parents donated money to them last year."
Actually, the kids' names are Miguel and Alisha. Betcha weren't expecting names like that from two Swiss white kids. They were out searching for a Christmas tree, somehow becoming lost from their parents and ending up in the middle of Alaska. Orko suggests that they warm up inside his crashed spaceship, and the kids are quick to hop aboard. If they're this willing to jump into a shuttle with a legless UFO, I'd hate to see what happens when strangers offer these kids a rewrapped Milky Way bar. Eh, I'm lying. I'd love to see that.
Back on Eternia, everyone finally realizes that Orko's missing, after finding his spellbook. Queen Marlena claims that Orko is never without his spellbook, which is interesting because I don't think I've ever seen it before on the 256,445 episodes of He-Man. Orko's so tricky. Man-At-Arms puts two and two together for the first time in his life, explaining that Orko must've been aboard the lost Sky Spy. Thinking that the ship is merely in distant space and not in our parallel dimension, the heroes run off to try to locate its coordinates.
Meanwhile, the kids try to explain this whole 'Christmas' thing to Orko. I'm not sure if that's the first topic I'd bring up upon meeting a space alien, but admittedly, Orko's pretty curious. They tell him about the presents, the overwhelming cheer, and the feelings of goodwill towards men. No, really, they use terms like that to describe Christmas. Watching little Miguel explain 'goodwill towards men' to Orko is something I shant soon forget. Know what else I shant soon forget? The word 'contumacious'. I just learned it today, and wow, does it ever just stick to ya. Granted, such words are a tad perfunctory, but their nascent into prominence only proves that the world shares a craving for adjectives of the multifarious nature. Perhaps our eternal attempt to use big words as a means of self-approbation could cause us to prevaricate a bit, but so what? It's a harmless preservation, without the slightest hint of perfidiousity. And after all, even the most blithe and luculent monkeys still smear shit on the walls.
At the risk of sounding abstruse, I must say that I find Skeletor, on the whole, pretty fucking splenetic.
After a lengthy process that results in a huge video screen presenting a nonsensical sequence of alphanumerics, Man-At-Arms deducts that Orko's on Earth. Now this is a serious problem. They have a dimensional portal machine that could bring Orko back to Eternia, but it runs on the power provided by a rare crystal not found anywhere on the planet. One could make a strong argument that Man-At-Arms shouldn't invent dimensional portal machines that need rare crystals not found on his home planet, but who wants to be a nitpicker this close to Christmas?
Princess Adora suggests that the rare crystal might be attainable on her home world, Etheria. She agrees to 'ask She-Ra' for a little help. Oh yeah - if you don't know the ins-and-outs, Adora is She-Ra. The transformation does wonders for her hair length, and also turns Adora into quite the little swordswoman. So the new mission is clear: She-Ra must travel back home to Etheria to find a stupid crystal that'll allow her friends on stupid Eternia to bring stupid Orko back from stupid Earth.
Once there, She-Ra enlists the aid of her fishy friend, Mermista. Man, even the girls who are half-fish on Etheria are still pretty hot. It must suck to be a chubby girl over there. Mermista pauses between each word even longer than Rattlor and Spikor, but it's less grating with her since she so gosh darn purdy. The water chick explains that the crystal could be found in a dangerous lake nearby, but she'll need She-Ra's help to attain it since the lake is home to a terrible creature with a terribly uncreative name: the beast monster. She-Ra agrees to occupy the beast monster's attention while Mermista retrieves the crystal. You got all that? Are you sure you do? I just reread this paragraph four times and it still doesn't seem to make sense. Oh well. I tried my best to speak logically about a transforming Grayskull heroine who's asking a mermaid for help in finding a rare gem that'll make a dimensional portal work so a guy with a bowl on his head can teleport an alien magician back home. Kill me.
The beast monster wasn't too much trouble - just a big snake, really. There's usually four of those in every episode of both shows. Once She-Ra has the crystal, she thanks Mermista for the help and prepares to go on her merry way. But wait! Huge android menaces appear and lock She-Ra and her talking horse inside a huge glass bubble! Who are these mysterious new villains?!
They're called 'Monstroids.' I'm not sure if they appeared previous to the Christmas special, but they were presented in such a way that you'd think the intention was to introduce some hot new villains to the show. I don't think the Monstroids ever ended up having action figures fashioned after them, so the plan failed. They aren't aligned with Skeletor or even She-Ra's main enemy, Hordak. They're their own people. They're also like, 400 feet tall or something. The Monstroids don't do much in this scene - just explain that they're here and they plan on doing bad shit down the road. This becomes important later. Very important.
She-Ra manages to escape their grasp, and makes it back to Eternia with the crystal. Finally, they're able to bring Orko back home. But oops! He took the Earth kids with him! I still don't understand that part. I know they were lost in the tundra, but was teleporting two kids to a distant planet in another dimension really the solution? The kids make a passing mention of missing their parents, but all in all, they seem pretty okay with what's going on. I don't know if I'd handle this kind of situation so easily. Especially because the first thing they saw upon materializing in Eternia was a talking green lion.
Queen Marlena takes silent pleasure in the new visitors, feeling a common bond with kids from her own homeworld. The children are upset that they might miss Christmas, so everyone decides to turn Adam and Adora's birthday party into a holiday celebration.
Miguel: We're scared! We're on a planet far away from home, there's guys running all over the place in their underwear, and our parents might never see us again! This is ter-ree-bull! Marlena: Would you feel better if we tacked some reindeer posters on the wall and made gingerbread cookies? Miguel: YES!
Okay, here's where the action really starts to pick up. Skeletor and Hordak are summoned by Horde Prime, who apparently is their supreme master and the most evil force in the entire universe. Horde Prime never appeared before, and when I first watched this special as a child, I was just blown away. I never knew Skeletor answered to a higher power! I never knew Hordak answered to a high power! I never knew higher powers could consist of only gaseous green clouds and giant metal fists! I remember doodling what I thought Horde Prime would have looked like in the back of my grade school notebooks. Soon I became obsessed with solving the mystery. Unfortunately, my art skills were relatively novice, and the best sketches I could come up with were things like this:
I always thought he should have glasses. I'm not sure why. I think I was slow.
Horde Prime asked his two main henchmen to appear before him because he has a very important mission for them to attend to: crush the Christmas spirit. As he tells it, the only thing that could possibly stop his rise to power is the good feelings brought along with December 25th. He insists that Skeletor and Hordak compete to see which can catch the two Earth children first. The plan? He doesn't exactly say, so we'll just assume that he wants to eat them. Skeletor and Hordak then argue about which one of them can catch the kids first. My bet's on Hordak. He can transform into a rocket!
Later, the kids enjoy a sing-a-long to the tune of Bow's new Christmas song. If you fed a horse a lot of fruit salad and put it over a barrel of water, the sound its shit would make as it plopped viciously down into the liquid below would have thirty times the beat and rhythm as Bow's new song. I really didn't want to have to go that far, but it's the only way to describe it. I could watch a truck smack into my grandmother and I'd still rather hear her bones being crushed by three axles worth of tires than Bow's song again.
But that's just me - the kids love it. While this whole scene is very touching, danger lurks just around the corner. The two dirtiest villains around are both hunting for these kids, and no holiday tune is gonna dissuade them from their kidnapping plot. For all intents, the children are doomed. But even if they are captured, maybe someone will be able to save them. Maybe, just maybe. Who will that special someone be? The answer might surprise you. But you'll have to wait and see. I bet you're keeled over from the intense anticipation.
Hordak uses a tractor beam to capture the kids, while the coolest cats in town were already aboard the ship. You'll miss it if you blink, but even the legendary Modulok can be seen working the controls. Unfortunately, he's next to some sexy chick dressed like a cat, so I doubt anyone noticed him.
Those Monstroid bots reappear and take the children hostage, because they want to have a little talk with Horde Prime himself. Hordak threatens to fight the robots, but opts on retreating after all their shoulderblades turn into giant guns. Come on, you'd run too. While the Monstroids don't particularly hate the Christmas Kids as much as Horde Prime does, they're still not exactly great company. Miguel, Alisha, and Orko are all thrown into a prison chamber and left to either die, or get so thin from starvation that they can actually fit right through the bars and escape. Fortunately, there's some new friends around to lend a helping hand...
They're called 'Manchines'. Colorful little robots that look like a mixture between Droids and Ewoks, who suspiciously enough both had fairly popular cartoons at the time. Dare we say that Mattel was working from someone else's template? The Manchines look ridiculously out of place in a He-Man cartoon, but so does Prince Adam in a Santa Claus suit and this didn't stop them from showing us that later on. Each Manchine is colored in pastels, but have different 'gimmicks.' Some have wheels, others can fly, and so on and so on and so so on so on. After rescuing Orko and the kids, and escaping the wrath of the Monstroids, everything is going peachy keen until Skeletor seizes the opportunity to steal them for himself.
He succeeds, and with the kids aboard his neat little sky scooter, Skeletor rushes towards Horde Prime's lair. Hordak arrives on the scene, and after a brief laser battle, Skeletor's scooter is shot down to the snowy horizon. Now the skull-faced demon is faced with the challenge of getting these children to his master by foot.
My favorite memories from the He-Man Christmas Special all occur from this point forth, with Skeletor doing his best to hold back from murdering the two sniveling kids. Within moments you'll notice that this isn't the same Skeletor we're used to seeing - in fact, he's almost cheerful. He acknowledges his sudden change of heart, and while he doesn't know where it's coming from, he refuses to let it stop him from throwing these fools to Horde Prime. Still, we do see a few glimmers of humanity from someone who's supposed to be pure evil...
When the kids complain about the terribly cold weather, Skeletor gets annoyed as usual. But he somehow finds himself using magic to fit the children with sporty starter jackets. He's not sure why he's doing it, or how he knows what coats from Earth would look like. Just before he can reassert his evil nature, Skeletor actually goes a step beyond by letting the kids keep the damn Manchine puppy. His name's Relay, and he loves licking Skeletor's face. Even robot dogs love bones. It gets worse - Skeletor has a strange morbid curiosity about Christmas, and keeps asking the kids to explain its merry lore to him. So, not only is Skeletor giving out free clothes and playing with puppies - now he's actually getting into the holiday spirit. All this leads to some great lines, with Skeletor trying to reassure the kids and himself that he's still a bad guy. "I don't like being good, I like being evil!" Read that sentence again while envisioning Skeletor speaking it in his voice. It's a lot funnier that way, and that's just one of the many quotes from this special.
Hordak makes one last ditch attempt at bringing the kids to Horde Prime himself. First deflecting a laser blast from Skeletor's staff to knock his adversary out, Hordak licks his chops thinking about all the wonderful promotions Horde Prime'll give him for a job well done.
He-Man and She-Ra finally catch up to the action, but Hordak's prepared with a legion of Horde Troopers. They're totally ineffective in battle, but there's still thousands of them, and it takes the heroes a few minutes to beat them up thoroughly enough. This is bad, because Horde Prime's ship is now hovering above the kids, preparing to engulf them in the ultimate evil or some shit. Our Grayskull friends are too far away to stop the insanity, and things are looking pretty grim, until...
Relay licks Skeletor's face, and dog saliva apparently shares the same qualities as smelling salt, since it wakes the blue bastard right up. Relay barks in the general direction of the kids, and Skeletor realizes that his would-be captives are just moments away from annihilation. So, uncharacteristically filled with Christmas cheer, Skeletor's heart grows three times larger, and he saves all the presents in Whoville. Then he gives Alisha a nice cup of water and eats some broken glass. He starts having sex with Bulworth's wife and everyone lives happily ever after.
Actually, he shoots Horde Prime's ship with all the might of his ram-headed staff, and after He-Man punches the thing a few times, the shuttle spirals off into space never to be heard from again. Skeletor wonders why he's doing all these nice things, leading the heroes to explain that he must have been touched by all this Christmas stuff. Skeletor is relieved that this will only happen to him once a year, and runs off cackling, swearing to be evil again the next time He-Man sees him.
A lot of the more hardcore Masters of the Universe fanatics took issue with the Christmas special, feeling that Skeletor's actions totally killed the idea behind his character. Personally, I couldn't give a flying fuck if Skeletor feels like saving children or playing with puppies or carving heart-shaped emblems onto trees. He's still got a skull for a head, so he's going to look evil no matter what. Who cares if he wants to try something new once in a while? It's not like he was doing all that well as a bad guy - what was his record, 0 for 336? If people really cared about Skeletor, they'd push him towards the moral ground that doesn't lead to him being covered by boulders or punched to death every week.
Back at the castle, Santa Adam gives the kids 'flying belts' for Christmas. I wish I had a flying belt. :( The celebration is cut short when Man-At-Arms gets the transdimensional portal machine working again. Now the kids can go back home! After saying a tearful goodbye to their new friends, the kids materialize in their parents' living room. Ma and Pa are happy to see them. The father's accent and mustache explain why one of the children was named 'Miguel.'
Eternia was sad to see the kids go, but at least they know a hell of a lot more about Christmas now.
Overall: In many ways, this was the ultimate Masters of the Universe episode. Oodles of characters, a great story that crossed three planets, and the opportunity to watch Orko talk about Bethlehem. You can't ask for much more than that. The video, obviously, is no longer in production, but you can still find it on auction sites for 20 bucks or so. It's easily my favorite slice of MOTU lore, so if you're ever in the market for an old He-Man video, I'd strongly suggest starting here. And, as far as Christmas specials go, this one really holds up well. It's got all the warm fuzzy feelings, but it's much more fun when it's coming from a skeleton instead of red-nosed reindeer. Most episodes of the show would seem real boring to non-fans, but I'd think this one would entertain people who've never even heard of He-Man. I'm probably wrong, but how could you not get into a story that features cameo appearances from both a mermaid and Lucifer? A+.