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The Toybox: Masters of the Universe

The 1980s was defined in the kid world by a handful of toylines that seemed to gobble up and dominate their impressionable minds. Reagan era changes to advertising rules targeted at children brought about the rise of the afternoon cartoon that sold some kind of toy range, and the first and most successful of this marketing strategy was Masters of the Universe.

If you go on Netflix, you can watch an episode of The Toys That Made Us about the invention of He-Man, and you can ALSO watch a feature length documentary called The Power of Grayskull that chronicles the same topic. What it basically boils down to is that a handful of employees and marketing folks at Mattel sought to create a boys action figure line that could compete with Star Wars, and ended up blending Conan, Star Wars, Jack Kirby, and a new scale (5.5″ tall figures) and style (squat barbarian) into something that literally made BILLIONS of dollars for Mattel, beating out Star Wars, GI Joe, and Transformers for sales.

The story of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is basic enough, having a blonde super powered hero, the progeny of a royal family on the planet Eternia, facing off against the evil forces of Skeletor, who has He-Man’s physique but a Skull for a face (which is awesome). There’s a blend of mystical power, wild sci-fi technology, wizards, and pretty much everything else that is awesome thrown into the mix. The Filmation cartoon is loads of fun, with Skeletor being a high point for his screechy voice and epic, high pitched cackle. Every episode had a goofy moral at the end that frequently provided some pretty solid advice about how NOT to be an asshole, and there were a million episodes produced. The toyline had TONS of characters for the cartoon to pull from, great goofy vehicles, and awesome playsets (Castle Grayskull being one of the best playsets ever released in the history of toys…seriously, that thing is GREAT).

The 1987 Cannon produced live action film (unsurprisingly) signalled the beginning of the end for the toy line in the 80s, but it has been re-introduced with varying success ever since. The most successful re-launch of the series was in the direct to collectors Masters of the Universe Classics line which ran from 2008-2020 between Mattel (for most of the line) and Super 7 (which took over for the last few years), and is one of the most sought after collectible figure lines on the secondary market. This year, Mattel did yet another relaunch with the MOTU Origins line, which are delightfully aimed at kids….if the greasy adult collectors would stop buying all the stock and selling them for a mark-up on eBay.

Anyway, feel free to discuss your experiences with the MOTU toys, or any other action figure chit-chat, in the discussion below.