Revisiting 80s cartoons: She-Ra
She-Ra: Princess of Power was one of the many brilliant 80s cartoons I grew up on, but probably one of the less disturbing. After all, I was obsessed with Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, in which the wooden puppet turned real live boy is kidnapped in a brutal scene reminiscent of a rape, and subsequently winds up in a psychedelic child wonderland where all the kids are addicted to a drugged-up hallucinogenic beer. Cartoons were much, much darker when I was a child.
I had a recent realization concerning this: the thought that every cartoon is probably veryadult and harbouring adult themes in some way; after all, nothing that caters for children is truly innocent , because it’s made by adults. An adult mind and all its warped workings are going into these cartoons, these toys, and so the “innocence” of childhood is really already tainted by the darker adult world.
Anyway, back to She-Ra. A lighter cartoon, certainly, but no less brooding with menace. I recently decided to re-watch this treasured childhood gem, and was quite surprised to learn that She-Ra starts off evil. Kidnapped as a baby by the evil Hordak, she is brainwashed by a cunning necromancer named Shadow Weaver, and subsequently taught to believe Hordak and his army are a force of good. Only when He-Man shows up does she begin to understand the extent of the Horde’s cruelty to the townsfolk.
The contrast between the realm of the good guys and bad guys is wonderfully illustrated. The rebellion dwell in a forest of pastel colour and exuberant nature, while the Horde reside in a giant spider-like construction swamped in black fog, sulphur skies and churning machinery (aptly titled “The Fright Zone”). The soundtrack to these scenes is brilliantly industrial, worthy of an early Nine Inch Nails album; all clanging metal and stabs of dark synth. As I’m quite a fan of that sound now, it was interesting to see where the little seeds had been planted so early on.
As children, it was my brother who worshiped He-Man; I was always quite firmly a She-Ra fan, and have been looking for reasons why She-Ra is better. Everything I’ve already mentioned poses a case for that argument, but on top of that I discovered upon re-watching the episodes that Skeletor (He-Man’s main adversary) was only ever Hordak’s apprentice, and so never truly the main villain. On top of this, Hordak can transform into battle tanks, rockets, and a waffle maker (not that last one); in short, pretty much anything he likes.
In the opening episodes, which continue the story, She-Ra breaks free of the spell placed upon her by Shadow Weaver, and uncovers the truth: she is a princess, and He-Man is her twin brother. The transformation sequence in which Princess Adora becomes She-Ra is spine-tinglingly good. A shower of golden fireworks explodes from the sword she holds aloft, followed by a carousel of blue incandescent lights and silver sparks swirling about her body. He-Man may have had Battlecat (a slightly annoying whimpering fool one moment, who’s only real power is to be green and grow a bit bigger), but She-Ra has Swiftwind, a talking and flying unicorn. I’m sure he can also shoot lasers from his horn, but that might just be my memory playing tricks on me. Either way, I remember being at a car boot sale as a child and spotting the Swiftwind action figure at somebody’s stall. Never got it though.
As the end credits rolled to a shot of the Crystal Castle (incidentally the inspiration for the band of the same name) and air-guitar-laden 80s disco music, I remembered why 80s cartoons were so great: they treated children like adults. They didn’t patronise or molly-coddle; they dished out creative, energetic stories and characters unafraid to be dark and deal with adult issues. I’ve kick-started a mad hunt for as many brilliant cartoons from my past as I can find now, and will most likely be obsessively writing about each of them here as time goes by, but if you have any tips or suggestions for things I should check out, please let me know in the comments box!