You could basically call “Power of Grayskull” one of the first spin offs from Netflix’s “The Toys That Made Us.” The hit documentary series about the creation of some of the most popular toy lines of all time recently ran an episode about the fascinating history of He-Man. The monstrous eighties toy line and eighties franchise apparently warranted its own documentary. If you haven’t seen the episode, “Power of Grayskull” is a wonderful documentary about the series that digs a bit deeper in to the weird history of He-Man and the Mattel toy line.
From Randall Lobb and Robert McCallum takes us in to the history of He-Man, a toy line that was made in an effort to compete with the rising tide of toy lines in the 1980’s. After the success of Kenner’s “Star Wars,” Mattel struggled to find a way to compete with them, and began looking for various properties to turn in to hit toylines. After a few setbacks, Mattel aimed for a toy line inspired by Conan the Barbarian that would widen the characters universe. Disappointed at the fact the movie was immensely violent and R rated, Mattel instead created its own Barbarian, as well as a slew of characters in a line that flawlessly combined steam punk and barbarian fantasy.
I, like many other kids in the eighties, have a long history with He-Man, as he was one of the first superheroes I was obsessed with as a child. Two of my earliest birthdays famously revolved around the character. Upon his release, and strategic marketing from Mattel, He-Man ended up becoming one of the most influential franchises of its decade, inspiring its own knock offs and spawning a hit TV series and a flood of merchandise. The story of He-Man and his development is fascinating, and the way both directors dig in to the conceptual history and how he transformed in to a line specifically developed to grab the attention of kids everywhere. He-Man spawned some fascinating production stories, and “Power of Grayskull” takes us in to how much simpler marketing merchandise was in the eighties.
The success is something that defied all odds, especially when it had no movie to launch off of and during a time where TMNT and GI Joe also reigned supreme. While the documentary is primarily about the influence of He-Man and his success, there are also looks in to the various incarnations he took on, his comic book titles, and of course the cult classic live action film. The directors grab interviews with Frank Langella and Dolph Lundgren, both of whom lend some new anecdotes about the production of the movie, including the epic sword fight climactic Langella wanted that was sadly scrapped thanks to budgetary reasons. “Power of Grayskull” is a great niche documentary, but one that also celebrates the art of creating, as well as doing a lot with so little. It also demonstrates the age old adage that there is no such thing as originality, and that’s just fine as long as it’s entertaining