When it comes to cartoons, everything old is new again these days — but for every successful reboot of a classic series, there are plenty that fall frustratingly short of fans’ expectations.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter in Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation — a reboot of the 1980s series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe — which manages to make the show’s magical world more accessible and more fascinating with elements catering to newcomers and longtime fans alike.
Digital Trends received an advance look at the first five episodes of Revelation, collectively titled “Part 1” of the show’s first story arc, for this season 1 review.
Previously, in Eternia
Developed by filmmaker Kevin Smith, Masters of the Universe: Revelation picks up some unspecified time after the original series left off, with protagonists He-Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms, and the rest of their allies still protecting the mysterious Castle Grayskull from the villainous Skeletor and his sinister cohorts. That premise gets a bit more exposition — but not much more — in the series’ opening moments, before jumping right into the action with Skeletor enacting a new, destructive plan for infiltrating Grayskull.
The aftermath of this particular assault changes the land of Eternia in unexpected ways, setting up the events to come in Revelation as it shatters the relationships that brought many of its heroes together.
It doesn’t take long for one of the biggest changes in the franchise’s focus to become apparent, as Revelation shifts the spotlight from He-Man to Eternia’s supporting cast — specifically, Teela — as she reluctantly finds herself on a quest to recover He-Man’s Sword of Power. Her quest takes her from one side of Eternia to the other and into dimensions well beyond its borders, mixing it up with a cornucopia of characters and making unlikely allies out of former enemies.
A magical cast
It might be easier to name the actors not voicing characters in Revelation than to run through the impressively long list of well-known on-screen and actors and voice actors involved in some capacity in the series, from brief cameos to featured roles as Eternia’s heroes, villains, and everyone in-between.
Smith and the series’ talented writing team, which also includes Eric Carrasco, Tim Sheridan, Diya Mishra, and Marc Bernardin, take a deep dive into Masters of the Universe history, pulling characters from the full span of the original show’s 130-episode run, but also from various spinoff and tie-in material, too.
In what’s essentially the show’s lead role (in the first five episodes, at least), Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar voices Teela, whose search for the Sword of Power serves as the show’s main narrative thread early on. Gellar is joined by Tiffany Smith as Andra, a deep-cut character introduced in the Masters of the Universe comic book series who now fills a key role in the show as Teela’s closest friend and ally in her quest.
The list of familiar names filling out the cast also includes Supergirl actor Chris Wood as Prince Adam and his heroic alter ego, He-Man; Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill as Skeletor; and Game of Thrones actors Liam Cunningham and Lena Headey as Man-At-Arms and Evil-Lyn, respectively. Alicia Silverstone, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root, Henry Rollins, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Dennis Haysbert, Phil LaMarr, and Tony Todd, add to the list of popular on-screen actors lending their voices to Eternia’s inhabitants.
It’s a lot to pack into a series, but even when the pairing of actors and characters offers a bit of in-joke humor, it never distracts from the story.
Hamill’s spin on Skeletor tweaks the actor’s celebrated Joker voice in all the right ways, for example, while Candyman franchise star Tony Todd’s performance as the skeletal nightmare Scare Glow blends pitch-perfect casting with a nod to the horror icon’s fans. Mewes’ brief appearance as Stinkor — a skunk-like character known for his ability to create an incapacitating cloud around himself — has a similarly in-joke feel to it for anyone familiar with the Jay and Silent Bob franchise actor’s affinity for, well… the high life.
Celebrity casting can be problematic when the actor’s voice and vocal mannerisms don’t match their animated alter egos, but Revelation has no such issues — and in many cases, the characters feel richer due to the actors voicing them. Rollins’ delivery as Tri-Klops, for example, gives the character’s re-imagining as a fiery techno-religious cleric that extra dose of authority and charisma the musician, actor, and spoken-word artist brings to every performance.
An animation upgrade
It can be tough to adjust to a new style of animation for a classic series, but a compelling story and characters can make acclimation easier.
Netflix has a great track record in that area, with the revival series Voltron: Legendary Defender and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power both offering new stories with classic characters depicted in a dramatically different, modern animation style. The franchises’ fanbases (mostly) overcame their skepticism with the new looks quickly thanks to the shows’ clever storytelling, excellent casting, and creative choices that made the characters feel more fully realized than they ever had in their original series.
Revelation accomplishes the same feat with the world of Masters of the Universe, thanks to a story that fills in the gaps in the franchise’s lore and a visual aesthetic that retains many of the character elements that made the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon and toy line so popular. The animation in Revelation makes Eternia feel more three-dimensional and modern than it ever has before, while the series’ story grounds it in the Eternia longtime fans remember.
Tune in next time
The first five episodes of Revelation do an impressive amount of world-building, and that’s important because it allows the cliffhanger ending of Part 1 to leave you wanting more without feeling manipulated.
Smith and the show’s creative team make efficient use of the episodes they’re given, introducing and then tying up enough loose ends in Eternia’s saga to make the first arc’s open-ended finale strike the right balance of satisfaction with what you’ve seen and anticipation of what’s to come. That’s a difficult line to walk with cliffhangers, and the writing team on Revelation sticks the landing, narratively.
Fans of the Masters of the Universe franchise should have plenty to like about Revelation, which pulls off the trifecta of honoring its source material, improving on it where there’s opportunity to do so, and living up to its title with a fascinating, fresh spin on the franchise.
The first five episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation premiere July 23 on Netflix.
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