Considering the extremely high number of rainbows per capita on Etheria, lesbian Judge Jennifer Malkowski thinks it might be an even better choice for her next vacation than that gay cruise...
For the honor of Grayskull!
I still remember setting out for my first day of kindergarten in the long ago year of 1988 with my She-Ra bookbag proudly slung over my shoulder. Little did I know that the little tomboy who loved the butt-kicking Princess of Power back then would find so much more to love almost 20 years later with The Best of She-Ra—Princess of Power. Not only is it a formidable entry into the oh-so-bad-it's-good hall of fame, it's also one of the most delightfully gay kids' shows I've ever seen!
Facts of the Case
This set includes the feature-length film which introduced She-Ra as a character, as well as the fans' five favorite episodes (as determined through an Internet poll):
• "The Secret of the Sword"
• "Of Shadows and Skulls"
• "Sweet Bee's Home"
• "Horde Prime Takes a Holiday"
• "The Stone in the Sword"
• "The Price of Freedom"
First and foremost, let's examine my claim that She-Ra is one of the most delightfully gay kids' shows of all time. Now I know that rainbows and sensitive men may be standard fare on the under-eight programming circuit, but I ask members of the how-queer-is-it jury to look over exhibit A:
You may notice that the first time we see He-Man in his sister series, he is wearing ass-tight purple pants with a pink vest and is making spice bread for his (longtime) sissy tiger companion. He-Man later comments while in disguise that he doesn't look like a member of the Horde. True—he looks more like a member of the Gay Men's Chorus! On to exhibit B:
This one really needs the gentle bucking motion of the romantic horseback ride for the full effect. Note the placement of hands on hips (and hips on butt, for that matter). These two could easily guest star on Saturday Night Live's "Ambiguously Gay Duo." Between images like these, He-Man's constant hunky near-nudity, the fact that he is always getting chained up to something in this state, and the way all of Etheria is decked out with more rainbows than the San Francisco pride parade, I can guarantee that anyone looking for campy gay fun will not be disappointed with The Best of She-Ra—Princess of Power.
Gay or straight, the animators seem to amuse themselves primarily by slipping little sexual references into this kids' show. In addition to the aforementioned gay lovin', we also get native plant life that looks an awful lot like naked breasts, lingering zooms on Hordak's crotch when he presses buttons on his belt, and lines like Hordak saying it "could take all night" to drain He-Man's energy. In "Horde Prime Takes a Holiday," He-Man pulls a little butt plug looking thing out of his pants that turns out to be a grappling hook. Plus, Shadow Weaver has some unbelievably perky boobs for a shriveled old witch!
Turning to text rather than subtext, She-Ra is a classic, over-the-top sci-fi/fantasy show. It's the kind of show where a heroine will actually shake her fist in the sky and intone the phrase, "Those fiends!" Villains embrace their villainy with maniacal laughter and every single sad event will be registered with a single tear gracing a good guy's cheek. Unlike most action adventures, though, this one pulls a lot of punches on the action front. There's really no reason that She-Ra and He-Man need swords, because they almost never swing them at anything. Mostly, they use them to reflect laser beams—and a thin strip of metal might not be best for that. Sometimes, they transform the swords into other things. The "sword to parachute!" switch seems the silliest, considering the probably efficacy of metal parachutes. For the best example of the low-on-action problem, check out the embarrassingly tedious stand-off between He-Man and the Horde in "The Price of Freedom."
The characters themselves are an endless source of amusement, intentional and otherwise. In naming, all of the female characters seem to be nouns and verbs with a feminine "a" added to the end: Frosta, Mermista, Enchanta, Katra. The broom thing that hangs out with Madam Razz—herself an "old Jewish Brooklyn lady who happens to be a powerful witch who can't remember any of her spells," according to the commentary—prompted the friend who was watching with me to wonder, "what's that french fry thing?" Cringer, He-Man's tiger buddy, is an obvious Scooby-Doo knock-off, right down to the quavering voice and obsession with food. Bow, She-Ra's love interest, is one of the best characters, sheerly because the writers aren't afraid to make him a full-blown damsel in distress for She-Ra to rescue. Hordak is sometimes genuinely menacing, but other times he wanders into silliness with stunts like using the "vacuum cleaner attachment" on his robot arm. A lot of the fun comes from the wacky voice casting. Every character that is written to be masculine or menacing is comically undercut by projecting a voice like a crotchety old man. Skeletor, in particular, lets out this high-pitched, nasal squeak which—when coupled with his flapping skeleton jaw—makes him feel a bit too much like a ventriloquist's dummy. The most obvious, and admitted, "influence" in the creation of most of these characters is Star Wars. One can't help but notice that Adam and Adora are twins, separated at birth, who grow up to be rebel heroes. The bad guys are part of a high-tech empire, and then there's that little C3P0 rainbow owl that flies around here and there.
The moment of each episode I looked forward to most, however, was definitely the little convoluted moral offered up by rainbow troll Loo-Kee to close each episode, with each moral tangentially relating to its story. For example, when Sweet Bee's alien race needs a new planet to live on, they Scout out Etheria and are nearly killed or enslaved by the Horde. Despite this traumatic experience, Loo-Kee extracts the notion that if your family ever has to move, like Sweet Bee's did, you should be excited. On another occasion, he succinctly advises, "If someone is mean to you, don't try to get revenge. Just try to forgive and forget, 'cause that usually works." The most bizarre and awkward of these episode-closers is the one in which She-Ra and He-Man take over for Loo-Kee with an unmotivated message about sexual abuse:
She-Ra: "Remember, it's your body and no one should touch you in a way that's wrong…It's hard for a young person to admit that he or she has been touched in a bad way."
He-Man: "If you've been touched that way, don't be ashamed. Tell someone you trust, like your parents, your doctor, your teacher or counselor, or your minister or rabbi."
She-Ra: "Right, Orco?"
Orco: "Right on."
Clearly, this one should have been matched with the episode in which Frosta kept trying to stroke and massage an uninterested He-Man. The message here seems random and strange, but the commentators assert later that it actually led to at least one instance of an abused child coming forward. So who am I to criticize?
The quality of this set should be more than high enough to satisfy the many dedicated fans who were anxiously awaiting its release. Although the fairly poor picture and sound quality remind us that this beloved series was, after all, a hastily-assembled spin-off kids' show, the extras are plentiful and fun. The commentary on "The Secret of the Sword" along with the documentary on Disc Two let us get to know many of the writers, animators, producers, and voice actors. When talking about their motivations for creating the characters and storylines, the general tone is one of minor contradiction. The rosy glasses of retrospection lead some to recall She-Ra as a feminist rebellion against studio reps who told them to use lots of bright colors and not have hitting in order to appease little girls. While these people talk about creating the first Xena, others emphasize that the central motivation was simply that, "we were always looking for ways to spin off from He-Man." In the vaguest of claims, one interviewee pleasantly concludes that, "[these episodes] were fun, they were entertaining, they were pro-everything." The commentators also have some intense stories about hearing from fans. He-Man helped one little boy beat cancer, and he was the last thing that another man saw on this earth before going blind—making him a fan for life. They also admit that "The Secret of the Sword" just didn't work as a movie—it was poorly paced, not animated for big-screen enlargement, and was a box-office failure. After this sad admission, they cheerfully wonder, "Did Tim Burton ever work for us? I think he did, but he won't admit it." To be fair, the exposition-heavy trailer for "The Secret of the Sword" only makes modest promises about its quality: it is full of characters "all with the power to entertain for 90 fast-paced minutes."
There are also some fun facts on the menus for each episode, which are surprisingly candid about the low-budget recycling of footage and plot contradictions. From "The Stone in the Sword," we learn that, "Scenes from this episode would later be referred to and re-used in Season Two's 'The Time Transformer,' although that episode's content would contradict this one." With "Sweet Bee's Home," the menu informs us that the writers thought Frosta was "the hottest-looking heroine to have graced the screen" and also that, "Sadly, when He-Man and Sweet Bee meet again in 'Assault on the Hive,' He-Man displays no affection for her." But the real gem of the special features is the "I Have the Power" music video and accompanying extras. Written by Erika Scheimer—"the boss's daughter," who introduces it in a featurette—the song is great fun with its strange romantic overtones about Adam and Adora's brother-sister relationship. As they both look up at the stars wondering about each other, we hear lyrics like, "for better or for worse beside her" and "forever more we'll be together." Creepy, but it's got some slammin' electric guitar riffs! One has to admit, though, that He-Man's voice sounds like neither He-Man nor Adam.
It might seem like I'm being pretty hard on this goofy old cartoon show, but I got so much joy out of every little goof, contradiction, and sexual innuendo in this series that I make these comments as recommendation rather than criticism. Going back to some of my beloved childhood shows, I've been disappointed by their bland mediocrity, but She-Ra makes me just as happy now as it did when I was a kid—it's just that now I get a kick out of butt-plug-looking grappling hooks rather than epic battles and larger-than-life heroines.
Perhaps it is a testament to our ubercapitalist society that a spin-off designed to tap into the girls' market, from a character based on and designed to sell a Mattel action figure would birth a fabulous '80s proto-Xena who remains a beloved, kitschy feminist icon to today's twentysomethings. Regardless of the cultural analysis, She-Ra: Princess of Power is a series that has aged well since the time when I lugged my She-Ra backpack to my first day of kindergarten.
Judge Jennifer Malkowski has the power, and so can you—with this exhaustive release of an '80's cartoon classic on your shelf.
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