And now for something truly bizarre. The "Masters of the Universe" float. The unbelievable Masters of the Universe float. Prepare yourselves.
A little background: for He-Man fans, this float wasn't just a lucky coincidence we happened upon while watching the parade. This was a huge event -- one we'd been waiting to see for quite a while. Mattel announced the float's role months prior to the Macy's Parade, advertising its appearance both in the comics and the old MOTU Magazine that had all those neat word puzzles starring King Randor and Trap-Jaw. Furthermore, it wasn't just any float. This thing was absolutely gorgeous and huge -- one part was "Castle Grayskull," another was She-Ra's "Crystal Castle," while the midsection was reserved for a hideous snake creature who fogged up half of New York City with just the kind of dragon breath Rand Peltzer warned against while promoting the Bathroom Buddy. Mmmm hm.
Debuting in 1985, the float was also the only way to see your favorite Masters of the Universe characters...live. I firmly believe that He-Man's success could be attributed in a major way to Mattel's attention to doing these sorts of things. You create fans with a cool cartoon and some neat action figures, but you create loyalty by making your star characters bust out with the Vaudeville at a Thanksgiving parade. There was all kinds of this crap with the Masters of the Universe franchise. You had their ill-fated appearance at Universal Studios, 900 numbers, tons of promotional giveaways -- Mattel always knew how to inspire excitement in children, and that's probably a big reason why He-Man not only lasted so long, but even returned from the grave for what's looking to be an even bigger Round 2 at toy stores across the globe. What, you thought a sword-wielding guy in his underwear and a skeleton man who never won a battle was the reason we loved MOTU so much? No way -- we were consciously conditioned. We're the guys who walked Pavlov's dog. We loved it when Sorceress turned into a birdy tee heeee.
There was one tragic flaw in Mattel's giant scheme, though. Whenever it came time for He-Man to become a more real life entity, they lost all sight of what the show was really like, instead opting to play the whole thing up like serious fantasy entertainment. You saw what happened in He-Man's live action movie. Came off like a cross between a SNL Star Wars skit and bad gay porn. I hear Frank Langella still overstates his former macho boxing career because of it. He-Man, a dish best served light, was handed to us as a serious hero, fighting against serious villains, in very serious combat. That wasn't quite the case when the characters walked around the parade float, but rest assured, Animated He-Man was rolling in his grave.
After an extended introduction, the action starts with Orko and Skeletor preparing for battle, or as the case may be, circling each other and making inappropriate "mime" movements. He-Man quickly appears, but never seems to stay still for any considerable amount of time. We soon found out why...
Instead of finding a musclebound freak to play the part, they simply stuck some regular Joe in a puffy "muscle suit" -- he looks like one of those guys women attack in self-defense classes.
Finally, He-Man emerges atop one of the castle towers, and unleashes his fury and various catch-phrases on the world. "By the Power of Grayskull!" "I have the power!" Lots of cleverly veiled references to "power." What "power" was this, anyway? What was Grayskull's power? Was He-Man referring to his transformation from Prince Adam, or some newly, ill-defined power the Grayskull then gave He-Man? Can somebody crunch numbers on this? No matter the meaning, these were things He-Man spoke only when the circumstances grew dire. If he's calling for the Power of Grayskull, it's because somebody's about to do something terrible. After He-Man says these strange things, the next shot should be of one of the villains, preparing to defile Teela or something. What did we get?
A ten-second long shot of Hordak, standing absolutely positively still, staring in the opposite direction. You can practically hear him waiting for some off-camera stagehand to yell "GO!" Entertainment is filled with rip-roaring starts. But not 100% filled.
Some time passes, some more action, and She-Ra then makes her presence known. More "power" taglines followed. Only cool thing was -- after She-Ra nailed her "For the honor of Grayskull!" line, she followed it up with a gut-wrenching "IIIIII AMMMMM...SHE-RAAAAAHHHHHH" with so many bit tongues and tilted head movements and staggering assertion that I'm surprised Lady Liberty didn't collapse then and there from the magnificent energy waves.
For what it's worth, She-Ra looked more like She-Ra than He-Man looked like He-Man. The sentence makes sense, you just have to read it a few times and fill in the context. Um. Anything you've read of mine and hated, I swear, it's for the same reason. You just forgot to fill in the context. You.
She-Ra battles one of her usual enemies, the sly "Catra." On the cartoon, Catra could turn into a beastly cat who lunged in for super-attacks. In the parade, Catra is just some leggy girl who shields her face from the Jupiter-sized fog machine with a cape made from neatly knit table napkins from Red Lobster. As the battle ensues and becomes rather lengthy, we wonder why we're not seeing more of He-Man.
I'll tell you why -- he's gassed. The combination of the shitty weather in '85 and the added strength needed to maneuver around a 50-story parade float shaped like a rattlesnake while wearing a 200-pound puffy muscle suit finally got to him. When He-Man appears, he creates a new moniker to build around his empire of "Thunder Punch" and "Flying Fist" nicknames: "Critically Winded." Critically Winded He-Man merely goes through the motions of heroics, putting about as much umpfpf in his punches as you would if someone threw you in the middle of a crowd without your clothes on to do battle with "Mer-Man" and "Killer Panda Dude on Fire." I don't blame him -- it's raining, too.
There's a shot of the lifeless Hordak I mentioned earlier. I was actually really happy to see him -- Hordak's probably my second favorite character from either cartoon series. Other characters included "Grizzlor," Hordak's version of Beast Man. Yeah, Beast Man was there, too. So was "Moss Man," unbelievably enough. Picture Stephen King at the end of "Creepshow" -- that thing was walking around the He-Man float. There were plenty of characters you couldn't see, because the giant fog-machine has caused a thick cloud of smoke to cover a three mile radius. I think I saw "Webstor" running around in there -- not the midget sitcom star. Webstor was one of Skeletor's sporadically appearing goons. A "special guest," so to speak. He's also how I learned the word "indigo."
I had my toys. I was in the kitchen.
Me: Mom, both these guys are blue, but this guy is more blue than Webstor. Is Webstor purple?
Mom: No, he's not purple. Half of that two-headed guy over there is purple.
Me: But then he's blue? How could he be blue if this other one is blue and they are not the SAME COLORS?
Mom: Well, you know, you could call it "indigo."
A new Favorite Word of the Month was born that day. From there on out, every color not red was somehow "indigo." Everything was indigo. I was in deep now with ind - dee - goh. Indigo. Indigo indigo indigo indigo. Name is Indigo Montoya. Indidit it. Indigoab. Bigboydidit. Big Boy did it. ::gulp:: Princess Bride and Dick Tracy tied to indigo -- I don't care how bad this paragraph reads, it was still worth it.
In the end, He-Man and She-Ra helped win the war for the Powers of Good and Grayskull. Nah, they didn't really win anything -- everyone just stopped battling because He-Man was totally missing his cue to get on that ramp and lip-sync his catch-phrases.
Also: in the clip, take notice of Hordak's reaction when he succeeds in throwing Moss Man to the floor. And then tell me you wouldn't do the same exact thing if you threw down Moss Man.
And that was the He-Man float, circa 1985. It returned a year later. The float was the only thing completely the same -- now we had new characters, more elaborate action sequences, and someone to replace ol' droll Sajak as narrator for the event...
....a new narrator. A big new narrator named Dolph Lundgren.
Seriously, as soon as you see him standing there, you know the next ten minutes ain't going to be good. There was just something in the air that day -- something that poisoned Masters of the Universe -- and whatever that something was, it was strong enough to actually be conveyed to those of us watching at home. We couldn't pinpoint exactly what was about to happen, but we knew it wouldn't be pretty.
Dolph was there to promote the live-action movie I referred to earlier. After Sajak introduces him, Dolph wastes no time in establishing his intellectual weight. "Hey Pat... ::elbow nudge:: Duhwhere's Vanna?"
Oh boy. This was going to be fun. Not only are we gonna get to see a revamped He-Man float, but we're gonna have an obviously stoned Dolph Lundgren explaining it to us. I don't know if this helped Mattel sell more action figures, but it's certainly helped me remember that the worst moments of my life are by no means the worst moments possible.
As Castle Grayskull rolled into view, a great hush fell over the crowd. Some of them had been there last year. Some of them had seen this little dog & pony show before. Still, nobody could shake the feeling that it'd somehow be different this time. Maybe for the better...maybe for the worse.
"Now here again is the dramatic Castle Grayskull. In this setting He-Man battles the forces of evil."
Read that line again. Picture it coming from a stoned, disinterested Dolph Lundgren. Repeat the process for this next line:
"Danger lurks at every turn as He-Man faces the Evil Horde."
And really, why stop now?
"Never daunted, He-Man continues his quest for good."
Believe me, it gets better.
He-Man makes his first appearance, busting out of Grayskull to save Man-At-Arms from Skeletor. Compared to 1985, He-Man is way more "hands on" now. He face-kicks Skeletor within his first four seconds onscreen! After throwing Skeletor into the fiery pits of Hell, He-Man makes his way across the float, fighting off the likes of "Ninjor" and "Mosquitor." Yep, a Horde character -- with a great costume, too. The heroes got some extra help in the form of "Snout Spout," He-Man's new pal who was part man, part robot, part elephant. I cannot stress how exciting it is to see live-action representations of things that are part man, part robot, part elephant.
She-Ra's back, but she only repeats the same shit she did last year. Course, it's more entertaining when narrated by Dolph Lundgren.
You know, I bet he could piss in that suit without anyone noticing.
Everything was going great. With nicer weather and the added advantage of being able to assess an improve on a previous parade performance, the Masters of the Universe Float & Battle Show looked to be hitting a home run. It had everything a person could want -- star power, smoke (but not too much this time!), and Skeletor getting face-kicked. The people who put this thing together really gave it their all, making sure to cram as much MOTU shit on that float as possible. Though, perhaps they may have crammed a bit...too much.
As He-Man makes the rounds, we get to meet all sorts of new characters. Most of them are great, and serve their purposes with precision. But! They may have gone a little overboard with one of these new characters. When you have a set course of action for a big battle play on a 4000' long parade float, you don't want the audience to place their attentions entirely on one character -- especially one who isn't He-Man or She-Ra. As the camera pans from left to Hades, we meet one of the new villains. Once we did, we never took our eyes off him. How could we? The guy had arms as long as ocean liners. Meet Sssqueeze!
Sssqueeze. A new villain. A snake. With giant arms that span halfway across the parade float. As soon as we saw Sssqueeze, we were hooked. We were fascinated. We were in love. He-Man could go grab Hordak, rip his heart clean out, and eat it -- we weren't going to see it. We only saw Sssqueeze. And I mean that literally. Sssqueeze's armspan keeps him on the screen at all times. If there was somehow a child who wasn't in love, it didn't matter. He was stuck watching Sssqueeze anyway.
Go Sssqueeze. Slip him the third arm.
Even when Sssqueeze had nothing to do with the action, he's all you could see. A scrambling green thing flailing around the city.
Course, they managed to fit in a few seconds of stuff without Sssqueeze's arms in view. In those rare moments, you'll get to see the poor guy playing He-Man slip and fall off of the giant dragon statue while trying to ascend. He collects himself as quickly as possible, and while He-Man succeeds on the second attempt, the damage had been done. Not only was Sssqueeze our new champion, He-Man -- mighty He-Man -- was a total klutz.
"Together He-Man and She-Ra will fight evil and they will......win. Yeah. All right, He-Man!"
Another gem from Dolph. It'll be tough for anything left in either parade to top this, but we'll try.