In his introduction to the book, the author Brian C. Baer makes an astute observation. He says that a toy isn’t enough anymore. And he’s entirely correct. From being casually intertwined with a few toys to tie-in with films, the films themselves have become bigger events with store shelves groaning with all manner of toys, from the cheap to the ridiculously priced high end products – both industries greedily feeding from each other.
And it all began with He-Man and The Masters of the Universe. Not the tie-ins, obviously – but the amount of mass marketing (though we suspect Star Wars had a far greater impact than Baer gives Lucasfilm credit for). Toy company Mattel wanted to produce a series of toys and figures based on the Conan The Barbarian film of 1982. When the deal fell through, Mattel decided to launch their own barbarian, called He-Man and actually made history as a result.
Filling in the backgrounds of their toy characters and exotic locations (i.e. playsets) with mini comics, the toy range became the first toy to spin off a cartoon TV series. Previously, such blatant hard-sell advertising was illegal and TV watchdogs were ready to pounce – but a change in the law during the Regan administration changed all that, opening the doors to a whole new dimension of over the top product placement, with D.C Comics. The series introduced new characters, which begat more toys, and a rich and profitable mythology was created.
Sadly, this book doesn’t quite deliver on its promise of how the series changed the face of TV advertising for children, the facts are here – but the author tends to veer off course and spends a lot of time examining. For example, discussing the history and later, the financial woes and cost cutting at Filmation rather than examining the cultural implications of what was happening, which is what the cover blurb implies, opening the doors for such franchises as Transformers.
Ultimately, the book is both exhaustive in its detail and sadly exhausting to read, unless you’re a die-hard He-Man fan.
HOW HE-MAN MASTERED THE UNIVERSE: TOY TO TELEVISION TO THE BIG SCREEN / AUTHOR: BRIAN C. BAER / PUBLISHER: MCFARLAND & CO INC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW