Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con 2017 had a variety of panels, reunions, and Q&A sessions lined up in its programming. One particularly nostalgic panel was that of the 1980s cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, commemorating its thirty-fifth anniversary, which was held Saturday, October 28, at 11:00 a.m. In attendance on the reunion panel were Alan Oppenheimer (Skeletor), Melendy Britt (She-Ra), and Tom Cook (Filmation animator).
The panel began with Oppenheimer and Britt speaking as their respective iconic characters (with Britt particularly getting into character by reciting She-Ra’s entire introduction) and then proceeding to a Q&A session from the audience.
Oppenheimer was the mischievous one of the lot, regaling a few humorous stories. For instance, Oppenheimer is often asked by other convention-goers as to why John Erwin (voice of He-Man) does not make any convention appearances. Per Oppenheimer, this is due to Erwin being incredibly shy. Once, Oppenheimer had asked Erwin about appearing at a con, with Erwin stating he was hesitant to go because, “I don’t look like He-Man,” to which Oppenheimer replied, “Well, no $%@#. I don’t look like Skeletor!”
Another humorous anecdote from Oppenheimer was his backstory of voicing Falkor the Luckdragon from The NeverEnding Story. According to Oppenheimer, director Wolfgang Petersen came to LA, and Oppenheimer had auditioned for him. The movie had already been shot in Munich, so Oppenheimer was given a still of the film and a voice came to him. He performed, got the job, and flew to Munich. On the first day, he recorded his voice for Falkor to which Petersen said it sounded good. Oppenheimer asked for a playback, heard it, and asked if he could do it again. He performed a second time the next day, and that was the voice that was used in the film. Per Oppenheimer, the difference between performances was that he felt his second outing had more heart to it. After the recording, Petersen asked Oppenheimer if he would be willing to record lines for Rock Biter, to which he agreed. After that performance, Petersen then asked if he could read for Gmork (the wolf villain) and then finally the narrator. At this, Oppenheimer laughed, saying that Petersen “got four voices for the price of one!”
When prompted about how they had landed their parts, Oppenheimer said they had auditioned for the parts and got them due to luck, while Britt provided more background. For her, “We all read for it. We would go to our agency, go into a booth, record our auditions which would be sent to producers. I got a call back, which never happens, as usually you are hired or not. That’s when I knew this show was going to be serious. Lou Scheimer (founder of Filmation) was not sure who to cast for She-Ra. His daughter Erika had heard me and proclaimed, ‘She is the one!’”
Cook stated that he started in the animation business with Tarzan and Blackstar. He had heard there was this new show, and they wanted the best animators. He had to take a test: eight hours drawing He-Man running with his sword. The tests were numbered so they could be judged anonymously. Scheimer pulled his number as one of the best, and thus how he got the job.
All three panelists were full of adoration toward Scheimer. Oppenheimer thought Scheimer to be “an amazing man and a lot of fun.” For Cook, the best part of his career was working with Scheimer and Filmmation, because he really cared about his employees. As other animation studios followed the practice of outsourcing their animators to Korea, Scheimer kept those jobs in house, believing the work should be kept in the States. In order to save costs, that meant each episode of He-Man had to be made up of 15% re-used footage. But because of this practice, Cook was guaranteed a job for many years. Cook also stated how progressive Scheimer was, in that he created the first animated female superhero with She-Ra. He also said he wanted the titular character in Blackstar to be black, but this was rejected by the network.
All three panelists shared their stories of con-goers and fans telling them the positive impact He-Man and She-Ra had on their lives.
For Oppenheimer, he’s had a few fans come to him saying they got into body building because of the cartoon; however, he was particularly moved by some fans from South America: “At one of the first conventions I did, an Argentina boy came to me in Miami. He said the morals at the end of the He-Man episodes helped them. Once he was in the Amazon and got separated. He had paid attention to the morale at the end of the cartoon, and stayed put, and two hours later he was found.” Other kids had thoughts of suicide, but were fans of the show. Thirty years later, when meeting Oppenheimer at a con, they told him how much the show had impacted their life. Cook echoed these observations. There was a Chilean kid he had met who wanted to be He-Man. He said the show had kept him out of trouble has he had lived in a rough neighborhood. He agreed that so many places in South America held the shows in high regards. Britt underscored these observations saying she had also been privy to many stories of folks’ lives being changed by the shows. For her, at the last cone she was at, a “young woman walked up and asked for an autograph. She had a button with a picture of her brother who was in hospice. She would visit him and he wanted a She-Ra doll. That doll gave him fun and escape from his condition.”
When prompted about what they would like to see in a He-Man remake, Cook responded that violence could be handled better: “Back in the ’80s, networks said no to violence. He-Man and Skeletor never crossed swords. I think they could do this now without being super violent.”
Cook also provided more insight into the production efforts of the cartoons: “In a week, there may be twenty-five scenes to animate, and whomever was on it did it. If there was a scene with waterfall, I’d have to learn to draw a waterfall. My favorite character to animate was Orko because he floated and I didn’t have to animate any walking. From story to voice to animation, it would take a month to complete an entire episode.” Cook also explained that he would receive the soundtrack on cassette and would listen to it to get a feeling of how the characters were talking and acting, which would give him the cues on how to animate them. He also joked that he once got into trouble animating Skeltor in that since the character lacked lips, he couldn’t do an “oooo” motion in his face, so some of his animations where simply his mouth open.
The producer conceded the point.
Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.