(Image from Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation by Andy Mangels)
A few years ago, I sat down to watch The Secret of the Sword. For whatever reason, my wife was feeling indulgent that day and sat down to watch it with me. I never really watched She-Ra as a kid and had no memories of the show, so I didn’t know what I was in for. But both my wife and I found ourselves endlessly amused by the voice of Swift Wind, a beautiful pegasus with the voice of a five-pack-a-day smoker.
I don’t know if Lou Scheimer actually smoked, but he certainly gave Swift Wind a voice that sounded like it. Mr. Scheimer, the founder of Filmation Studios, passed away last week at the age of 84. I was never as partial to Filmation as many He-Fans, but there’s no question his shows gave me hours of entertainment. And Mr. Scheimer was certainly very open to and embracing of the MOTU and She-Ra community over the last decade as its fandom has come into its own.
That said, Mr. Scheimer leaves a mixed legacy. There are aspects of Filmation shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe that are quite impressive, such as the background artwork. Certain episodes, such as those written by Paul Dini or Larry DiTillio, are memorable and worth revisiting even as an adult. But it was also a show done on the cheap, as were most of Filmation’s shows. Actual animation was limited and constantly re-used, and the writers and artists had to get creative where they could. The violence, what there was of it, was heavily sanitized, although certain episodes were managed to craft a story that dealt with its consequences (such as “The Problem with Power”).
Of course, He-Man‘s famously gentle action wasn’t entirely Filmation’s fault. In the 1980s, even a show as toothless as MOTU was the subject of Peggy Charren‘s ire (this while kids were gleefully enjoying all the lightsaber-induced dismemberment in the Star Wars movies). The violence was toned down even more and moral epilogues were added, though these would themselves be criticized for being “preachy.” Too violent, too sanitized, too Satanic, too preachy, too cheap, too commercial – it seems He-Man just couldn’t win with anyone…anyone except kids, that is.
I loved He-Man as a kid and was blissfully unaware of all the controversy. I was the young enough to be blind to the show’s cheap production values. At the age of four and five, I didn’t want or need He-Man slicing people’s heads off (not sure I do now, either). The moral segments, while often tacked-on and tangentially related to the story at best, were good things to remind kids about. And while the animation was unquestionably limited, the show provided a context for my toys, and that became a very important part of my toy collecting.
I was witness to the magic of Filmation last year when I turned on the series on Netflix for my friend’s five-year-old son. He was immediately enraptured, and still watches the show to this day alongside The Clone Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other modern cartoons. Filmation’s shows weren’t for everyone, and there are MOTU fans who take it as a point of pride that they never liked the cartoon. But many – perhaps many more – did, and now those fans mourn the loss of a man who entertained millions of children.