Back in 1976, Mattel CEO Ray Wagner passed on the rights to make action figures for George Lucas’ Star Wars. In hindsight, it was one of the biggest missed opportunities in history, as Star Wars toys are still huge business. That license eventually went to Kenner, and Mattel spent the next half a decade trying to create their own line of toys to compete.
The company struck gold in 1981, with the launch of the Masters of the Universe line – a series of toys featuring a wild mixture of classic Robert E. Howard fantasy (minus the sex and violence to try and appease parents – a move that wasn’t entirely successful) and sci-fi trappings. The star of this fictional universe, the muscle-bound Conan wannabe, He-Man (stupidest name ever…) does battle with the evil Skeletor, who’s trying to take over Castle Grayskull and become “master of the universe.”
The toy line was a hit (in general and with me – one of my fondest Christmas memories was waking up and opening a giant box housing my very own Castle Grayskull), and spawned dozens of figures – some cool, some absurd, most of the early ones just palette swaps of other characters with new heads – and a cartoon series. Masters of the Universe became a big deal.
Now, Urban Archipelago is producing a feature length documentary chronicling the entire He-Man phenomenon. Entitled Toy Masters, the film goes behind the scenes and finds that the conception and execution of the Masters of the Universe toy line wasn’t exactly a rosy process. From idea stealing to backstabbing to compromised artistic integrity, Toy Masters looks quite compelling. It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy – only one featuring plastic action figures.
The project is currently still filming, but we can give you a taste of what to expect from the finished product in the nearly 8-minute long clip. We were a little skeptical about a Masters of the Universe documentary at first, but after seeing this, we’re officially sold. For more info on the project – including info on how to prove you’re the biggest He-Man nerd around and get into the film – swing by the film’s official website.