Masters of the Universe’s Kevin Smith on Updating He-Man and Adult Animation

Masters of the Universe’s Kevin Smith on Updating He-Man and Adult Animation
Same haircut, same armour, same tan — but very different consequences. (Image: Netflix)

Kevin Smith isn’t reinventing the wheel, nor is he reinventing Castle Grayskull. The director of Netflix’s upcoming Masters of the Universe sequel series was dead set on keeping Revelation true to the campy, innocuous cartoon of the 1980s, while still satisfying those grown-up He-Man fans who have longed for an equally grown-up incarnation of the series. In Gizmodo’s interview with the creator, Smith explains how he walked a very, very fine line indeed.

This interview has been edited for clarity and to avoid spoilers.

Rob Bricken, Gizmodo: I’m a big Masters of the Universe fan, so I could talk to you for hours, but I’m just going to get to —

Kevin Smith: [interrupting excitedly] A He-Man fan! You were who we made this for. You were the person we were always thinking about, and double-checking our maths, because our manifest [for Revelation] was, “This is a sequel for anyone who knew and loved the classic, original series.” We didn’t know what you looked like, but we were always like, “What is he going to say? What is he going to think?” So, what do you think and what do you have to say?

Gizmodo: I enjoyed it! I never knew where it was going to go next, which was very exciting. But what was your ethos for what to keep from the original, kid-friendly He-Man cartoon, and what to update for adult fans?

Smith: Such a great question. My thing was we keep it all. We disregard nothing, we leave nothing off. There are characters with toys we didn’t get to play with in our story, but nothing was left off because they were [deemed] too silly. Everything was in play. The idea was, especially if you grew up watching the original, we wanted the experience for the viewer to be like your toys are exactly where you left them. [But] you’re now old enough and they’re old enough to tell a story with stakes.

Revelation keeps true to the classic cartoon by keeping Orko as a well-meaning buffoon...mostly. (Image: Netflix) Revelation keeps true to the classic cartoon by keeping Orko as a well-meaning buffoon…mostly. (Image: Netflix)

For years, we watched them do somersaults and never cross swords in the original show. [In Revelation], we keep all the characters, all the motivations are the same, all the relationships, the same locations, who they are. We didn’t touch any of that. Rather than shy away from it or trying to reinvent it, we embraced it wholeheartedly. However, [the characters] are going to deal with things that they’ve never dealt with before: Losing a loved one. Betrayal. Abuse. Trauma. Like big-ticket, adult issues. However, the whole time we were making this show, we referred to it as adult animation. Then I saw [Amazon Prime’s] Invincible and I was like, “We are not adult animation. We are a kids show.”

Gizmodo: So how do you walk that line between giving those hardcore fans what they’ve always wanted to see without sacrificing the story? Nerds are hard to please, as you well know.

Smith: They are, man, but I’m one of those nerds, right? I’m a guy who’s normally in the audience with opinions and stuff, so I just stole from the best. When in doubt, steal a formula. And the good folks at Marvel [Studios] have been doing what we did. Basically, I said, “Let’s just do what Marvel does every time I go to one of those Marvel movies. I get my childhood served to me in the most appetising fashion.” These are stories I know by heart, and still, they give me a new version of it, and they don’t disavow anything that happened [in the comics]. They don’t make fun of it or downplay it. It’s all in play. It’s all real.

So I was like, “Let’s do that. Let’s just make this for a Masters of the Universe fan coming into it, like everything is exactly as they remembered it. Every character [in Revelation] plays the same kind of way [they used to]. … We don’t change the costumes. Everybody looks like they should. Every character behaves like they should. But. How would they behave or change or react if you removed an element — you know, if you killed somebody off, something they never really had to deal with before?

Teela and Evil-Lyn play a larger role in Revelation than you might have expected. (Image: Netflix) Teela and Evil-Lyn play a larger role in Revelation than you might have expected. (Image: Netflix)

Gizmodo: Despite how much it honours the original cartoon, Revelation also takes a lot of big swings that I was not expecting. My jaw literally dropped in episode five.

Smith: When we in the writers’ room, all five of us were sitting around going, “They’re either going to love us or hate us by the end of five.” Because it’s a real page-turner! “How dare you not put up episode six, because you can’t stop like that!” Yeah, that’s a big swing, but we felt it’s earned. … as long as everything honoured the source material.

We got very lucky, I’ll be honest with you, in as much as we had two execs on our project who love this shit more than most people in the world. [The first is Director of the Original Series] Ted Biaselli at Netflix. Masters of the Universe is his religion, he’s got every figure. He was the one that made all this happen. By having him and having [VP, Content — Creative] Rob David at Mattel Television who’s actually written Masters of the Universe comics for DC, we had two wonderful lodestars by which we could never derail.

Ted’s childhood enthusiasm allowed us to take those big swings, but I guarantee you if there was ever a swing too large, he would have reigned us in. He was kind of like the standard example of who we were making the show for — I mean, we literally were making the show for Ted — but as long Ted was cool with it, we knew that fans would be cool because he wouldn’t have let it not be Masters of the Universe.

The first five episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation premieres on Netflix on July 23.

Stay tuned to Gizmodo for more coverage in the coming weeks.