"Diamond Ray of Disappearance"
Written By Robby London - Directed By Lou Zukor
.....In a vast wasteland, there lies an imposing serpent-headed tower.
Inside that tower, a sinister figure plots.
"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh....You don't recognize it, do you, Beast Man?"
"In this box lies the lost Diamond Ray of Disappearance!"
Beast Man, suitably impressed, begins to state the rather obvious-sounding ability of the diamond, but is cut off angrily by his master, who commands the furry warrior to activate the Transport Beam. Giddy with anticipation, Skeletor begins his summons.
"I, Skeletor, command you, my warriors!"
.....Elsewhere, in a lake of some sort, a green fish-man wrestles with a reptillian-looking sea creature.
"Warlord of Water! Master of fish, lakes, and streams! Return now, to Snake Mountain!"
The Transport Beam catches the aquatic overlord, and as quickly as he was found.....
.....he is gone.
.....Next, atop a desolate cliff.....
Sorceress of Night! I, Skeletor, command you to return immediately!"
Like Mer-Man, Evil-Lyn is transported away.....
.....leaving the magically-created storm as the only evidence that she
had ever been there.
.....Later, in a rocky plain.....
"Master of Vision! I will need your Gamma Vision, which can see around solid objects!"
As anticipated by the helmeted strong man, the Transport Beam takes away Tri-Klops.....
.....though not without the device he has uncovered.
.....Afterwards, in a field of geysers and volcanic rocks....
"Wizard of Weapons! Return with your deadly arsenal and deadly steel jaw!"
Like his allies, the cybernetic killing machine is found by the Transport Beam.....
.....His warriors assembled (and a vicious purple panther at his side), Skeletor chuckles happily, as his underlings question their summons with a healthy does of contempt. When Skeletor announces that he has the means to conquer the planet and defeat He-Man, Mer-Man reminds the Lord of Destruction that this is old hat: "We've all heard that before, Skeletor, and He-Man has stopped us each time."
.....Undaunted, Skeletor shows off the box that encases the Diamond Ray, which fails to impress the Evil Warriors. When asked by Tri-Klops about what makes it special, Skeletor asks for a volunteer, only to find a collection of faces staring back at him, some with dull aplomb, and others with barely concealed contempt. Not bothered in the least, Skeletor produces a pink lizard.
".....the Diamond Ray."
He opens the box, exposing the diamond, which emits a white ray.....
"It...It's gone! The creature vanished!"
.....causing the creature to vanish in thin air!
.....Suitably impressed, Skeletor's gang listens intently as he begins to explain his plan....
.....Elsewhere, at a beautiful, modern palace, a group of people blissfully enjoy a magic show. The finale: a trick titled, "Eggs Over Easy".
.....One member of the small audience is unimpressed, to say the least.
"The last time you tried an egg trick, the eggs were all over me."
The diminutive magician reassures his lone critic, performing the trick....
"Steel tray, fly away! Ta-DAAAAA!!!!!!"
However, the steel tray severs the rope holding up a chandelier, which lands on the table holding the eggs, sending them flying right into.....
......Orko's critic, Man-At-Arms.
.....Orko tries to move onto another trick, but the happy scene is soon interrupted by the sound of weapons firing. The young woman watching Orko and Man-At-Arms races to a window, and sees Trap Jaw shooting up the palace, laughing wildly as he does so. The woman begins to run off to chase the evil cyborg, but remembers her manners, asking the king for permission, which is heartily given.
.....Prince Adam uses the commotion as a good reason to leave, much to the disappointment of his father (and to the dismay of Cringer, who fears he knows what Adam is really up to), as Trap Jaw continues to pelt the castle with his War Sled's blaster, and the Royal Guard takes to the skies.
.....Outside, Adam takes refuge in a nearby forest, where he produces a sword and declares:
"By the power of Grayskull!"
Lightening surges from Adam's sword, and in a spectacular display, he is transformed into.....
"I have the power!!"
.....He-Man turns his sword towards the ever-frightened Cringer.....
.....and the timid tiger is turned into the fierce and powerful Battle
.....Mounting his faithful friend's saddle, He-Man heads off to help Teela!
.....Meanwhile, the chase continues as Teela shoots down Trap Jaw. However, he has done his job well enough for Skeletor, as the guard has been successfully drawn away from the palace. On the ground, Trap Jaw's War Sled skids to a stop, and Teela draws near as her foe struggles to attach his Energy Bow. Unarmed (quite literally, in fact), Trap Jaw looks at the tip of Teela's sword, and does what comes naturally.
With the tip of her sword now a tasty snack in her foe's belly, Teela gulps nervously, as the table turn against her. However, before Trap Jaw can fire his Energy Bow at the Captain, He-Man arrives. Trap Jaw fires, and He-Man easily deflects the blasts. After that fails, Trap Jaw attempts to use his Lasatron, but He-Man grabs the weapon before it can be fully installed, and bends the barrel, effectively ruining it. Never one to leave a job unfinished, He-Man picks up the War Sled, with Trap Jaw still in it,
"Curse you, He-Man! I'll get you for this!"
and tosses it towards parts unknown, much to the delight of Teela.
.....That task accomplished, He-Man tells Teela that he believes there is a greater purpose for Trap Jaw's attack: namely, so that Skeletor can attack the royal palace! Sufficiently alarmed, Teela gets in her Sky Sled as He-Man climbs on Battle Cat's back. Destination: Eternos!
.....At the castle, Man-At-Arms worries about his daughter, only to be reassured by both the king and the queen. Orko declares that "a good magician can help pass the time", to which Man-At-Arms wonders acidically if Orko knows one. Not bothered in the least, Orko levitates a nearby vase, impressing even the normally skeptical Man-At-Arms. However, another interruption occurs, this time in the form of an orange falcon.
Man-At-Arms and Orko slide close to one another, and begin whispering knowingly.
"Look! It's Zoar!"
The mystic bird begins speaking telepathically with Man-At-Arms, and she reveals a horrible truth to the two heroes:
"Skeletor.....is in the palace....!"
However, before the two can act (and without the aid of the Sorceress, who is powerless outside of Castle Grayskull), Skeletor and his crew (minus Trap Jaw, obviously), appear, prompting the king to summon his guards. Skeletor brags that he has disposed of the guards, leaving Man-At-Arms to defend the king, ultimately with his bare hands when Skeletor blasts away the middle-aged warrior's Energy Sword. Skeletor points out that such actions would be foolish, in the face of his new weapon. Selecting a target, Skeletor opens his box, causing Zoar to disappear completely!
Stunned, everyone can only look on in horror as Skeletor turns the ray
on to the king, the queen, and Man-At-Arms!
.....Now alone, Orko loses control of the forgotten vase, still levitating through all of this, which saves him from the ray's effects when it falls on his head.
Evil-Lyn orders that Orko be stopped as he flies away blindly, but is
countermanded by Skeletor, who declares the small creature unimportant.
The true test, will come that night, when they take Grayskull, where
even He-Man will be no match for them..........
.......Orko continues his blind, wild journey through the Eternian wilderness, until he smacks head first into a tree, which he graciously thanks before resolving to find He-Man. At that moment, He-Man and Battle Cat near the castle, and find it surrounded by Skeletor's Robot Knights. However, before the two can barge in and take care of the mess, Orko arrives, and warns of Skeletor's weapon, which He-Man surmises correctly from Orko's description to be the Diamond Ray of Disappearance. Left with no other choice, He-Man asks Orko to find Teela, and, if possible, Ram-Man and Stratos, and wait in the forest nearby Grayskull while he attempts to communicate with the Sorceress inside Grayskull itself.
.....At the castle, He-Man raises his sword, and commands the great doorway to open.
"I command the jawbridge....OPEN!!"
Inside, He-Man mutters something to himself before approaching a
mirror, with which he is able to reach the Sorceress. She states that
she and his friends are "trapped in a timeless dimension", and that the
only way to free them is to crush the diamond. However, if He-Man looks
at it too long, he will also be lost. Understanding, He-Man begins
planning his defense of Grayskull with Battle Cat.
.....Later, Skeletor and his warriors approach Grayskull....
.....Arriving at the jawbridge, Skeletor orders Beast Man to attach a grappling hook to the door. The other Evil Warriors pull on the rope tied to the hook, and with some assistance from Skeletor's magic, they force the door open, only to find.....
.....Enraged, Skeletor orders his forces to attack! Beast Man charges first, but is grabbed by He-Man,
and tossed aside easily, and left to hang along the craggy base of Castle Grayskull. The Robot Knights begin their approach, but Teela and the other Heroic Warriors join the battle as He-Man tosses Mer-Man like a rag doll into a nearby mud pit, enraging the sea-faring villain to no end. Evil-Lyn begins to make her move as He-Man is surrounded by the Robot Knights, but Teela intervenes, and is aided by Stratos, who wraps the witch up in her own cape.
"Let me out!"
.....After Teela thanks her ally, Skeletor
waits patiently for He-Man to come closer, so he can use the diamond.
The Lord of Destruction orders Panthor to strike, but Battle Cat easily
tackles his opposite number. He-Man finds himself in a choke hold,
courtesy of Tri-Klops as the Robot Knights grow ever closer, but Ram-Man
single-handedly destroys the machines, giving He-Man enough time to
break free. After He-Man knocks Tri-Klops far back in the air, colliding
with the base of a tree, Orko adds insult to injury by spinning
Tri-Klops' visor, making him intensely dizzy as Battle Cat finishes
scaring off Panthor, which causes Skeletor to scream angrily at his
.....He-Man nears his archenemy, challenging Skeletor to fight his own battles. The evil one obliges, and points the Diamond Ray right at He-Man, only to see the beam deflected right back at him.
"No! Keep it away!"
In his panic, Skeletor drops the diamond, and it falls into a crevice.
Beast Man fearfully suggests a hasty retreat, to which Skeletor agrees....once he creates a terrible rock monster, only to watch He-Man easily destroy it. Beast taunts his leader, chiding him on his inability to finish off He-Man, but Skeletor notes that it may not matter, because He-Man is going after the Diamond Ray of Disappearance!
Teela and Orko run to see what the fuss is, and watch with the Evil Warriors as He-Man slides into the crevice. Not shockingly, Tri-Klops is the first one to see what happens.
"He's got it!"
He-Man rises triumphantly with the diamond in hand....
.....as Skeletor gloats over He-Man's impending fate.
"Yes, and it will be the end of him! Heh-heh, hee-hee-hee-ha-ha-ha!"
Teela warns He-Man as Orko covers his eyes, but soon, He-Man disappears!
"He-Man, please don't disappear!"
Inside Grayskull, He-Man appears inside the Sorceress' mirror as he attempts to crush the Diamond Ray of Disappearance.
"He-Man, come back!"
The Sorceress also appears, reminding Eternia's champion of what he needs to do.
"You must crush the Diamond of Disappearance!"
After a mighty struggle....
"Once again, you have fulfilled your destiny, He-Man!"
.....He-Man is thanked by the Sorceress and Man-At-Arms, but a defeated Skeletor watches on bitterly.
"Very well, He-Man...."
Skeletor swears his revenge....
"You've won this time, but I'll be BACK......!"
....and after raising his axe.....
.....Meanwhile, the king and queen thank He-Man, and the erstwhile prince of Eternia and Man-At-Arms share a knowing, pleased glance.
.....Much later, the king requests a trick from Orko: namely, that Adam appears on time. Orko assures the monarch that his son is making an extra effort to arrive as requested. Teela then arrives, and announces that Adam is on his way, and, even better, with the king's lost Zoom Chariot!
.....Unfortunately, he's also managed to wreck the directional controls.
.....As if on cue, Adam and Cringer smash through the wall, which also totals the Zoom Chariot, angering the king. However, Orko notes that while the Zoom Chariot is destroyed, Adam managed to do it on time. Amused, His Highness lets out a laugh as Adam pats his faithful pet.
"In today's story, Skeletor was looking for a shortcut, a quick way to
riches and power. You may know some people like that, always looking for
the quick way to get ahead of everybody else. Well, it doesn't work that
way. The people who succeed are the one who work for what they want. So,
don't be fooled by those who say they have a sure thing; there's always
a catch to it. Don't sell yourself short. The right way, is the best
way. Until later."
.....I've written a good deal about pilots
already, thanks to my review of "More Than Meets the Eye" back when I
opened this site, and a great deal of it still stands. But, to review, a
good pilot is one that sets up the show, and introduces the primary
characters and motivation. And, of course, it helps if the pilot isn't
the best episode of the series, for obvious reasons. For He-Man,
however, these concerns are magnified, as "Diamond Ray of Disappearance"
is not only a pilot for its particular series, but for an entire
category of television programming.
.....It cannot be elaborated enough just how revolutionary He-Man was in 1983. American animation had largely stagnated, with most television series under the thrall of the oppressive, spendthrift networks, and extremist parents groups alarmed by even the slightest show of sex or violence, and the few movies in production lacking creativity, support (financial or otherwise), or both. While Europe and Japan were the home to many inventive and entertaining shows, the home of the animated cartoon, America, had let the form decay in a ruthless chase for the almighty dollar.
.....Likewise, Filmation, the second-most prominent animation studio of the era (and the largest American employer in the industry), had fallen on hard times. ABC had refused to order any Filmation series after the abject failure of Uncle Croc's Block, a rather acidic parody of hosted cartoon shows (the likes of which were still fairly common in the '70s, albeit largely existing on a local level) packaged around a variety of animated segments. NBC, long an also-ran on Saturday mornings (well, until 1981, when The Smurfs made the network a powerhouse until the day it dumped Saturday morning cartoons), had sworn off Filmation's shows when The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! and Flash Gordon failed in the ratings in 1981 (the latter failure coming largely because of NBC's meddling, which watered down the successful first season into oblivion). CBS, always Filmation's most reliable buyer, had, by 1983, also soured on the studio. Fat Albert, the most critically and commercially successful Filmation show to that point, ended it long run in 1982. Blackstar, another victim of network interference, was a notorious failure in 1981, and Gilligan's Planet failed in the ratings in the 1982-1983 season, serving as the last straw for the so-called Tiffany Network.
.....With nowhere else to turn, Filmation's president and co-founder, Lou Scheimer, found himself with two options: start a cable network (which, in an era of 12-hour schedules for many cable networks, including pioneering children's channel Nickelodeon, was quite feasible), or go into syndication. New Filmation owner Westinghouse was ultimately opposed to the first idea, but was very open to distributing a first-run syndicated series through its Group W subsidiary. Things further fell into place when the FCC eased regulations governing advertisements in children's programming, allowing toy companies to fund shows based off their toys for the first time in well over a decade. Two of the largest toy companies of the period, Hasbro and Mattel, quickly allied with animation studios. Hasbro, who was already developing a comic book with Marvel Comics based on the revived G.I. Joe toyline, allied with Marvel's animation studio (the former DePatie-Freleng Enterprises) and Sunbow, a fledgling studio owned by Hasbro's ad agency, Griffin-Bacal, to create a miniseries, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Mattel, having allied with DC Comics for various comics based on their new line, Masters of the Universe, contacted Filmation, with whom Mattel had had some contact with previously regarding another failed project, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was born.
.....While Marvel and Sunbow concentrated their efforts on a mere five episodes (using top Japanese studio Toei to animate the miniseries), Mattel and Filmation went all-out with 65 episodes, produced, as was Filmation's trademark, entirely in the US. At least one account this reviewer has seen credits this first season as having cost a total of $800,000, for a paltry total of $12,000 per episode (which was a third of the fee Filmation collected, in real dollars, in 1965, for each episode of The New Adventures of Superman, the studio's first series). Whatever the actual fee, Filmation had a shoestring budget, and even less time, to work with. The stock system would be tested to its very limits, but the series was ready to go on September 26th, 1983-two weeks after the premiere of G.I. Joe.
.....The pilot begins, as many would, with the title card (which would, rather surprisingly, prove to be only one of a number of cards, with a large variety of music cues to accompany them), and a long, establishing pan shot. Our first look at Snake Mountain is aided by the appropriately creepy music of Shuki Levy, which helps to set the appropriate mood. Following this is another background that would become familiar, that of Snake Mountain's interior, leading to Skeletor's throne room. And, while barely noticeable, the sky in the interior pan, as seen through the mouth of the serpent, is in the "day" colors, instead of the "night" colors that Snake Mountain (which, while never officially addressed in dialogue, is located on the dark side of Eternia) normally has.
.....Skeletor's supreme confidence is aided by echoing reverb, which would eventually disappear, reappear in a much less booming timbre, and then disappear again for the final leg of She-Ra. Beast Man's savage qualities are also over-emphasized, as John Erwin gives the character a rough, snarling voice that quickly was scaled back, likely in an effort to ease things for both the actor, and the kids at home trying to understand him. Another, more interesting anomaly of this opening scene is the Transport Beam, which resembles a strange cross between a scorpion and a spider.
The object's beams shoot out of the mouth of Snake Mountain,
establishing that the mouth does open out into the world. The beam is
most likely located to Skeletor's left, in an area seldom seen (if ever
again) during the course of the series.
.....The Transport Beam is, of course, merely a device to introduce the Evil Warriors. The scene, which is quite fairly (even to writer Robby London) the most criticized part of this episode, introduces the other villains, gives them overblown titles ("Warlord of Water!" "Wizard of Weapons!") and is, for all intents and purposes, an extended toy commercial. However, the scene deserves credit for making Mer-Man, Tri-Klops, and (especially) Trap Jaw seem alarmingly capable, which was not always the case with them. One particularly strong moment, not referred to in the original script, occurs when Tri-Klops looks up before the Transport Beam finds him.
This subtle action, achieved with stock movements, emphasizes the power
of Tri-Klops' vision (Gamma, or otherwise). It's particularly
surprising, in fact, how well Tri-Klops comes off in this episode, as he
was the first Evil Warrior to fall into disuse (not counting the
one-and-done appearances of Jitsu, Fang Man, and Strongarm early in the
series). Here, he is portrayed as strong, blessed with uncanny vision,
and as we see in the following scene, rather intelligent.
.....Skeletor's demonstration of the Diamond Ray of Disappearance is where we get the clearest indication of the initial impressions of the Evil Warriors: Beast Man is silent and subservient, Evil-Lyn is detached and calculating, Tri-Klops is an embittered skeptic, and Mer-Man is alternately accusatory and dense. Particularly odd is how Mer-Man's pupils bounce around as Evil-Lyn asks, "Skeletor, why have you summoned us here?"
This, and the dull look on his face after Skeletor asks for a volunteer to test the Diamond Ray, contradict everything else in the episode.
While there's certainly no indication that Mer-Man is a genius, he
rarely comes off as a dim bulb, and never this bad (Trap Jaw, on the
other hand.....). It's particularly egregious when one reviews the
script, where the Evil Warriors are supposed to be actively avoiding
.....The lizard appears to be a classic example of Hal Sutherland's color blindness sneaking into the design of the show, as the creature is pink (as is the case in other instances when Mr. Sutherland's color choices were not vetted by another staff member).
"Watch what happens to any living being who sees...."
The color choice, however, works, making the reptile seem appropriately
exotic. The demonstration is, truth be told, a well-conceived and
directed sequence. While the Diamond Ray has a painfully obvious name,
the demonstration works superbly, giving us what we expect in dramatic
fashion. Further selling it is Trap Jaw's reaction, one of pure
.....Rather than declare the lizard dead, Skeletor coins a phrase that, when used by American dubbing studio Funimation, would come to haunt English-speaking fans of Dragonball Z.
"Yes, exiled into another dimension! The same fate awaits all who stand in my way....."
That's right: the dreaded "another dimension" as a placeholder for the
afterlife. While it's apt here (as having the diamond actually kill its
victims would needlessly complicate the episode's resolution), it would
become a vile cliché in the hands of lesser writers. I suspect it's one
legacy of He-Man that Robby London doesn't bother to acknowledge
(though, based on interviews with him I've seen, I'm sure he'd get a
kick out of helping to perpetuate such a thing).
.....Our first glimpse of our heroes sets the tone for many such scenes: comic relief that leads into the main dramatic thrust of the episode. Orko gets the focus here, with his theme (one of the many great character-based musical cues on the show) playing. Much like Dr. McCoy in Star Trek's first regularly-produced episode, "The Corbomite Maneuver", Man-At-Arms comes off as unnecessarily gruff towards the little Trollan. This scene is our first hint that while the episode carries the production code, "MU04", it was most likely the first episode to actually be animated. Besides Duncan's bad attitude, Orko is drawn wildly differently, changing dramatically from shot to shot.
"I call my latest trick, 'Eggs Over Easy'."
The number of folds in Orko's scarf is unusually high, and the size and
shape of his hat are the big inconsistencies. Also, some shots give Orko
beady eyes, and hands that are much too realistic-looking. Surprisingly,
though, many close-ups, as well as the shot looking up at Orko as he
casts his spell, were adapted into stock. In fact, much of this sequence
would be re-used in Season 2's "The Rarest Gift of All", as the previous
egg trick that Man-At-Arms bitterly alludes to in this episode. The
failed trick is, of course, classic Orko, and establishes the love-hate
relationship between Orko and Man-At-Arms that other writers (including
Paul Dini and J. Brynne Stephens in the following two episodes, "Teela's
Quest", and "Colossor Awakes") would run with in future adventures.
.....Trap Jaw's laughter as he attacks on his War Sled (which is a marvelously subtle variation on the Sky Sleds of the toyline) sounds particularly demonic, due largely to the way that Lou Scheimer's voice was processed for Trap Jaw in the episode. While the metallic reverb was retained for Tri-Klops (losing the staccato speech pattern on the road to obscurity), it was quickly dropped for the far more robotic warrior, surprisingly to the benefit of the character. The shoestring budget of the show is fully exposed by the explosions we see, as they are merely hand-drawn clouds of smoke. Compared to Flash Gordon (which utilized double-exposure effects animation, as well as more colorful hand-drawn explosions) and the later Filmation series She-Ra and Bravestarr (which used slick-looking double-exposure effects for nearly all explosions), the effect falls well short of impressive.
.....Adam's retreat, while painfully obvious (and a tad forced, truth be told), it introduces a vital aspect of his character: the perception that the prince is a goof-off, and that Randor is often disappointed with his behavior. Also of note is how no one is possibly able to hear Cringer as he speaks.
"I hope Adam's not gonna do what I think he's gonna do...."
This is one of the many times in the early going
where the initial idea to have those in on "the secret" know that
Cringer and Battle Cat can speak. Ultimately, however, the concept
simply confused the hell out of the writers, many of whom were novice
writers, or had initially signed on with Filmation to write for the
studio's comedies. The idea was revised for She-Ra, as Spirit,
given the power of speech by the Sword of Protection, never speaks to
those not in on She-Ra's secret identity, while Swift Wind speaks
freely (though still nowhere near as often as Cringer or Battle Cat).
.....The royal guard, as seen here in fleeting glances, appears slightly different than their other appearances in the series.
That's right; they don't have their green leggings. So wrong.
.....OK, moving on to other, less gack-worthy subjects......
.....The very first change sequence of the series shows off how far the writing staff had to go: Adam and Cringer leave the castle and make the change in the forest. Sadly, this would happen all too often until the writers began looking for nooks and crannies in the palace, which had the supreme benefit of improving the pacing of these scenes. Furthermore, the theme music starts in the middle when Adam says, "By the power of Grayskull!", as opposed to starting from the beginning of the theme song. Also, the "He-Man!" vocal chant is dubbed in when the lightning bursts forth, as opposed to being timed properly like in the opening and in the other episodes of the series.
.....Continuing on the subject of music, the last section of the Teela-Trap Jaw chase starts with the oddest of the tracks Saban and Levy would record for the series. Like the brooding, spooky music that opens the episode, this track would eventually disappear (this theme would last be hear in "Pawns of the Game Master", where it would serve as a theme of sorts for that episode's villain, Negator). Funky and wildly unconventional, it would be missed, even as better action cues were introduced.
.....At this point, we first see one of the most distinctive features of the pilot: Skeletor's Battle Axe.
"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-hee.....No matter.....that clumsy oaf has served his purpose!"
The axe, which began its life as He-Man's secondary weapon in the toys, makes its only appearance here, with a large crystal ball mounted on its top. Supplanting Skeletor's famed Havoc Staff, the weapon is even seen in Skeletor's hands in stock animations designed for the Havoc Staff. Adding to the mystery, the Battle Axe is never mentioned in the episode's script. In this scene, Skeletor is scripted as viewing Trap Jaw via a screen in a Robot Knight (who are described as being more humanoid that the final creation). The use of the axe to open the jawbridge is assigned to Skeletor's fingers, and he uses the Havoc Staff to create the Rock Creature. (Skeletor's disappearance at episode's end is scripted entirely differently, incorporating the other Evil Warriors.) Why the axe was conceived remains an utter mystery, as much of the animation for Skeletor in this episode had to be re-drawn, wasting precious amounts of time and money. Ending the scene is one of the odder coloring errors of the entire series, as Skeletor's nose hole is colored yellow, a goof similar to the missing prong in Skeletor's chest armor in "The Dragon Invasion".
.....Another completely disregarded idea in this episode is Trap Jaw's struggles with his arm attachments. It's sad, as this episode is a wonderful bit of character for Trappy, and it's tautly directed by Lou Zukor, who keeps things tense, even though the predicament Trap Jaw ultimately finds himself in is very amusing. His frustration is very real, and the expressions on Trap Jaw and Teela's faces once the former munches on the latter's sword are just golden.
This goodness is partially negated by some of the shots of He-Man in this scene. First, when he deflects the shots from Trap Jaw's Energy Bow:
"I guess they just don't make Energy Bows like they used to."
And next, when he warns Teela of Skeletor's likely plot:
"Teela, I think Skeletor lured you and your guards away for a reason."
He-Man's head, and his hair in particular, are botched, likely due to
unfamiliarity. These flaws are minor, however, as this scene is
marvelous for its character interaction. Trap Jaw's frustration, the
fear of both Trap Jaw and Teela at different points, He-Man's supreme
confidence, and the way Teela fawns over He-Man are just plain wonderful
interactions, written well, and brought to the screen with perfection.
.....The last scene of Act 1 is notable for two reasons: one is the first appearance of the Sorceress (as Zoar), and the second is the huge edit in the time-compressed DVD version of the episode that begins after Randor, Marlena, and Duncan are hit by the Diamond Ray, and stretches into Act 2. I'll not go into the DVD version here (largely because it belongs in a rant/editorial I have brewing, and not in this review), but I'll happily discuss the former.
.....A very common (and, unfortunately, very correct) criticism of the Sorceress is that her character devolves into a tool for exposition and/or a plot device, in large part because her character is so painfully limited to Castle Grayskull. This is no different here, but this initial use is handled rather well. One, the music that plays (a cue which, I suspect, was never used again) is appropriately mysterious, and the hushed tones used by Orko and the Man-At-Arms illustrate a key point, namely that the Sorceress commands great respect from our heroes. Well communicated is the Sorceress' weakness, which is, of course, done entirely for the benefit of we, the viewing audience. Also of note is how Orko and Man-At-Arms drop their hostilities, hinting at the much richer relationship between the two that would eventually develop.
..... The rest of the scene, while playing rather well on the surface, has a few oddities. First and foremost is Man-At-Arms' behavior. After his Energy Sword (which, not shockingly, is a rip-off of Star Wars' lightsaber-a common occurrence in cartoons of the era) is blasted away, Duncan threats to physically beat the crap out of Skeletor, which is wildly out of character for the normally reserved scientist. Second, and least significant, is the miscolored shot of Orko as he glares at Skeletor following Zoar's disappearance. For the only time in the series, Orko's "O" isn't filled in with black paint.
Credit, however, must go to the camera crew and
director Lou Zukor, as the original cels (one of which I personally
own) show a lot more of this ink-and-paint snafu.
.....Finally, and most catastrophically, is the extremely large problem in terms of the logic behind Orko's escape. The implication is that Orko loses his concentration, leading the vase to fall on his head.
The thing is, after the first shot where Orko moves close to
Man-At-Arms to discuss Zoar's appearance, there's no acknowledgement
either vocally or visually that Orko needs to keep his concentration for
the vase to stay in the air. In fact, it's completely forgotten until
needed again. Some acknowledgement of this would have prevented the
biggest flaw in the storytelling of the episode (as there are legitimate
reasons for Skeletor's neglect of Orko at the end of Act 1, even if it
enacts a major animation cliché).
.....More doofy storytelling occurs after the act break, when Orko literally thanks the tree he smacks into to break the vase.
However, this seems less like bad storytelling and more like an in-joke
when one considers the lengths taken by story editor Art Nadel and
educational consultant Don Roberts to curb the destructive urges of the
characters. One story has either Roberts or Nadel talking down one of
the writers from having He-Man rip a tree out of the ground, and even
fretting over He-Man tossing around a dead tree lying on the ground! So,
one can easily forgive Robby London for having a little fun at the
expense of his boss and the show's story consultant.
.....Perhaps the poster children of He-Man's inner struggle with its destructive tendencies are the Robot Knights, which first appear outside the castle, where the story makes it clear that they're little more than cannon fodder. She-Ra proved that the problem wasn't with the robots; it was with the type of robots. Let's face it: while the Robot Knights looking interesting enough, they have all the personality of a pile of dirt. A number of stock movements (mainly means of destruction) were created, but they never quite clicked with the writers, or with viewers before disappearing after "Dree Elle's Return" (though the models were reused in "The Gamesman", and much later on She-Ra in "Out of the Cocoon"). Thankfully, Orko saves us from the tedium as he fills He-Man in on what he's missed. A talk which, I may add, includes the most oddly off-model screen grab of the entire episode:
"Orko! What happened at the palace?"
While both characters look worse elsewhere (for Orko, that would be the
shot directly following this one), this is the one shot that illustrates
how rough the episode looks for me.
.....The scene ends with the promise of many things: the (wholly gratuitous) introduction of Ram-Man and Stratos, an appearance by the Sorceress, and most importantly, a glimpse at (and inside) Castle Grayskull. It is in this last area that the actual event meets, and even exceeds, the promise.
"By the power of Grayskull...."
While seldom used, He-Man's command to enter Grayskull is truly one of
the most memorable sequences in the entire series, including the
transformation. The music, the animation, the effects....everything
combines for a truly satisfying moment. Particularly good is the use of
the theme song and the sound effects of the jawbridge lowering, which
add just the right layer of icing to an already yummy cake. Adding to
the mystique of this sequence is the mumbled (and ultimately inaudible)
dialogue as He-Man stands in the hallway leading to the Sorceress'
mirror. As far as anyone can tell, there was never any real dialogue
here: Robby London's script refers to He-Man speaking to Battle Cat, but
no lines are given before the script continues just as the episode
.....The Sorceress' dialogue is, yet again, pure exposition, but the music (which was used, like here, to give many scenes a mystical property) and the acting from John Erwin and Linda Gary gives it enough personality to make it easy to ignore the stilted nature of the scene. The counterpoint to this is the brief approach by Skeletor and the Evil Warriors later on, which is accentuated by a highly effective fade to black (as opposed to the show's usual use of transition animations in these circumstances).
.....The opening of the jawbridge by Skeletor and his warriors is something that only works in the context of the early part of the series (as Grayskull eventually gained a number of mystical protections in later episodes), but in that context, it's an amazingly effective scene. The music is undeniably creepy, adding to the tension. Skeletor is at his demonic best, egging on his underlings in a most satanic fashion. One oddity, though, is the group pulling on the rope.
Why Evil-Lyn is serving as the anchor, while Beast Man stands somewhere
off screen is beyond me. While the attempt would have been no more
successful with Beast Man in her place, there's no real reason why
Evil-Lyn should be taking part.
.....The most effective part of this sequence is its climax, where He-Man and Battle Cat stand waiting for Skeletor. In a master stroke, London specifically requested that the theme song start playing in the script; the request would influence the style of the rest of the series, as many such climaxes start with the theme song playing, much as in this episode.
.....The battle here shows why the simple "capture Grayskull" plots were hastily abandoned: He-Man is simply too powerful to be threatened by such a blatantly direct attack. Beast Man and Mer-Man are tossed aside in memorable fashion (the shot of He-Man pulling Beast Man up to him being especially iconic), Evil-Lyn is totally embarrassed by Stratos (whilst providing another great reason for the "No capes!" policy upheld by Edna Mode in The Incredibles). and the less said about Panthor, the better.
.....Speaking of Stratos, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it error as he finishes wrapping up Evil-Lyn.
Without his trademark beard, Stratos finally starts to resemble the
other Birdmen of Avion, who look nothing like Stratos.
.....Finally providing a challenge is Tri-Klops, who successfully restrains He-Man as the Robot Knights slowly but surely approach the pair.
The problem is, Ram-Man makes a mockery of the Robot Knights, which
gives He-Man enough of a breather to knock back his three-eyes foe with
incredible force. Then, Orko gets into the action by spinning his visor.
Is it any wonder than Skeletor gets absolutely furious with his toadies?
.....He-Man's confrontation with Skeletor is dramatic, but surprisingly brief, teasing the viewers for more extended confrontations (which, thankfully, would occur many times in the proceeding 129 episodes). It's interesting to note that Skeletor creates the Rock Creature instead of actually taking on He-Man one-to-one. This pattern would resurface multiple times in the series: Skeletor will only directly confront He-Man if he has an edge, or a way of cheating, available, and will use proxies when that edge is eliminated. It's not an obvious trend, but it's certainly a very important one.
.....A problem with the Rock Creature is that the design would be re-used in "Quest for the Sword", which introduced a race of sentient Rock Creatures. This problem would become a major albatross for the series, particularly as the end of each season, when the budgets became very tight. A character model would resurface after becoming memorable, or in this instance, a memorable use of the model would undermine a prior episode. Thankfully, She-Ra's budget was sufficient enough to avoid this (though the Sky Sleds and Robot Knights were repurposed for that series).
.....Another highly scrutinized aspect of this pilot is the act of He-Man crushing the Diamond Ray. The argument goes that a rock shouldn't be such a problem for He-Man; after all, this guy once shifted the orbit of Phantos without even breaking a sweat! The thing is, this criticism ignores the concept of context. Sure, He-Man did much more impressive things later in the series, but it's just that: later in the series. In September of '83, we had never seen anything like this from He-Man. Even Superman, whose animated personas were limited by the constraints of the character (the Fleischer shorts, made when Superman's powers were extremely limited), the constraints of the budget (Filmation's own series), and the censors (on Super Friends, obviously), never did something quite like this. So, contextually, it's extremely impressive, and Lou Zukor directs this scene with great skill.
.....Among the key moments of the sequences are: Tri-Klops announcing that He-Man has the diamond before he has emerged (even if he's not using the correct eye for his Gamma Vision), the desperate cries from Orko and Teela (even if they're a tad cheesy), and the image of He-Man superimposed over that of Castle Grayskull. If there's a poor moment, it's Teela's facial expression as He-Man begins to fade. I've struggled to come up with a better term, but my original thought remains the only proper one: Teela looks like a blow-up doll (by all means, take a look at the image in the synopsis, and find a better term). It's just that bad. However, I must say this: after "Diamond Ray", the issue of off-model characters decreased exponentially.
.....One of the most subtle bits of this part of the episode is the choice of what part of the theme plays as He-Man emerges from the crevice. A very specific part of the theme, where the string melody wells up emotionally is used when Tri-Klops yells, "He's got it!" Interestingly, this part of the theme would be used during specific dramatic and/or emotional moments, and is probably the most specifically timed bit of music in the series. It plays during the change sequence in "Teela's Quest", and as He-Man leaves for Teela in "The Problem With Power", among other occasions.
.....Perhaps the final concession to the concept of this episode as the pilot is the rather dramatic thank you from the king and queen, and Skeletor's supremely dramatic exit. The Sorceress refers to He-Man's "destiny", and Skeletor's "I'll be back!" is supremely overwrought. The final gag, however, is purely standard, and generic enough to have appeared in any episode. Interestingly, though, Cringer is in one of the poses from his transformation when he and Adam land the smashed Zoom Chariot.
The implication is that Adam and Cringer had to improvise their
whereabouts in order to keep the secret, adding a rather surprising bit of
depth to the normally shallow ending joke.
.....The moral deserves some mention, as it features more than just the standard static shots of the hero giving the moral interspersed with flashbacks from the episode itself. Here, He-Man leaps on a Sky Sled, and begins to fly away.
Basically, the plan here seems to have been to create and use a stock animation, instead of using a static shot of He-Man. Again, an interesting experiment, but one that ultimately failed.
.....Having grown acquainted with He-Man before the Filmation series aired, I'd like to think I have a unique perspective on the effects of "Diamond Ray of Disappearance" on the character, and how my perceptions shifted because of the cartoon. Suffice to say, other than the truly fascinating mini-comic, "The Tale of Teela", nothing from those early times ever caught my interest like the cartoon. Adam, Cringer, Orko, Randor, and Marlena all owe their existence to Filmation, and most of the other characters were greatly altered. This is, of course, not to say that the pilot episode is perfect. If anything, it's a very flawed episode. But for all of its faults, "Diamond Ray of Disappearance" is a supremely entertaining episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and it deserves, on this, the 25th Anniversary of its original airing, to be hailed as a true classic.