“He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special” (1985)

Christmas episodes of sitcoms and cartoons are almost never their strongest episodes, mostly because there’s something a little forced and rote about them. With only a limited number of plot variations (It’s a Wonderful Life redux, a character rediscovers the true meaning of Christmas, etc.), it comes off as insincere. Is it December? Time to have an episode of Mr. Belvedere that’s a take on A Christmas Carol. It’s long been as predictable as that one member of your family who insists on giving you a picture frame as a present every year.

Considering that neither show took place on Earth, the makers of He-Man and She-Ra should not have felt obligated to do a holiday episode, but they did, and that’s how we ended up with the charmingly corny He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special, airing in 1985. Similar to Die Hard, in that it isn’t so much about Christmas as that it just happens to take place at Christmas, it offers mermaids, metal dragons, robot dogs, “beast monsters,” a mindblowing original holiday song, and He-Man wearing a Santa Claus costume, complete with a white pageboy haircut.

It opens with the royal court of Eternia preparing to celebrate the birthdays of twins Adam (a.k.a. He-Man) and Adora (a.k.a. She-Ra). Now, admittedly, I was a bit too old for He-Man and She-Ra when they premiered, so I may be inaccurate here, but it appears almost no one in either Eternia, or Etheria, where Adora lives, know about their superhuman alter egos, even though they still look the same, just a little more naked, a little more muscular, and with slightly bigger hair. Apparently not a single gold coin from Eternia’s vast fortune could be spent on a pair of fake glasses, but it doesn’t matter, because no one notices anyway.

ANYWAY, Adam steps away from party preparations to check out the latest creation by his weapons master, a space shuttle that essentially works like a drone, flying by itself and spying on Adam’s arch-nemesis, Skeletor. Orko, the faceless wizard thing, gets inside the shuttle and accidentally launches it, crash landing on Earth after an attempt to cast a spell to return it to Eternia fails. Shortly after the crash, Orko meets siblings Miguel and Alisha, lost in a snowy forest after their parents inexplicably sent them out alone to get a Christmas tree. Evidently Miguel and Alisha’s folks subscribed to the same laissez faire method of child-rearing that led the parents of Peanuts characters to fail to notice that Linus stayed out all night on Halloween, and force Charlie and Sally Brown to find their own transportation to their grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.

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Miguel and Alisha, not at all alarmed that a faceless, flying wizard thing just appears to them out of nowhere, follow him into the crashed shuttle. The subject of Christmas ever so briefly comes up, before cutting to commercial and then switching to a scene where She-Ra battles robot monsters. Later, when Orko is beamed back to Eternia, he brings Miguel and Alisha with him, where they learn that it might be a few days before they can be returned to Earth. Not wanting them to be upset about the possibility of missing Christmas (perhaps not surprisingly, there’s no mention of missing their parents, because would you?), the Queen of Eternia, originally from Earth herself, decides to turn Adam and Adora’s birthday celebration into a Christmas party, even though no one but her and the kids know what Christmas is.

Meanwhile, Horde Prime, Skeletor’s master, expresses concern over the sudden spike in warmth and good cheer coming from Eternia, and orders Skeletor and his rival, Hordak, to bring whoever’s responsible for it to him. It’s a mercy mission, really, to save Eternians from the holiday song one character composes and performs with Miguel and Alisha, which goes a little something like this:

Love and caring

Faithful friends

Joys of sharing

Happiness

Christmas spirit’s in the air

Eternia and everywhere

Joyful feelings

Feel that you’re a part

Christmas season is a time of your heart

That’s it, that’s the whole song, written like someone drew slips of paper out of a hat, and which everyone laughs about in giddy delight afterward. Before they can burst into a rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” Hordak drops by and beams up Orko and the kids into his ship. That doesn’t last very long before his ship is attacked by Monstroids, who hold Miguel, Alisha, and Orko captive. They eventually escape, before being kidnapped again, this time by Skeletor.

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After Skeletor’s Sky Scooter crashes (notice a pattern here?), he has to travel on foot in the snow to hand over Miguel and Alisha to Horde Prime. However, driven by forces he doesn’t understand, Skeletor expresses kindness towards the children, magically creating warm coats for them and even agreeing to carry a robot puppy that’s joined them on the journey. He ends up helping them escape from Horde Prime, getting injured in the process. When He-Man finally shows up, and expresses shock that Skeletor saved the children, an equally baffled Skeletor explains that he couldn’t help himself, he just felt like being…nice. Everyone around him laughs and explains that that’s the Christmas spirit, though Skeletor seems confused and upset, like he woke up in the morning next to the nude body of a stranger he doesn’t remember taking home the night before.

After all that, Miguel and Alisha are finally sent home to their neglectful parents, who are presumably too busy planning the next fondue/key party to bother making up for lost time with them. I left out quite a bit in the plot description. She-Ra battles the redundantly named “Beast Monster,” then a bunch of Transformer-like robots, all to retrieve a crystal that powers the shuttle Orko accidentally launched. The kids and Orko encounter a race of aliens called Manchines, which are basically hybrids of adorable little elfin creatures and appliances. Before they even get to Horde Prime, Skeletor has to protect the kids from an Eternia version of the Abominable Snowman. There’s a lot packed into just forty-five minutes.

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You know what it doesn’t have a lot of? Christmas. References to the holiday are shoehorned into the plot here and there, and could be altered to fit pretty much any holiday. Orko could have just as easily run into Miguel and Alisha while they were trick or treating as he did while they were out looking for a Christmas tree. There’s the briefest glimpse of a decorated tree in the royal palace near the end, and, of course, a fantastic closing shot of He-Man wearing a Santa Claus suit, but that’s really about it. The primary message is that Christmas is a time to be nice. Thankfully, as She-Ra points out much to Skeletor’s relief, it only happens once a year. Which, when you think about it, is a shitty, superficial way to explain Christmas, let alone the value of kindness, but whatever. Being nice one day a year is better than never being nice at all, I suppose.

Original airdate: December 25, 1985

Watch it here

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