Phil Villarreal's Review: Still a surefire hit with 6-year-olds

2006-08-04T00:00:00Z Phil Villarreal's Review: Still a surefire hit with 6-year-oldsReView Opinion by Phil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star
August 04, 2006 12:00 am  • 

One of the resounding proofs of my mother's love was seared into my brain on Saturday, March 23, 1985, when she took me to see "The Secret of the Sword," succumbing to my relentless begging the day after the film opened.

This was the unmissable event in which Master of the Universe He-Man would team up with his long-lost twin sister, She-Ra, battling against not only He-Man's sworn enemy, Skeletor, but also the evil Hordak, Skeletor's cruel mentor. The animated film hooked me from the opening frame, when the monster ballad theme song "I Have the Power" blared over the speakers.

It was the best movie I'd ever seen at that point in my life, and a true sacrifice for my mom, who had no appreciation of swords of power, interdimensional portals or the unyielding resourcefulness of Castle Greyskull. I'm sure she didn't receive an ounce of enjoyment from watching the film, save for the vicarious pleasure of watching her giddy 6-year-old soaking in the might, wonder and magic from the screen in the way only a kid that age can.

Now "The Secret of the Sword" — long forgotten by the studios, but never by me — has finally been released on DVD, as part of a set titled "The Best of She-Ra: Princess of Power." I popped it into the player to watch the film for the first time in more than 21 years, prayerful in my hopes that it would live up to my fuzzy memories. I thought back to March of 1985, did the math and realized I am the same age now as my mom was then.

I was surprised to see that the movie was even better than I remembered. And though it's no longer my favorite, it endures as an affecting cinematic experience. It's true that my enjoyment of the movie is colored by nostalgia, but the same must be so for the legions of folks who adored the film in their youth. It's doubtless that many of those kids — now parents themselves — will sit their children in front of the TV and play the DVD, and it will enrapture parent and child alike.

Adults who first marveled at "The Secret of the Sword" as kids can now enjoy it on multiple levels. The cheap animation effects and stiff dialogue are funny enough to merit a viewing simply for their entertaining cornball factor — they certainly don't make 'em like this anymore. But there's also an unmistakable magic in the storytelling and characters. The movie makes it easy to slip back into the mind-set of a 6-year-old, appreciating the action, the subplots and the tenderness on their intended levels.

A compilation of five cartoon episodes meant as a bridge between the animated series "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" (1983-85) and its spin-off, "She-Ra: Princess of Power" (1985-87), the drama is primed by four cliffhangers interspersed at equal intervals throughout the running time.

The story follows Prince Adam (voiced by John Erwin), the timid crown prince of Eternia, who uses his Sword of Power to transform into the muscular, sword-wielding hero He-Man. Adam travels through a portal to the realm of Etheria in hopes of finding the owner of a secret sword entrusted to him by his guide, the Sorceress. Once in Etheria, Adam/He-Man discovers a Hordak-oppressed world and joins the Great Rebellion. To his surprise, the sword leads him to Force Captain Adora (Melendy Britt), one of Hordak's stern generals.

Adora captures He-Man, placing him in a contraption that sucks his will, to power Hordak's magna beam transporter, which he plans to use to obliterate the Rebellion's hangout. Just as He-Man is about to die, the sword he brought to Adora speaks to her and reveals her true destiny as She-Ra, a champion of good. What's more, she is Adam's twin, separated at birth by a kidnapping Hordak.

"I never knew I had a brother, but when a woman in a sword told me so, I knew it was true," She-Ra deadpans.

Hordak, as you could imagine, is not at all happy with this development, and he recruits his former pupil, Skeletor, to aid his cause.

"The dawn of the new day shall yield the final end of the rebellion!" cackles Hordak, who is nothing if not redundant.

Such lines are amusing to an adult but serious to a child — and that fact makes it even funnier to an adult. I don't remember my mom laughing at those lines in 1985, though. Maybe because she was in misery as the movie played. Or maybe because she didn't want to break the mood for her little boy.

The Secret of the Sword (1985)

Rated G. Starring the voice of John Erwin. Directed by Ed Friedman, Lou Kachivas, Marsh Lamore, Bill Reed and Gwen Wetzler. 100 minutes. Available on DVD. For links to other reviews in the series, go to www.azstarnet.com/sn/review

● Contact film critic Phil Villarreal at pvillarreal@ azstarnet.com or 573-4130.

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