Did you know that He-Man and She-Ra appeared at the 1985 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? It’s true! And I’ll be showing you the proof! Just you wait!
Masters of the Universe was on top of the world in 1985, so it made sense that it’d snag an appearance at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of course, where a giant Orko balloon might’ve sufficed, Mattel had much more ambitious ideas:
They were gonna stage a massive Eternian war across a giant, three-part float.
I’ve pulled the clip from my rapidly degrading old videocassette. If you’re not sitting down, you might want to:
Guys, we have a LOT to talk about.
Full disclosure: I wrote about this float back in my X-Entertainment days. Longtime readers know that my old Macy’s Parade reviews were some of X-E’s hottest commodities. But that was well over ten years ago, and I kinda breezed through He-Man’s appearance. Forgive me for going back to the well on this, but I think it’s merited.
Now then… THE FLOAT. It was huge, awesome and utterly confusing. It was also an idea that arguably made more sense on paper. Covered with cumbersomely costumed characters, and representing three focal areas from Masters of the Universe lore, nobody can claim that Mattel skimped on the production. If anything, they tried to do more than was humanly possible.
Still, no matter how you slice it, this was the most badass thing a kid could see back in ’85. Let me walk you through the series of events, because no matter how many times you watch that clip, you’re gonna miss something…
The float was introduced by that year’s parade host, Pat Sajak. For the record, Sajak was a terrific host. When he was excited, you saw excitement. When he was apprehensive, you noticed. The guy wore his heart on his sleeve. If the script called for him to introduce a triple-castle He-Man float full of people dressed like demons or warrior princesses, he would, but he wasn’t gonna pretend that it made any sense to him.
“Now let me explain this… the setting is on the planet of Eternia, and at the front is Castle Grayskull, which as I’m sure everyone knows is the home of He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe! We’ll also be seeing his arch-enemy, Skeletor, and standing on top of the Crystal Palace at the back, we’ll see He-Man’s sister, She-Ra! Let’s watch the action.”
I don’t care if he was just reading from a teleprompter, that shit had to take PRACTICE. Thirty years later, and I’m sure Pat Sajak still has that chunk of lunacy burned into his brain. Get him drunk enough, and it’ll all come spilling out.
The float was breathtaking, no doubt. It was also a little TOO ambitious, because at no point during its appearance were you really able to get a feel for its totality. Also, the sheer size of it meant that the cameramen had no idea what to shoot. There was shit happening ALL OVER THE FLOAT. Costumed characters EVERYWHERE. Completely berserk.
The Castle Grayskull and Crystal Castle portions look canonical enough, with Grayskull being especially impressive. Snake Mountain’s portion is a little less familiar, but since it’s more or less entirely composed of a house-sized serpent, I’ll give it a pass.
Now, this wasn’t just some float that rolled by for Kodak opportunities. This was a live performance. Whenever most Macy’s Parade floats added a performance, it usually amounted to one person singing and everyone else kind of just dancing in place. From a production standpoint, that’s pretty easy to pull off. Certainly much easier than having a dozen characters sprint across three castles to wrestle each other. In 1985, Mattel went all the fuck in.
The performance starts with Orko twirling around to the tune of Night on Bald Mountain, just to make things that much weirder.
The serenity doesn’t last long. Soon enough, Skeletor wanders out of Castle Grayskull, and then spends a few moments maniacally celebrating. (I guess because he finally managed to get inside of Grayskull? Wasn’t he always trying to do that on the cartoon?)
He and Orko have a rhythmic standoff — one that appears not too dissimilar from Disney’s Skeleton Dance — and things aren’t looking good for everyone’s favorite squeaky magician. Better call in the big guns…
After Orko narrowly escapes Skeletor’s super-slow staff swing, He-Man’s seen enough.
“By the power of Grayskull…. I HAVE THE POWAAAAAAAAAAA!”
Now, that was a soundbite from the animated series, played through the speakers. The poor guy portraying He-Man did his best to mouth along, but his attempt would win no awards.
Specifically, it seems that nobody told Fake He-Man about how Real He-Man liked to draw out the word “power.” The He-Man from the soundbite gave us his usual seven second “POWAAAAAAAAAAA,” but Fake He-Man just said “power” like a normal dude. Then he had to stand there trying to cover for the fact that his vocal track still had five seconds’ worth of “POWAAAAAAAA” left.
She-Ra, for her part, did a much better job.
Aside from key lines from He-Man and She-Ra, the performance is mostly just a bunch of men and women flailing around. I love it to death, but it’s totally bizarre.
Going back to what I mentioned earlier, you’ll notice that most “float performances” at these parades are kept simple. The focal characters don’t move too much, and everyone else is only expected to just kinda bop around.
By contrast, everyone on this float was supposed to do something. Heroes battled villains. People had to swing swords and/or fall down. There were steps to climb, and assuredly, many dozens of wires to avoid tripping over.
It was like watching a bunch of land crabs dropped into the Plinko machine from The Price is Right.
With so much going on, you can barely even tell which characters are present. I’ve watched this clip dozens of times, and I still couldn’t tell you the full list. I know I saw Hordak and Moss Man, though. Didn’t need more than those two to make me happy.
The real “problem,” though — and I’m putting “problem” in quotes because this was all super incredible no matter how odd it got — was the camerawork. Those guys just couldn’t keep up, and the quick cuts to things that either just happened or weren’t going to happen for a few more seconds made the performance seem so much more frantic than it probably was.
Watch close, and you’ll notice how we almost missed the climactic battle between He-Man and Skeletor, in part because it was shot from the polar opposite side of the float, but mostly because some dude in a raincoat picked that precise moment to walk into frame.
During the finale, He-Man COMPLETELY misses his cue on the show-ending catchphrase. Okay, I may have peppered a few exaggerations into these paragraphs, but THAT was pretty brutal.
This was goofy as hell, but I love every second of it. I loved it in 1985, too. Kids didn’t go through the performance frame-by-frame on a hiccup hunt. They just reveled at seeing the “real life” versions of their favorite toys. It didn’t have to be objectively “good.” It just had to be.
I still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year, and I always enjoy it. It’s probably the biggest Thanksgiving tradition left in my life. But man, I gotta tell ya… I remember watching this crazy shit as a kid, and feeling like those parades were the single biggest must-see TV event of the year.
What a way to start the holiday season! I mean, sure, Santa always got top billing at these parades, but Santa couldn’t hold a candle to Hordak arm-dragging Moss Man off of the side of Snake Mountain.
1985 was an incredible year for Masters of the Universe fans. Less than a month after this insane parade float rolled down 34th Street, He-Man and She-Ra’s Christmas Special debuted in prime time. God, I so miss the days when life could achieve maximum levels of ecstasy just by aberrant Skeletor appearances in unusual time slots.
As for the float, it appeared again at the 1986 parade, and that time, things got even stranger. But we’ll save that story for another day!
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