It's been twenty-five years since She-Ra: Princess of Power initially aired and probably nearly as long since I had last seen it. When I watched it again recently, I couldn't help but feel a sudden wave of nostalgia mixed with some realizations about the show that I never had as a child. She-Ra, the first volume of which was released on DVD this week, was indeed a special series. Melendy Britt, who voiced the title character, Adora, Catra and others, seems to agree.
Britt has been acting since childhood. At 16, she was on TV in Houston. She appeared in theater productions too. Then she moved to Los Angeles, where she was working in film and television, and eventually carved a career as a voice actor.
"It was a very small group of people who did animation back then," Britt said of the voice acting community of the 1970s and 1980s. "It didn't have the prestige that it has now. I had a voice that was trained in theater. They wanted big voices."
Animation, she said over the phone in her stage-perfect voice, "came easy" to her. Over the years, you may have heard her on everything from The New Adventures of Batman to Avatar: The Last Airbender. But the role that stands out both to her and to TV viewers is She-Ra.
"If you really are an integral part of the series, you remember it," she said. "Nothing has been as profound a character as She-Ra."
She-Ra: Princess of Power began as a spin-off of the popular cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It was a series that was, structurally, very similar to its predecessor. Princess Adora, who transforms into She-Ra when she uses her magic sword, is the long lost twin sister of Prince Adam/He-Man. As an infant, she was kidnapped by Hordak, a former mentor of Skeletor, and taken to Etheria, where she was raised as part of the villainous ruling class until she encountered her twin and, ultimately, joined forces with the rebellion. As is the case with her brother, Adora's alter ego is known to only a few trusted allies. Unlike He-Man, though, she got to ride the awesome Pegasus/unicorn hybrid named Swift Wind.
"I think that what the producers wanted was a positive role models for girls where they felt that He-Man was a role model for boys," explained Britt. However, she noted that, from the beginning, She-Ra was seen as a character who was distinct from the already popular He-Man.
"She had the powers of nature," said Britt. Take, for example, a scene where She-Ra uses her sword to heal her steed.
"I took She-Ra very personally and I don't know why," said Britt before pausing for a moment to arrive at a conclusion. "It's because she was a superhero. She had power, she had kindness, she had strength she had a way to get things done in a good way."
She continued, "She was my superhero too in a lot of ways."
She-Ra wasn't just a female superhero, she was a superhero created for young girls at a time when that wasn't a common practice. Watching the show now, it's interesting to see how the gender roles played throughout the series. Adora/She-Ra, her friend Glimmer and even villain Catra were strong characters who avoided the stereotypical "damsels in distress" trappings. Ultimately, it was the girls who ruled Etheria. At the same time, though, it wasn't a show that only appealed to girls. Britt recalled some of the feedback she heard at the time.
"Friends' kids-- boys-- loved it," she said.
Britt worked on over 90 episodes of the series, the "most continuous job" of her career, with a small core cast that she said functioned "like an ensemble company." They would arrive in the morning to read through the script and then record after lunch.
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"We would all get on the crazy wavelength and I wouldn't be able to say a line without breaking into laughter," she said of the recording sessions.
She-Ra was a lot of fun, but there were poignant moments too. Remember how at the end of every episode there would be some sort of life lesson to learn, like why you shouldn't lie or why you should try to be kind to others? Once, the lesson was what to do in the case of molestation. Britt later found out about a young girl who only opened up about what had happened to her after seeing that episode.
"It was really profound," she said. "I enjoyed doing other episodes because they were fun. That one I will never forget."
After more than two decades since she last proclaimed "For the honor of Grayskull, I am She-Ra!" Britt hopes that the show will go on to affect more viewers with the "same message of inner strength, wisdom, kindness, freedom" and encourage female fans to "transform yourself into the woman you want to be."