REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS CATRA
"Female action figures don't sell in a boys toy market!" It's one of the most often heard mantras from toy companies in the action figure world. There's a certain limited logic to it. There's a general notion that boys are not going to want to play with action figures of girls, that they will be seen too much as "dolls".
There have been exceptions, of course, oftentimes out of necessity. You're not going to do a Star Wars line without Princess Leia. If you're going to make figures of the Fantastic Four, the Invisible Woman is essential. If you want to do Street Fighter, you'd better sign up Chun Li and Cammy.
And some characters just manage to rise to sufficient heights of popularity on their own, or through significant involvement in whatever additional media is attached to the line. One can scarcely imagine G.I. Joe without Scarlett and the Baroness. But it's also fair to say that the action figure world is still a largely male-dominated environment.
But then, there are the occasional exceptions. And Masters of the Universe had one. Back in the 80's, when Mattel realized that there were girls playing with the muscle-bound Masters, they decided to create a girl-oriented action figure line, that was a spin-off of the Masters of the Universe. Called "Princess of Power", the line featured She-Ra, He-Man's previously unknown sister, and a wide range of dolls, both heroes and villains, and the line featured all of one male character, a fellow named Bow. The toys were half action figure, half fashion doll, and actually enjoyed a decent amount of success for a couple of years.
What helped was one of the most extensive cross-promotions in the media that ever took place. She-Ra and her friends and enemies were first introduced in a theatrically-released animated movie, produced by Filmation, called "He-Man and She-Ra: Secret of the Sword". From there, She-Ra was spun off into her own daily animated series, also produced by Filmation.
But it didn't stop there. One of the key factors was shifting a number of specific Masters characters over to She-Ra's side of the universe, on the planet Etheria. The Masters of the Universe toy like had recently introduced an entirely new group of enemies -- Hordak, and his Evil Horde. Rather than muddy the waters of the existing Masters of the Universe animated series, it was decided to make Hordak and his followers the chief adversaries of She-Ra, at least within the animated series, even though from a toy standpoint, they were Masters characters. Many of She-Ra's enemies within the Princess of Power line signed up as members of the Horde.
The result, along with occasional guest appearances from He-Man and other characters from Masters, was a cross-promotional effort for both the Masters and Princess of Power lines, within a single animated series, that also served to create a strong link between the two concepts that, while it might have existed regardless, nevertheless was strengthened immeasurably by the animation.
It was so effective that longtime fans of the Masters of the Universe readily consider She-Ra and her allies and enemies to be part of the Masters universe, even if they might have been reluctant to purchase the actual toys back in the 80's, which were generally in the girls' aisle, probably wedged between Barbie and Jem, just down from Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite.
When the Masters of the Universe line returned in 2002, She-Ra was eventually made a part of it. And when the Masters of the Universe Classics line got rolling, it didn't take too long for fans to start demanding She-Ra once again. Mattel teased the crowd for a while, first producing a figure of Adora, She-Ra's secret identity, the first time ever produced as a figure. But She-Ra came along soon enough, and since then, there has also been a figure of Bow, the lone male character from the Princess of Power series, finally looking as heroic -- and muscular -- as he did in the animated series.
And now, we have the first villain, or perhaps I should say villainness, from the Princess of Power series -- CATRA!
One of the first things that one notices is a certain notation on the package. Both She-Ra and Bow had additional stickers on their package that denoted them as being from the Princess of Power concept. Catra does not. Instead, she has a sticker on her package denoting her as a member of the Evil Horde! In this and in many other respects, Mattel has clearly taken a lot more cues from the Filmation series for this incarnation of Catra, than they have from the original toy product.
One can hardly blame them. While Catra is certainly a prominent character in both the concept and the toy line, the toy line -- wasn't exactly all that threatening with its villains. And the Masters of the Universe line does tend to take itself, and its characters, somewhat more seriously.
While Catra is almost certainly She-Ra's greatest adversary within the original toy line, and as such received more than one figure during the course of its run, one does have to question just a bit how threatening such versions as "Shower Power Catra" and "Scratchin' Sound Catra" really were. I mean, unless it's fingernails down a chalkboard... And "Shower Power" Catra? I thought most cats hated water! Granted, such debatable features were offset with things like "Bubble Power She-Ra", but let's not even go there.
Most of the figures in the original Princess of Power line were designed to be, at least in part, fashion dolls, and as such they tended to look the part. Catra was advertised as a "Jealous Beauty", and from a doll standpoint, pretty well lived up to that. Most of the dolls were made to look fairly attractive, even to having a certain sameness about them, wardrobe and hair color notwithstanding. The original Catra had long black hair, and wore a reddish top with silver details, and a furry black skirt.
This is not how the character dressed in the animated series, and her features were altered so that the "Jealous Beauty" line was frankly a bit of a stretch. The new Catra figure is definitely taking its cues from the cartoon.
In the animated series, Catra was a trained warrior with a decidedly vicious streak, and was featured as the chief antagonist in more episodes than any other Horde villain. She had a strange, feline-sounding voice courtesy of Melendy Britt. She is described as both cruel and calculating, and clearly not afraid of a fight, once being willing to take on a character named Huntara, said to be one of the most ruthless warriors in the galaxy.
The only beings that Catra evinced any tenderness towards were her pet lion Clawdeen and the pirate known as Sea Hawk, although the latter evoked Catra's wrath when he teamed with Adora. Catra had no regard or concern for even her fellow members of the Horde, although Entrapta seemed to come as close to being a friend of Catra's as anyone could get.
In fact, Catra only seemed to serve Hordak in order to accrue more power and position for herself. In one episode of the series, she even teamed up with Skeletor to destroy Hordak, presumably after learning that Hordak offered to make Kowl's evil cousin his Force Captain, a position Catra herself held at the time. She was also willing to abandon Hordak on another occasion to become Queen of the Magicats.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive, and much like She-Ra and Bow (among others), she looks like she stepped right out of the animated series. In fact she probably looks a little better, but she's certainly right in line with that. She has a somewhat angular face, especially around the cheekbones. She has rather upraised eyebrows, and turquoise eye-shadow over her eyes. Her mouth is in a distinct frown, and she has an equally distinct look of superiority in her eyes, the sort of bored, condescending expression of someone forced to deal with inferiors on a regular basis. Briefly, I was trying to figure out which one of my former school-teachers she reminded me of, but then I recalled where I'd really seen this facial expression before -- on a couple of figures of Lex Luthor.
Her hair is black, and unlike the original Princess of Power figures which had rooted hair (as did the 2002-era She-Ra), Catra's hair is molded. It's pulled back away from her face, tied off at the top, and then cascades behind her head to a point below her waist. It is a testament to the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen that they can sculpt hair so effectively. I'm also pleased by the fact that Catra is not poorly balanced. The hair doesn't really make her particularly back-heavy. She stands up perfectly well of her own accord.
Catra is dressed in her Horde finest. This means that she's definitely not dressed like the original figure. She still has the red strapless top, but rather than the original silver ornamentation on it, there's a lighter red Horde emblem, the bat-like symbol with Hordak's ugly mug in the middle of it. She is wearing a red belt, and has a short red skirt with a jagged cut to it of the type usually reserved for the Flintstones. But hey, it works for the character.
Catra is also wearing high red wristbands, and red boots. Given the amount of red that is part of this figure's costume, I'm impressed with the level of variety that Mattel has been able to instill. The Horde emblem and belt are a lighter shade of red than the rest of the outfit, and have a slight glossy sheen to them. The wristbands and boots have a very glossy sheen to them.
A limited amount of darker airbrushed detail has been implemented on the dress, and somewhat moreso on the boots. Honestly, it's a little excessive on the boots. Then again, if you've ever seen the Horde headquarters on Etheria, it doesn't look to be the cleanest place in the world. Catra probably has a heck of a time keeping the boots shined and clean.
The ensemble is completed with a high red collar attached to a purple cape, that drapes just below the knees. It's molded from very flexible plastic, and hangs well and really looks excellent. Between the cape and the hair, I remain very surprised that this figure isn't back-heavy, but she doesn't seem to be.
Painted details are excellent, if limited. Most of the painted detail is around the face, particularly the eyes. It's been very well done. Of course, the hair has also been painted. There's a slight scuff on the forehead of the Catra figure I received, which makes me think that maybe someone missed the paint stencil for the hair a bit, but it's not too serious.
Catra comes with a surprising supply of accessories. There are two masks, a shield, a sword, and a very odd whip. One of the masks, a small red mask with green eyeslits, looks very much like the one I recall her having from the animated series. According to a bit of online research, her mask, which was stolen for her by Hordak from the queen of the Magicats, allowed her to transform into a purple panther just by pulling the mask over her eyes. It also granted her telepathic control over all cats, and seemingly the power to teleport herself.
The second mask is silver, and far more feline in appearance. It is also distinctly larger. It too has green eyes, but also has cat-like ears, and a cat-like nose and muzzle. The eyes are also more cat-like in appearance. I assume this one is based more closely on a mask from the original Princess of Power toy line.
Catra comes with a small shield, silver in color, and very nicely sculpted. It has a cat-like face sculpted into about the lower two-thirds of its front, and is topped with a starburst like sculpt, in the center of which is a round, pink, faceted gemstone.
Additionally, Catra has a sword, also silver in color, with a pink, diamond-shaped gemstone near the base of the blade, and a pink handle, which also looks like a cat's face, complete with ears.
Finally, she comes with a whip, also gray-silver in color, and nearly 11" in length at full extension. Amusingly, the handle of this whip is also a comb. I have little doubt that this was based on an original accessory, especially since this Catra doesn't have real hair.
Articulation of the figure is, of course, excellent. Catra is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Her left hand has its fingers extended, and positioned in a rather claw-like configuration. Perhaps a small acknowledgment of the "Scratchin' Sound" Catra figure? This hand is molded from a fairly flexible plastic, likely due to safety requirements. The wrist still rotates, but I recommend gentle handling.
Catra's backstory on the scroll-like bio card -- which interestingly uses artwork from the original toy line and as such doesn't look all that much like the figure -- reads as follows:
CATRA - Jealous Beauty.
A disputed monarch from the Tri Star System, C'yra joined the Horde Empire and was given a magical mask which granted her secret powers such as the ability to transform into a panther. She traveled with Horde Commander Kur to Eternia on his mission to ensure He-Ro was destroyed. There, along with the rest of the Horde Army, she was caught up in the Great Wars and eventually banished to Despondos by King Grayskull. She remained with her leader throughout their banishment and was eventually promoted to Force Captain after Hordak's step-daughter betrayed the Horde to the Etherian Rebellion. Catra's jealousy of She-Ra has become her greatest weakness.
A slightly biased telling there. Hordak's "step-daughter" was Adora, daughter of King Randor and brother to Prince Adam - a.k.a. He-Man. Hordak kidnapped her from Eternia, and I doubt he filed any proper adoption papers in the process. "Horde Commander Kur" also refers to Hordak.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased to see all the various worlds of the Masters of the Universe being brought together in this one line. Although She-Ra made an appearance in the 2002 line, Bow and Catra did not. We now have three distinct representatives from the original Princess of Power line in the modern Masters of the Universe Classics line, and they're the three that one would most expect. Of course, there's still plenty of other characters from the concept to work with, and I would imagine that we haven't seen the last of She-Ra's corner of the universe in the Masters line.
Meanwhile, the Catra figure definitely takes far more after her animated counterpart than her original toy counterpart, but this is not at all inappropriate, and within the more, let's say dramatic world of the Masters, which is the main emphasis of this toy line, it's appropriate. The figure has been well-crafted and the results are superb. Catra is no longer a fashion-doll-girls'-toy trying to be an action figure. She's an action figure, and any Masters fan would be pleased to have her in their collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of CATRA definitely has my highest recommendation!