Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gargoyles (TV Show Review)



     Good old Disney Channel, when I was a kid in the 90’s, this station had some of the best children’s shows like “Duck Tales”, “The Little Mermaid” and of cores “Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers”. As the years went on, the shows got stupider and the station began to lose its charm, who would have guessed that buried under all these crazy and kid friendly shows would lye a dark, epic, action packed television sensation that became one of my favorite animated TV shows for years to come. This is my tribute to the 90’s Disney TV series titled “Gargoyles”. The first episode was called “The Awakening” and it was a full five part episode that was edited together and was released on video as “Gargoyles the movie: Hero’s Awaken” and every copy of the film came complete with its own board game, that’s just how great the show was and this first episode was an excellent start to the series. It grabs your attention and it gets you wanting to see more.
  

   
    The premise goes like this, 1000 years ago, Gargoyles were the guardians of a castle in Scotland. Every day they turn to stone and every night they become flesh and blood creatures. It’s a really cool concept because usually the hero is too invincible and not being able to fight or protect themselves during the day is an interesting weakness. One day they were betrayed by the people they were sworn to protect, actually, one person in particular, and most of their clan was killed, but thanks to some humans, a small group of Gargoyles survived. However, they were put under a spell by a wizard that turned them to stone permanently and after 1000 years had passed the Gargoyles were taken to New York and the spell was broken. Now their the guardians of New York City, well, that’s the clip note version. There’s really so much more to this show than just these characters being your average hero’s and defeating the villain of the week. The writing for this show was simply better than the average cartoon show. Every episode is strung together with strong morals, dark themes, big plot twists and it all flowed like a classic adventure epic. 


       There’s no way I can do this show justice but I’ll do my best. “Gargoyles” aired in 1994 and ended in 1997. I rarely watch TV shows from my youth but Gargoyles is a rare exception, I still enjoy watching this show, just as much as any live action show that I watch today. This was hands down the best show to come from Disney, while most shows from “The Disney Afternoon Show” were colorful and kid friendly, Gargoyles was edgier, grander, darker and even had a fare share of legitimate drama. The characters were all fleshed out and a fine step above the usual cool super heroes for kids to admire, they go through some big changes and the episodes didn’t always have a happy ending. This show is best known for its complex story arcs that were heavily employed throughout the series, and as the show continued, it became deeply influenced by medieval and Scottish history, as well as incite on some of Shakespeare's most popular stories, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The animation was fantastic, with a lot of dark colors (much like the 90’s “Batman” show) and artsy lighting. The musical score composed by Carl Johnson is phenomenal, it’s so epic and stunning that I can imagine it being used for big budget action films like “Kingdome of Haven” or “Gladiator”.  I love how the intro starts with such a haunting tone and then it rolls into the more epic tone and it gets you hyped for the show. The second season included a narration provided by Goliath, which plays out through the intro, it's really cool but also a little distracting from the music.  



         Next, let’s look at the lead hero’s. The leader is Goliath, named after the Biblical giant who fought David. This is an excellent hero character, who was just as strong and powerful as he was wise and honorable. He’s voiced by the always outstanding “Keith David” (who’s stared in films like “The Thing”, “Platoon”, “They Live” and recently was the voice of “the Shadow man” in “The Princes and the Frog”). The man has a great voice, it might just be the coolest voice for a cartoon character, and it’s on par with Peter Cullen as the voice of “Optimus Prime” or Kevin Conroy as the voice of “Batman”. 


        Only the leader of the clan was given a name but when they arrived in Manhattan, the rest of the clan began to name themselves off of the city’s land marks. There’s “Hudson”, who’s the classic wise mentor of the group and voiced very well by Edward Asner (you may remember him as the Santa from “Elf”). The young second-in-command is Brooklyn, he's the rebellious youth of the group and voiced by the talented Jeff Bennett. The smallest and fiscally weakest of the group is Lexington, what he lacks in muscles, he makes up for with his technically intelligent mind. The overweight and often silly character is Broadway, he starts as the annoying comedic relief character but there’s some depth to him and he becomes rather interesting as the series goes on. Then there’s Angela, she’s Goliath’s doubter and the only female Gargoyle of the group. She's interesting because she only became part of the cast during the second season. There’s also a dog character named Bronx, who’s also rather enjoyable. All these characters have many levels of character growth, complex development and they always manage to keep the show very entertaining.


       The primary female character of the show is Elisa Maza, she’s the only human character of the group, much like how “April O'neil” was the only human member of the “Ninja Turtles”. I think she’s definitely one of the best female characters to come from an animated TV show. A lot of men don’t like the idea of woman being stronger but I think it’s fantastic and this was one bad ass fighter that made Wonder Woman look like a joke. Usually in Superhero shows, the female character is just there to be rescued but Elisa is rarely in need of rescuing, in fact she spends more time saving the lead hero’s. Voice actress “Salli Richardson” gives a fascinating performance that’s sexy, emotional and very passionate. This is the kind of character that fights both demons and personal demons and never lets the pressure of the situation bring her down. Honestly, she's one of my favorite animated female characters of all time.


      As the show goes on, were introduced to all kinds of fascinating recurring characters that all have their own interesting and dramatic back stories. There’s Matt Bluestone, a detective who’s voiced by Thomas F. Wilson (who you may remember as Biff from “Back to the Future”). Then there’s Elisa’s brother Eric, also called Talon, who leads a group of humans that were transformed into mutants (you could base a series entirely on him). The dialog in this show is really mature, you never get the feeling that there’s a voice actor behind these characters. Everything sounds so natural and in place, it’s like it all lives in its own little world where anything can happen and every episode gets you so excited for the next episode to come. Past events from other episodes are brought up a lot, things are rarely forgotten and there’s nothing self contained about this show, its one big story that keeps moving with every episode.


          Things only get better with the villains and this show had plenty of outstanding enemies to offer. I don’t have enough time to go over all of them because there’s a lot, so I’ll just stick to the big ones. The villains weren’t your usual, cliché Saturday morning villains, they were just as complex as they were sinister and menacing. The primary villain is named Demona, she was a member of Goliath’s clan and was even his lover but she was consumed by a hatred of humanity, and has attempted several times to destroy them. She is hands down one of the all time greatest animated villains with an awesome design and voice actress Marina Sirtis infuses her with a deeply chilling voice. Unlike several other cartoon villains, this character was smart and planed some pretty extreme ideas that were really intense. What’s even more surprising is that in several episodes, she actually succeeds with her plans and even gets away with murdering people, yes she actually kills characters, and is very happy about it, laughing and enjoying every moment of it. Throughout the show, we get flash backs to her dark past, and here flashbacks are so captivating, just seeing how this once proud hero fell so far through some really tragic events. 


     The second primary villain is a human character named David Xanatos, he’s also the leader of “The steel clan”, a group of powerful robot Gargoyles. He would become Goliath's personal enemy throughout the series, it's also a nice touch that his first name happens to be David, like David and Goliath, except this time the roles are reversed. Xanatos is another fascinating villain, he isn’t evil just for the hell of it, instead he’s crazy with the desire to become immortal, because he fears getting old and dyeing. His obsession is so big that he’s whiling to do anything or kill anyone to get what he wants. He also has a sense of honor, charm and wit, he doesn’t flat out hate his enemies and he doesn’t complain about losing, in fact he considers it to be another step in gaining strength. At his side is Owen Burnett, who could have been a standard supporting character but once again the writers made him better than he needed to be. He gradually developed over the series and voice actor Jeff Bennett gives an awesome vocal performance. There was also a fun group of villains called “The Pack”, which is a small group of Gargoyle hunters that work for Xanatos. The members are Wolf, Jackal, Hyena, Coyote, Fox and Dingo. What made this group so interesting is that they never stayed the same, some would go good, some would join other organizations, it was always changing, so it felt new a fresh every time.


                 Through the cores of the show, there were all kinds of fun sub stories that would build up over the episodes. One of my favorites was a clone war story arch, involving an evil Goliath clone named Thailog. With the aid of a mad doctor named Anton Sevarius, they create a team of Gargoyle clones that Demona was a member of for a while. Dr. Sevarius was voiced by the always fantastic “Tim Curry” and in all honesty, this was one of his best vocal performances, playing a mad doctor with a dispicable charm that only Curry could do. 




Now, I’m a huge fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and if you watched that show you’d probably recognize that most of the cast did voice work in Gargoyles. Jonathon Frakes (who played Commander Riker) dose the voice of Xanatos. Actually, there might be a little foreshadowing to this in the movie “Star Trek Generations”, “Gargoyles” started just after this film was released and at the end of that movie Captain Picard gives a speech about how they should cherish their lives one day at a time and remember that there only human. Too which Riker responds by saying “Speak for yourself, I plain to live forever” and Xanatos’s main goal in the show was to achieve immortality. There are many other voice actors including Marina Sirtis (who played councilor Troi) who dose the voice for Demona. Brent Spiner (who played commander Data) dose the voice for Puck, Micahel Dorn (who played commander Worf) dose the voice for a recurring character named Coldstone and then there’s Levar Burton (who played Lieutenant Laforge) who did the voice of a giant spider named Anansi. But there were several other actors from other Star Trek shows including Colm Meany (who played Chief Obrien on both “The Next Generation”’ and “Deep Space Nine”) who did the voice of Mr. Dugan, Avery Brooks (who played Captain Sisko from “Star Trek Deep Space Nine”) did the voice for an alien character named Nokkar, Kate Mulgrew (who played Captain Janeway on “Star Trek Voyager”) did the voice for Titania (I’ll talk about here and Puck in a moment) and finally Nichelle Nicols (who played Uhura in the original “Star Trek” show) did the voice for Diana Maza, that’s Elisa’s mother. It really doesn’t matter if you recognize the actors, I just thought it was really cool that so many people from one of my favorite live action T.V shows could all come back together to do voice work for one of my favorite animated T.V shows. (Fallowing image from Google)



            It’s interesting to note that this show was not based off a comic book the same way “Spider-Man” and “Batman” where, this was a completely original concept for an action show and it’s even cooler to think that it came from Disney channel of all places. The one and only “Marvel comics” bought the idea and began creating Gargoyle comics after the show aired, making this one of the few superhero shows to spawn its own collection of comics. Like I said earlier, this show got really intense at times, there’s blood and a few characters actually get killed. Unlike most shows, if someone dies they come back later but in this show, when someone dies, they stay dead. This made it really hard to predict the outcome of an episode and it made the action all the more intense. It’s not all violence for the sake of violence, sometimes it’s an important part of the story. 

 

    In the episode titled "Grief", a father loses his son in a car accident and it makes him go mad with power but he ends up learning to except what happened and to continue to live in the moment. The morals were deep for young viewers, focusing on things like accepting death in a family, being excepted in a community, family dilemmas and taking big actions to do what you know is right even if it’s risky. In an episode titled "Deadly Force", one of the younger Gargoyles finds a gun at the detective’s house and thinks it would be fun to play with it, but accidentally shoots a good friend of his. The moral of this story is obviously for young kids to stay away from things that are dangerous and not to play with them as a toy, but also for parents not to leave things that can be used as weapons in places that kids can get to them. It's not supporting gun registration, it's just saying, "be careful". Then there were simple messages for kids, one episode was based around the impotent’s of reading books. In the shows own words “the written word is the one thing that stands between gaining knowledge and oblivion, without books as our anchors, where cast adrift neither teaching or learning, they are lighthouses in a sea of time”. These are only a few examples, the show has many great morals for both kids and adults alike.



         Some story arches only last over the cores of a three part or four part episode. My favorite episode by far is titled “City of Stone”. This was a four part episode that was so beautifully crafted and so well written, it was literally like a little motion picture film inside of a kids show. The plot revolves around Demona as she casts a spell on the people of New York and turns them to stone every night, and our hero's have to join forces with their greatest enemies in order to stop her. That alone would have been enough to hold a full episode, but the episode goes even further. It switches from present story to past story as we see the dark past of both Demona and another character named Macbeth through a series of flashbacks. The running theme of this episode is revenge, and the deadly, never-ending cycle that revenge takes. This has been done in other books and movies, but this episode delivered it in a way that was truly effective and memorable. It’s impossible to do this episode justice is such a short paragraph, so I’ll just say its brilliant writing, it was emotional, it was epic, it was darker than anything I'd ever seen from a children's program, which really makes me admire the Disney channel for airing this. 


            Gargoyles also gave great incite on famous tails of Folklore, Mythology, and blended there classic story’s with the plots of the episodes. Every now and then, they’d meet famous characters from literature like “King Author” and they gave the characters the respect they deserved and weaved great stories around them. The writers of this show were heavily influenced by the writings of Shakespeare, and two of Shakespeare's most classic stories’ are acknowledged in this show. Oberon, Titania and Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” make several appearances throughout the show and even quote lines from the play. My favorite by far is when the show revolves around “Macbeth”, who’s based on both the historical king of Scotland and the drama written by Shakespeare. He becomes a primary character of the show and one of the most interesting in my opinion. He has an amazing back story, and frequently faces the weird sisters, who were also from the classic Shakespeare story. Macbeth was brought to life very well by voice actor “John Rhys-Davies”, who you may remember as Gimli from the “Lord of the Rinds” movies. 


       There are a lot of inspired materials, like how the design of the character “Bronx” was based off the dogs shown in “Ghostbusters” and you can’t help but think of “Beauty and the Best” when you see the relation between Goliath and Elisa, in fact there’s an episode where Elisa wares Belles yellow dress. Yeah, the show often reminds the viewers that it came from Disney, there’s an episode were we see them watching clips from Disney’s “Quack Pack” as well as “The Lion King”. It also reminds me of “X-Men”, in the same way that both teams try to make peace with the humans that hate and fear them. It’s not like the show is plagiarizing any of them, it’s actually reminiscent of how “Star Wars” celebrated classic tales and recreated them in a different image.


             The show had a total of 78 episodes over the cores of 3 seasons and just about every episode had a nice fusion of action, adventure, fantasy, mystery and history. For some reason, both seasons one and three had 13 episodes but season two had 52 episodes, why that season was so much longer is beyond me but that’s when all the best stuff happens. Honestly, they could have split season two into two different seasons because the second half was so distant from the first. The first half just built on premise of the first season and made it better. Then the second half focused on Goliath, Elisa, Angela and Bronx as they traveled all over the world and discovered mythical legends from several locations including the “Loch Ness Monster” from “Scotland”, the “Golem” from Prague”, the “Banshee” from “Ireland”, and an alien sentry on “Easter Island”. That’s just to name a small hand full, it was really cool to see all these different locations and there fictional legends. Fans like to call this the "Gargoyles: World Tour" side season. Season 2 came to a close with an amazing three part episode called “Hunters Moon”. This was an outstanding season finale, full of great plot twists, it tied up all the loose ends, the Gargoyles made peace with most of their enemies and it would have been a triumphant way to end the series, unfortunately, that’s not where it ended. 


         So we got our third and final season titled “Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles”. This is where the show went downhill, it wasn’t all bad and of the 13 episodes in this season, there were some good ones. But there was a new director for the show and a completely different writing staff, that wasn't associated with any of the previous seasons, and it really shows. I will say that the shows new opening was awesome, with new visuals and a remix of the original theme song. The animation in this season didn’t look quiet as as good and the writing was much weaker than before. For example, the episode titled "Bronx Tail" was all about the dog Bronx getting lost, and finding his way back home, that's it. There’s another episode called "To Serve Mankind", (Not to be confused with "The Twilight Zone" episode of the same name) which is about Goliath geting kidnapped by a secret society called “the Illuminati” and the entire episode is just showing them brainwashing Goliath and torturing the other Gargoyles, that’s really not what I want to see in this show. Xanatos became a full time good guy, which is fine but they don’t do anything interesting with him, he’s just in the background the whole time. Most of the interesting primary villains took a back seat to this new anti-Gargoyle group of KKK rejects called the Quarrymen, which is really lame. The biggest disappointment was Demona, she only makes one appearance in a very standard episode that doesn’t resolve anything or bring a satisfying conclusion to the character, and that really sucks because she was such an interesting villain. Then we get a season final titled "Angels in the night", which is only a single episode long, and revolves around the Gargoyles rescuing a train full of people from the Quarrymen. Come on, I didn't watch 78 episodes of Gargoyles just to have it end with them fighting the hooded KKK wannabe's.  
    

       Now to be honest, the disappointing final episode and the week final season are so small that they hardly even matter. This show really wasn’t anything new, but it’s dark, complicated and mellow dramatic story telling took it leaps and bounds above any other Disney TV show. It never lightened the tone because we were kids and it took itself seriously, but not too seriously that we couldn’t have fun while watching it. It combined classic tails of Folklore and Mythology, complex character development, stunting action, strong morals and brought it all together in a T.V. show that existed in its own little world. There’s an internet rumor that there’s a live action “Gargoyle movie” based off this show in the works.  That would be a challenge to do a proper movie based off “Gargoyles” but the “Star Trek” movies and “X-Men” movies proved that what works in a T.V show can work in a movie. “Gargoyles” isn’t just one of my favorite kid shows but one that in my opinion stands as genuinely great show that I still enjoy watching to this day and that’s something that I don’t say lightly. I give the T.V. show “Gargoyles” a soled 5 stars. 


The End



                                                         

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