Tag Archives: disney afternoon

The Other Disney Afternoon Games

Capcom recently released a digital collection of NES games called The Disney Afternoon Collection. It’s available for Playstation 4, Steam, and Xbox One (though curiously not for a Nintendo console despite all of the games originating from one)and is a pretty solid collection of not quite classic games at a budget friendly price. And that last part can’t be understated since copies of DuckTales II sell for hundreds of dollars on the aftermarket thanks to low release totals. By most measures, the collection of games represent Capcom’s best licensed titles, but certainly not all of them. It also doesn’t capture every title released with the Disney Afternoon branding and this post is about the leftovers.

1Bonkers (Super Nintendo 1994)

 

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Expect some indirect cameos from famous Disney characters.

Bonkers was a short-lived series that ran from September 1993 to February 1994. In that window, the show managed to feature 65 episodes, the magic number for most Disney cartoons as that met syndication guidelines. Bonkers is reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as it pairs a cartoon bobcat with a human who both work for the Toon Police. They go around solving crimes in a toon world that’s basically inhabited by all of Disney’s classic characters, many of whom make cameos in the show. Disney even allowed Mickey to cameo breaking with tradition that basically kept Mickey shielded from the television properties.

 

In December of ’94 Bonkers came to the Super Nintendo. In a game developed by Capcom (who else?), Bonkers allowed the player to play as the titular character as he tried to recover some famous cartoon assets stolen from a museum. His partner, Lucky, is laid up in a hospital bed forcing Bonkers to go solo. The items he needs to recover, and the places he visits to find them, should feel familiar to Disney fans young and old as they include Mickey’s iconic sorcerer’s hat and Ariel’s voice.

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The Genesis Bonkers wasn’t developed by Capcom and took the gameplay in a very different direction.

The gameplay for Bonkers is very similar to a Konami contemporary, Buster Busts Loose, released in ’93 and based on the Tiny Toons character Buster Bunny. Both games are platformers with large sprites where a main feature of gameplay is a dash meter. Bonkers can dash as a means of attack and to navigate the levels. Special items will bestow upon him invincibility and unlimited dash for a brief period, which is also a feature of an earlier Capcom Mega Drive/Genesis title Quackshot starring Donald Duck. The dash is your bread and butter and what a player needs to master in order to make it through the game. In addition to that, Bonkers can take out most enemies Mario style with a jump attack and he also can toss bombs, though his supply is limited. The game contains just five levels, with the first three being selectable from the game’s hub menu and can be completed in any order. Bonkers never earns additional power-ups or special abilities beyond what he starts with, so there’s no preferred order to them.

 

Bonkers for the SNES is a solid title, though not really spectacular so it’s not surprising to see it’s not a fondly remembered one. The cartoon from which it came is also not one that possesses a huge following, though it was an interesting premise and is probably worthy of revisiting. Bonkers also received another video game, this one for the Genesis and developed by Sega. It’s kind of like a tower defense game in which Bonkers is primarily featured in the foreground defending a position by tossing items at enemies in the background. There are some platforming parts as well, but most probably agree that the SNES game is superior. There was also a Brazil-only Game Gear title called Bonkers: Wax Up! that I know very little about. Judging it based on some YouTube long plays, it doesn’t look like a title that needs to be sought out.

250px-SNES_Goof_Troop_BoxGoof Troop (Super Nintendo 1993)

Following DuckTales, the flagship series for the Disney Afternoon seemed to shift to Goof Troop. Starring Goofy and his son Max, Goof Troop was a mostly wholesome program about adolescence and being a single parent. It’s really melancholy for a series starring Goofy and definitely added a new dimension to a mostly one-note character. For fans of the more action-oriented cartoons like Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop was a bit of a hard sell, but I recall watching it somewhat frequently and thinking it all right.

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A standard screen in Goof Troop with a standard set of obstacles for Goofy to navigate.

The game is definitely an odd duck amongst the other Disney Afternoon titles. Once again developed by Capcom, Goof Troop is an adventure game in which the player controls either Goofy or Max and simultaneous co-op is possible. I suppose it isn’t surprising that the game is unlike its sister titles since Goof Troop, being more of a sitcom than most cartoons, doesn’t have a natural ability to become a video game. In this one, Goofy and Max somehow end up ship-wrecked on an island and need to find a way off of it. It’s basically a survival game, and the player controls one of the two Goofs from a top-down perspective similar to The Legend of Zelda. Goofy and Max can hold a maximum of two items at a time, and the player has to constantly find and drop items in order to progress. The game is more puzzle-like than the others, and since Goofy and Max can’t directly damage the enemies they encounter you’re almost encouraged to avoid conflict.

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Co-op is the preferred way to tackle this one.

The game was developed by Shinji Mikami, who was basically the mind behind Resident Evil. Yes, Resident Evil owes something to Goof Troop and it’s rather remarkable to see how some of the survival elements from that series were first born in Goof Troop. Even right down to how awkward it is to control Goofy and Max and how frustrating it can be to avoid enemies. The game feels like it’s designed for two players as opposed to one as some rooms are really hard to clear without the aid of a second player. The other player can help act as a lure for enemies allowing player one to activate a switch, move a block, or trigger something else on the screen. In two player mode, Goofy and Max can only hold one item each, but it’s an easy trade-off to make in order to gain an ally. Playing solo, I had a hell of a time trying to clear one room where the enemies could kick blocks, blocks that I needed to kick into a certain spot to pass the room. The problem was getting to the enemies and taking them out before they could kick one into a spot where I couldn’t make any use of it, forcing me to leave the screen and re-enter, also re-spawning the enemies.

Goof Troop is an interesting game, and played through the lens of knowing it’s a pseudo Resident Evil predecessor certainly adds to it. As a change of pace from the other Capcom developed Disney Afternoon games, it’s acceptable, but I found it a bit too frustrating to really want to come back to it again and again. Given the license though, this is probably the best Capcom could have done short of just making a platformer that made little thematic sense.

250px-Gargoyles_game_coverGargoyles (Genesis 1995)

Lastly, we have Gargoyles, our only featured game to only be released on the Genesis without a SNES counterpart and (gasp!) to not be developed by Capcom. This one was done by Buena Vista Interactive, and if you know anything about Disney you know that’s likely the name for an internal studio. At some point, someone high up at the company must have got the bright idea that they could make more money if they developed their own games rather than licensing them out to Capcom. Big mistake, as doing so ultimately lead to a severe reduction in quality for Disney based video games and Gargoyles is no exception.

Gargoyles is a series I’ve covered pretty extensively here. It was basically The Disney Afternoon’s answer to WB’s Batman which aired during Fox’s afternoon block of programming. Batman was a hit, so naturally others copied it and Gargoyles was perhaps the most blatant. Don’t confuse that with criticism, as Gargoyles was a pretty entertaining show and was able to develop its own identity during its run. And unlike say Goof Troop, it pretty obviously lent itself well to video games being an action-oriented show starring some pretty bad ass characters.

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At least it looks pretty good.

The game stars Goliath and is essentially another platform-styled action game with some exploration elements. It’s sort of like DuckTales on steroids and with an overt gothic theme. The game starts off in the past with the fall of the castle and the gargoyles being turned to stone before taking the player to the present timeline. All of the main baddies from the show make an appearance, and Goliath handles like Goliath should possessing powerful strikes, a running attack, and the ability to climb walls and double-jump with his wings.

Visually, the game is probably the best out of any Disney Afternoon title and is one of the better looking Genesis titles around. The music even sounds great and you could almost trick someone into believing it came from a Super Nintendo. Sadly, that’s where the positives mostly dry-up. While the music is great, the sound effects are horrendous with awful enemy death screams that sound like they were recorded through a tin can. Goliath is a chore to control as negotiating tight spaces is problematic and his ability to cling to walls is automatic, resulting in numerous occasions where he’ll grab a wall when you don’t want him to. The opening level is particularly frustrating as it features lots of tiny spaces and towers to ascend. Enemies will routinely strike from offscreen and finding enough room to get a running start to smash through a wall can also be harder than it should be. Goliath should feel like a powerful beast, but he’s too easily felled by the humans who serve as foes. The rotten icing on the cake is spotty collision detection when attacking enemies, making their defeat feel wholly unsatisfying.

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There are plenty of familiar faces from the show.

Gargoyles is one of those games that I want to like, but it just makes it too hard to do so. It’s a great license that should have lead to a great, or at least passable, game and it looks awesome. Unfortunately, it just isn’t remotely fun and I’m sure lots of people were conned into buying, or renting, this one based on the track-record of Disney Afternoon titles and because the screenshots looked promising. The game ended up being released only in North America, and there was a Super Nintendo port planned but it was scrapped, either due to poor sales of the Genesis version or because the 16-bit era was essentially over. Stay away, stay far away.


DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.


DuckTales (1989)

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DuckTales (1989)

Licensed games are trash, or at least, that was the lesson the video rental store taught me as a child. Renting a video game on a Friday night was a special occasion in my house. Maybe a friend was sleeping over, or my parents wanted to rent a movie they didn’t really want me watching, so they got a video game to keep me occupied. The only thing that could ruin the evening, or rather the weekend, was renting a bad game so early on I learned what games to avoid. Usually, those games featured a licensed tie-in:  Roadrunner, Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracy, X-Men – all terrible games with attractive box art.

One consistent exception to that rule were the Disney games, especially the ones centered around the Disney Afternoon programming block. Recently released in a bundle for modern consoles (though sadly no portable devices), The Disney Afternoon Collection is a reminder of just how much better these games were than the usual licensed junk. Developed by Capcom, these were real games meant to entertain with their play mechanics. The games didn’t need the license, the license needed the games. And the cream of the crop was DuckTales, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989.

DuckTales was not the first of the Disney Afternoon cartoons, but it soon became the flagship series for the block. Featuring a great cast, stories adapted from the renowned works of Carl Barks, and the best animation on television by a mile, DuckTales was an easy hit and it’s a cartoon that holds up remarkably well today. It’s adventure themes are easily adaptable for a video game, so in some ways it should come as no surprise that the game matches, even exceeds, the quality of the program.

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In DuckTales, Scrooge’s adventures take him beyond Earth.

DuckTales is a pretty traditional game for its era. The player controls Scrooge, notably decked-out in his comic attire red coat instead of the blue from the show, who can run and jump his way through five stages collecting treasure as he attempts to recapture his lucky dime from the villainous Magica DeSpell and Flintheart Glomgold. Scrooge handles like a standard character from the era, with the notable distinction that he can’t simply stomp on the heads of his foes to defeat them. Instead he must utilize his cane. When standing next to certain objects, he can swing it like a golf club to knock objects into enemies or objects. Mostly though, he needs his cane to function like a pogo stick. Bouncing off the head of an enemy utilizing his cane in such a fashion is Scrooge’s primary method of dealing damage. It also helps to give his jump an extra boost allowing him to clear wide chasms or reach higher platforms.

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I think every side-scroller was required to have an ice stage.

It’s the pogo quality of Scrooge’s cane that lies at the heart of what makes DuckTales so much fun, even today. Also playing a role are the large, open, levels. There may only be five of them, but they’re much larger than your garden-variety Mario or Mega Man stage. Scrooge can roam around them in basically any direction, and all are loaded with secret chests and treasures for Scrooge to find. Amassing a fortune is part of the game, and the amount of cash a player finishes the game with affects the ending cinematic, a rarity for 1989. Scattered through-out the levels are also other characters from the show, including Scrooge’s nephews and Launchpad, who are able to help out in small ways.

The visuals and sound of DuckTales are also areas where the game performs well. Naturally, the game makes liberal use of a digitized sample of the DuckTales theme, though I never found myself tiring of it. The sound effects are pretty standard for Capcom games of the era and are probably more enjoyable today with the aid of nostalgia. The graphics, while good for the time, are probably just a little above average for the NES. Some of the enemy sprites and character models are quite fun and expressive, though the bosses sometimes leave something to be desired.

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Launchpad isn’t totally useless, but he also could be more helpful here.

Games for the NES are sometimes considered quite difficult by today’s standards, but DuckTales is a fairly forgiving title in this regard. While it lacks a password or continue system, the adjustable difficulty makes it pretty easy to taylor the game to one’s skill level without making it embarrassingly easy. Changing the difficulty largely affects how much damage Scrooge receives from enemies, which is a simple and fair way to measure difficulty. The game doesn’t throw anything odd at the player, or introduce a foreign play mechanic at any point (unlike say Battletoads which just throws a racing level at the player out of no where), and anyone who has played a decent amount of 8-bit platformers can probably find a way to finish the game. It’s not a long game, though the desire to find all of the hidden treasures and achieve the best ending help provide incentive to play the game again and again.

Mostly, DuckTales is a really fun action-adventure game for the NES. It’s the type of game I can play today and hope that younger generations are able to see what made the game so much fun in 1989. As I mentioned early in the post, DuckTales was recently re-released as part of a bundle of Disney Afternoon titles so you don’t need to have a working NES on-hand to play it, though that’s currently how I enjoy it. And this is a game still worth playing, even after all these years.


#8 Best in TV Animation: Gargoyles

disney-has-gargoyles-legally-streaming-on-youtube-socialWhen I started this feature I swear I did not intend to list the best cartoons aimed at children, that’s just how it’s worked out so far. I promise the next few are going to trend older. That said, Gargoyles is a pretty terrific show whether you’re 8 or 18. The show borrowed heavily from comics and was obviously influenced by the likes of Batman and X-Men. Like most cartoons geared towards boys, the show featured plenty of action but also contained plenty of drama. It asked a lot of its viewers, opting for a more serialized narrative structure with numerous callbacks to older episodes. Sometimes, plots required multiple episodes to develop and pay-off which is probably one reason why the show aired weekdays as opposed to Saturday mornings (though the final season was moved to Saturdays). Lastly, as a Disney produced and developed cartoon show, the program featured slick animation and stellar production values all around.

Gargoyles first began airing in 1994 and centered around the character Goliath, the leader of a clan of Gargoyles displaced by time and forced to adapt to life in New York City. The premise for the show was established over the first five episodes and the lore of the world is firmly established here. Gargoyles are beast-like creatures that are active at night, and stone by day. During the middle ages they protected a castle inhabited by humans in Scotland but were betrayed with most of the gargoyles destroyed while they slept. Magic is also a part of this world, and the remaining gargoyles that survived the attack were placed under a spell that would keep them stone until the castle they inhabited rose above the clouds. Of course, this would happen when a man by the name of David Xanatos purchased the castle and placed it atop a skyscraper in New York.

MacBeth is one of the more prominent antagonists in the series.

MacBeth is one of the more prominent antagonists in the series.

Over the resulting episodes, the gargoyles would come to view Xanatos as an enemy, as well as many others. Surviving outside of the curse is Goliath’s old flame, Demona, a female gargoyle who is like the Magneto to Goliath’s Xavier. She wishes to exterminate humanity while Goliath sees value in forging alliances with people and serving as their protectors. Goliath and his clan, consisting of fellow gargoyles Hudson, Broadway, Lexington, Brooklyn, and Bronx, forge a bond with detective Elisa Maza and basically become protectors of New York. They don’t run around like Batman, but their presence draws out and attracts the attention of various foes, many from the past. Some are more interesting than others. Throughout the series, Demona is a worthy foe for the clan. She’s ruthless and cunning, and even though she often finds herself on the losing side the writers manage to maintain her credibility as a villain. MacBeth is another stand-out foe. He and Demona share a bond as a result of a curse and neither one can die unless the other is killed which makes for an interesting dynamic. MacBeth is no friend to Goliath and company, leading to numerous instances where the gargoyles are caught between MacBeth and Demona, who despise one another.

Stylistically, the show is quite dark. This is to be expected since the primary protagonists are only active at night. The gothic influence in the look and music invite comparisons to another well-regarded cartoon; Batman: The Animated Series. So natural was the likeness that Batman producer Bruce Timm was asked about the show more than once and was said to be not a fan of Gargoyles. The tone of the show was certainly quite serious, even melodramatic. The serialized nature of the show and the human/gargoyle dynamic make it seem more comparable to X-Men, particularly the first two seasons. There’s even a beauty and the beast vibe going on (and the allusions were quite literal in one episode) between Elisa and Goliath. Their relationship starts off professional early on and gradually develops into something more. If you’re looking for pay-off though, you’ll have to consult the not safe for work fan-fiction of a few a diehards (you may want to enable safe search between doing a google image search of Elisa and Goliath) scattered across the internet.

Goliath and Elisa share a bond bordering on love that only intensifies as the series goes on.

Goliath and Elisa share a bond bordering on love that only intensifies as the series goes on.

One thing that Gargoyles did that I can appreciate is that it added to its cast. In X-Men, several mutants and other heroes would cameo on various episodes. These characters, like Archangel and Nightcrawler, were members of the team in the comics but would never join the roster on the television show. This used to bug me, though I understand why the show runners would want to try and keep the cast as manageable as possible. Gargoyles expanded its roster during the second season and it was cool to see. Villains were also eliminated or changed while others, like Xanatos, would become grayer as the series progressed.

Where the show opens itself up for criticism is within its tone and scope. Two things that I consider a strength, do sometimes bog it down. The show is so grim at times it feels joyless. There’s moments for comedic relief but not a lot when compared with contemporary programs. The show also became burdened with the lore it created, particularly during the last half of season two, and sometimes the show felt like it was becoming too big for its own good. It’s no surprise that the show kind of fizzled out towards the end and the final third season is rather poor.

Gargoyles earns its place on my list of top animated television shows because it scores very well across the board, even though it doesn’t quite knock-it-out-of-the-park in any one category. Though maybe I should amend that last sentiment because I’ve underplayed how stellar the animation is for a televised program. The first season especially is borderline feature-film worthy, which is something Batman can’t even boast. Gargoyles is a really unique program when compared with the other Disney Afternoon shows and it would be nice to see Disney try to revive the franchise in at least a small way (cough KingdomHeartsThree cough).

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on Gargoyles, you can fine reviews for the three DVD releases here, here, and here as well as read my arguments for why it should be included in a popular gaming franchise here. Enjoy.


Gargoyles: Season 2 – Volume 2

Gargoyles:  Season 2 - Volume 2 (2013)

Gargoyles: Season 2 – Volume 2 (2013)

It was a long wait for fans of Disney’s Gargoyles in between DVD releases.  Volume 1 of the second season was released back in 2005 in an attractive three-disc set.  Apparently the sales for the set were not up to Disney’s standards and volume 2 of the set was either pushed back or outright cancelled.  Volume 2 was only recently released this past summer, nearly six years following the release of volume 1 and it was done in a quiet fashion.  Now Disney has its own movie club which it uses as a vehicle for delivering to people DVD sets of their less popular shows as movie club exclusives.  These sets are cheaply done but for fans of the obscure it is currently the only avenue for them to get a physical copy of their beloved programs.  Such was the fate of volume 2 for Gargoyles.  The movie club exclusive contains a minimalist jacket with a gaudy yellow border.  The DVD case itself is like that of a standard DVD with a larger central tab where all three discs are stacked one on top of the other.  The only insert is an ad for the movie club and a number to register the DVD with.  The actual DVDs contain no bonus features of any kind, just the episodes and a mostly ugly DVD menu.  It’s about as bare-bones as it gets, but for fans waiting six years for the episodes, I suppose it’s better than nothing.

The set contains the final 26 episodes for season two.  It starts with the episode “Monsters,” which if one were to look at an official episode list for the show, should have been the final episode of volume 1.  Instead, the episode “Kingdom” was moved to volume 1 for pacing issues with “Monsters” getting pushed back.  That’s because these episodes comprise the World Tour section of season 2 where Goliath, Elisa, Angela, and Bronx are being sent to all parts of the world by the island Avalon for unknown reasons.  As a result, much of season 2 does not include the other characters such as Broadway or even Xanatos.  Often times, Goliath and co. will encounter a villain from back home while on their travels but just as often they’re paired with someone new.  They also encounter many new gargoyles as Goliath gradually learns that gargoyles are alive and well all around the globe.

Angela is added as a member of the main cast in the second half of season two and plays an important role in the development of the Goliath character.

Angela is added as a member of the main cast in the second half of season two and plays an important role in the development of the Goliath character.

Because of the World Tour format, the second half of season 2 is even more episodic than the first half, meaning the episodes function mostly as stand-alone stories.  I suppose one could argue there’s an overall plot since it’s Avalon that is sending them to these destinations, but it’s a fairly loose one.  Having the setting change each episode is an easy way to inject variety into the show, but the format grows stale.  The stories often feel like filler, and as a viewer I just wanted the group to get back home or for Avalon to finally unveil it’s true intentions.  Not all of the episodes follow the Would Tour group, as there are a couple that take place back in Manhattan.  In one such episode, “Pendragon,” the legendary King Arthur and the gargoyle Griff, two individuals encountered by Goliath and co. during their travels, wind up in New York and interact with the remaining members of the Manhattan Clan.  The World Tour basically lasts for 17 additional episodes of volume 2, with the two-part “The Gathering” representing its conclusion.  It’s far too long, and getting through those episodes started to feel like a chore for me (hence why it took me so long to get to reviewing this set) which is never a good feeling for television viewing.

Thankfully, the remaining handful of episodes are pretty interesting, as is the two-part “The Gathering,” though it’s not as grand as some of the series’ other multi-part arcs.  In that story, the god Oberon is attempting to steal the newborn son of Fox and Xanatos for he possesses some unusual abilities for a mortal.  It is interesting to see Xanatos and the gargoyles take on a god, though the resolution felt a little too neat and tidy for my tastes, but I can’t deny the alternative would have worked much better.  We learn some interesting tidbits about some of the supporting characters of the show, which is one of its great strengths.  The writers never miss an opportunity to focus on a secondary character and add importance to it.  As a result, just about any character who ever had even a minor role in a prior story returns at some point, including one background character viewers likely never noticed in “Vendettas.”  This type of writing helps make the show feel more rewarding for loyal viewers and it does add depth to what would otherwise be shallow characters.

The production values for volume 2 are largely the same as that for volume 1, though the DVDs this time around are of a lower quality.  The colors aren’t as rich and sometimes the image can be grainy, but that’s expected considering this was done on the cheap.  There are still episodes where the animation is of a noticeable lower quality, while others more resemble the quality of season one.  The A+ animation is largely reserved for the bigger stories, but even a stand-alone episode here and there (like “Future Tense”) is given a more striking look.  The score remains excellent as well and the voice acting is the usual high quality Disney output.

The alternate future depicted in "Future Tense" is one of the more fun stand-alone episodes in volume 2.

The alternate future depicted in “Future Tense” is one of the more fun stand-alone episodes in volume 2.

While from an episode quality standpoint I enjoyed this set less than the previous two, there are still some excellent stand-out episodes.  I mentioned “Future Tense” already as being a stand-out in terms of production values, but it’s also a really fun story that looks at an alternate future for Manhattan.  “Sanctuary” is one of the better World Tour episodes as it includes MacBeth, Demona, and Thailog.  Thailog also makes an appearance in another strong episode back in New York, “The Reckoning,” which contains the long anticipated confrontation between Angela and Demona.  The Goliath, Angela, Demona triangle is an anchor in a few stories, and the tension between Goliath and Angela over her lineage is done well.  I don’t think it’s giving away anything to reveal that Angela is the biological daughter of Goliath and Demona, but the writers do a good job of explaining Goliath’s and the clan’s view on children, which is that all gargoyles are children of the clan.  Angela, having been raised by humans, has a human’s perspective when it comes to parents and longs for Goliath to acknowledge her as his daughter.  She has similar feelings towards Demona, though they’re obviously complicated by the fact that Demona isn’t the most likable person/gargoyle.

The Goliath/Elisa relationship is handled quite tastefully by the writers of the show.

The Goliath/Elisa relationship is handled quite tastefully by the writers of the show.

Another tension of the series is the obvious affection Goliath and Elisa feel for each other that largely goes unstated between the two.  The conclusion to the set, “Hunter’s Moon,” addresses it for the first time in a very satisfying way.  It’s hard to write such a relationship because it takes care to make it believable that an attractive woman like Elisa would have romantic feelings for Goliath.  The writers sell it well though, and while I’m not sure they could have ever pulled off a full-on romance for the two, they did find a way to get the point across.  That conclusion, by the way, is a three-part story that actually brings everything full-circle for the gargoyles.  It would have been a fine way to end the series, but a thirteen episode season 3 was picked up by ABC for their then Saturday morning block.  Series creator Greg Weisman wrote the premier for that season, dubbed The Goliath Chronicles by ABC, but had no involvement in the remaining twelve episodes.  As a result, they are not considered canon by Weisman and the series actually continued in comic book form years later.  I may look into checking out those comics but I need to know more about them first and if they’re worthwhile.  I’m pretty happy with “Hunter’s Moon” as a conclusion, as I don’t expect a season three set, and I may choose to just leave Gargoyles with how season two ended.

As for this set, it is what it is.  For those who just want the episodes, it’s the only option save for bootlegs that are probably even worse quality.  When it was released last summer, it was available for a short time on eBay through Buena Vista’s store but once those copies were gone the movie club and secondary market were the only options.  The movie club is actually worth looking into for those looking to start a Disney collection.  For those (like me) who already own a ton of Disney DVDs and Blu Rays, it doesn’t make financial sense.  Very quietly though the set moves to the traditional Disney Store website and is available there for twenty bucks.  The secondary market has yet to adjust, it would seem, as the copies are still routinely priced in excess of forty dollars.  Even so, this is likely not going to be produced in large numbers so if you’re a fan of the show it’s probably a good idea to get it while it’s relatively cheap.  Bland set or not, it’s still 26 episodes of a pretty strong show for twenty bucks and if you already have the first two it’s basically a must-have.  Gargoyles is among the elite action cartoons of the 90’s, and for me it ranks among Batman and X-Men as the best of the best.


Gargoyles: Season One

Gargoyles - The Complete First Season (2004)

Gargoyles – The Complete First Season (2004)

In the early 90’s, Fox cornered the market when it came to television shows for young demographics, particularly boys in that 7-12 age group.  They had hit shows with Batman The Animated Series, X-Men, and Power Rangers and their Saturday morning programming was unrivaled.  Batman, in particular, ushered in an era of cartoons where the writers didn’t feel like they had to dumb-down the show to please its audience.  The stories were mostly grounded within the fantasy world the show created, while X-Men wasn’t afraid of creating serialized episodes that asked more from its viewers.  These weren’t stand-alone episodes with the same throw-away clichés prevalent in most children’s programming.  And while the shows were, first and fore-most, children’s shows they didn’t make adults feel like idiots for watching.

Disney, by contrast, had seen its viewership decline.  The once popular Disney Afternoon programming was mostly content to keep things the same.  Duck Tales and Tailspin were successful early on, and Darkwing Duck was Disney’s own answer to Batman but with a comedic core.  If Darkwing Duck was supposed to reel in Batman viewers then Disney missed the point.  Putting a cape and mask on a character and having him fight crime isn’t what people tuned into Batman for.  Those viewers wanted to see the show take itself seriously, present real threats, and overall just make it a credible show.  Disney needed a show that matched Batman’s tone and not his costume, so they turned to comic book writer Greg Weisman and from that relationship came Gargoyles.

Gargoyles could be described as modern fantasy mixed with Greek tragedy.  Stylistically, the show is reminiscent of the aforementioned Batman and X-Men with similarities to contemporary cartoon Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.S.  The color palette is muted with lots of deep violets and blues and plenty of black.  The first season has a split setting between modern-day New York and turn of the first millennium Scotland.  The gargoyles, lead by the hulking Goliath, are a humanoid, bat-like race that spends the daylight hours encased in stone and owns the night.  In 994 Scotland, they’re protectors of a castle inhabited by humans that, for the most part, view the gargoyles in an unfavorable light.  When the gargoyle clan finds itself betrayed by those it trusted, most are smashed to death during the day while the few survivors are magically encased within stone until the castle they inhabit rises above the clouds.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right):  Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right): Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The existence of the extraordinary gargoyle race is all but wiped away from history, but one noted wealthy individual by the name of David Xanatos, is well-aware of their past.  It is he who purchases the castle along with the gargoyles and moves them to Manhattan where he places it atop a massive skyscraper, thus ending the spell placed upon them.  The rest of the first season deals with the gargoyles coming to terms with what happened to them a thousand years ago and finding a way to relate to this new, modern world and find their place in it.  Themes of tragedy, isolation, trust, family, and acceptance help frame the show.  In this there are many similarities to X-Men as both the gargoyles and mutants find themselves as unwelcomed protectors of humanity.  Their isolation, seemingly alone in this world with the exception of their one human ally, Elisa, helps evoke the Batman similarities.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

The remaining gargoyles, now known as the Manhattan Clan, are a small group of varying personalities.  Goliath is the unquestioned leader.  He’s noble, proud and a bit stubborn at times.  He’s always learning and isn’t immune to mistakes, but he does everything with purpose and conviction.  Hudson is the elder statesman of the clan and its former leader.  He prefers to stay on the sidelines and leave the fighting to the younger gargoyles.  Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington are the younger members of the clan and rookery mates, which is gargoyle speak for siblings.  Brooklyn is a curious sort who seems to model himself after Goliath while Lexington is consumed by modern technology.  The gluttonous Broadway is sometimes relegated to comic relief though the show mostly avoid slapstick and jokes.  Rounding out the clan is the dog-like Bronx who is the only gargoyle incapable of speech and lacking in wings.  Detective Elisa Maza is the sole ally of the gargoyles in season one.  She’s a strong-willed character who is able to give the gargoyles leads on the goings-on of their enemies while also sometimes acting as almost a mentor to Goliath.

Much like the clan itself, the rogues gallery for the show is kept fairly compact for the first season.  It’s dominated by Xanatos, who poses as an ally early on to the clan but is soon revealed as duplicitous and self-serving.  His main weapons are cunning and money, but he also possesses some high-tech weaponry including his own cybernetic army of gargoyles.  He splits time as the main foe for the clan with Demona, Goliath’s former lover who was complicit in the destruction of their clan a thousand years ago.  While her intentions were without malice, her persona is consumed with a bloodlust for humanity as she blames them for their near extinction.  She is the Magneto to Goliath’s Charles Xavier.  Other villains include the sportsmen MacBeth and the television actors turned criminals The Pack, a group of men and women who fashion their personas after wild canines.

Demona, Goliath's former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

Demona, Goliath’s former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

The show opens with a very ambitious five-part mini-series titled “Awakening” (it was also released direct-to-video as Gargoyles:  The Movie) that sets up the series.  Right from the start, viewers are able to get a sense of the large-scale story-telling the show is aiming for while also being able to take in the peak of the show’s production values.  The animation quality is a grade above the usual afternoon cartoon fare, making it possibly the best looking cartoon of the mid 90’s.  The score is also exemplary and the voice acting contains notable actors such as Keith David (Goliath, various voices) and Edward Asner (Hudson) as well as numerous vets of various Star Trek programs.  Following the five-part debut, the show mostly settles into stand-alone episodes that also call upon happenings in previous ones.  Each gargoyle, with the exception of Bronx, is basically given his own episode to star in which helps the viewers get better acquainted with each one individually.  It’s similar to the tactic utilized by X-Men in season two and is an effective way to flesh out an ensemble cast.  There are thirteen episodes in total for season one, and pretty much all of them are good.  Some standouts include “Deadly Force,” which stresses the importance of gun safety without being ham-fisted (possibly created because main character Elisa is shown wielding realistic weaponry as opposed to fantasy, laser type devices).  “Her Brother’s Keeper” helps define what family means to the gargoyles and how it’s not so different from what it means to humans.  “Reawakening” is the bookend for the season and is a satisfying conclusion for the show’s first major arch.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

What I appreciate most about the show is its commitment to realism.  This is a show starring unreal creatures but it takes them very seriously.  Their culture is defined as is their biology when Goliath points out early on that they can’t fly, merely glide on air currents.  As previously mentioned, Elisa is armed with a realistic handgun as are most of the police force.  Many of the villains do use lasers and other such fantasy fare but they come across as credible, in part due to a willingness to throw around phrases like “Die!” at their targets.  And when it’s called for, the show is not afraid to show blood which helps add severity to a scene.  The show also wasn’t afraid to be a little progressive as it’s revealed (casually) that Elisa is of mixed-race, having a white father and black mother.  And if you’re a fan of keeping movies and television as they were, you’ll be happy to know that the numerous shots of the New York skyline have not been edited to remove the twin towers.  Recent shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beware the Batman have mostly empty city streets and lifeless scenery, it was refreshing to watch Gargoyles with its fully realized and very much alive New York.

The DVD release for season one is fairly basic.  There are animated menu screens depicting the gargoyles emerging from their stone prisons accompanied by music and sound effects.  The transfer is of good quality for this type of release and the case is a standard DVD case with a hinged insert for the second disc.  Bonus features include the original show pitch by Weisman which is worth a look just to see the original designs of the gargoyles.  There’s also a brief feature on The Gathering of the Gargoyles, a convention that used to be held in the US for fans of the show, that I suppose is worth a look though it’s basically just a bunch of fanboys and girls gushing over the program.  There’s also audio commentary on the fist five episodes, but I have yet to check it out (and probably won’t as it’s just not my kind of thing).

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

Gargoyles felt overlooked during its hey-day and today feels kind of like a forgotten series.  This is due, in part, to Disney’s stubbornness over releasing the entire series on DVD.  Season one was released in 2004 with the first half of season two following in 2005.  The rest of season 2 was in limbo until recently when it was released quietly as part of the Disney Movie Club.  Still remaining are the thirteen episodes from the abbreviated season three, rebranded as The Goliath Chronicles .  While fans would likely appreciate having those thirteen released, all but the season premiere were done without Weisman and thus are not considered canon by him for the show’s storyline, which lived on in comic book form for a short while following the show’s cancellation.  Unlike many cartoons from my youth that I have chosen to revisit, Gargoyles still holds up and impressed me a great deal.  I would love to see Disney revisit the show with Weisman for either a short fourth season or direct-to-video movie to provide additional closure.  Expect to see more of Gargoyles from me as I make my way through both volumes of season 2.