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Gargoyles: The Complete First Season

Buena Vista Television (1973-1986, 1993-1996), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (December 7, 2004), 2 disc set, 294 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full screen ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $29.99

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Storyboard:

Gargoyles premiered on October 1994, as part of the syndicated Disney Afternoon block, with a five-part episode arc entitled Awakening. These episodes told the story of how the gargoyles lived in their old world of Scotland, and about how they were transplanted to downtown Manhattan. The first five episodes, with their action and mythology-packed storylines, created a world where gargoyles came out at night to defend their castle. The story featured six living gargoyles that sleep as statues during the day, and were awakened at sunset. A new breed of superheroes was created and the gargoyles later would come to see all of Manhattan as their home and castle. The show continued for another eight episodes in its first season, gaining immediate attention and a large fan base with their unique style, which was much darker than most Disney television cartoons of their time. Even the first episode shocked people with its tragic ending for the heroes. With the right mix of action, adventure, and comic relief, the show continued with another 52-episode run for its second season. Part of what made the show refreshing, as it continued through its first and second seasons, was that it developed characters that were originally minor characters and it paid attention to the secondary characters. There was also a thirteen-episode third season entitled The Goliath Chronicles, which was a more watered down version of the show and ended the show’s run in February 1997.

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The Sweatbox Review:

While I have always been aware of Gargoyles as a television show, I never actually watched a full episode until I was in college. I was actually turned on to the show by some friends of mine that watched the show. I managed to watch the first five exciting episodes of the show (the aptly titled Awakening), and was enthralled by the story. It was an intricately detailed story about real gargoyles from 10th Century Scotland being transplanted into 20th Century New York City. When they awakened at night, they learned new lessons about being loyal to their clan, about defending their castle, and about placing their trust in others. In their new world, they also had to make new allies and friends, after being betrayed by humans in the 10th Century. Slowly, the gargoyles became accustomed to their new surroundings and with the changes of the last 1000 years. The show also marked a turn for Disney TV animation with its darker themes of death and rebirth, and probably marked the first time blood was animated in a Disney cartoon.

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Behind the show were people like Greg Weisman, the creator and producer of the show, and Frank Paur, the show’s co-producer and director of many episodes. Although shows like Batman: TAS undoubtedly influenced the design of the show, Weisman actually cited another Disney cartoon as one of his main inspirations, Gummi Bears. He mixed Gummi Bears with its medieval world along with his favorite television show, Hill Street Blues, about a detective and his precinct. Originally, the show as to be an action comedy with cute little gargoyles, but Disney CEO Michael Eisner passed on this first pitch for the show. Weisman pitched the story again two more times, and Eisner finally approved the show on the third try when it was pitched as an action drama. The show as to be targeted towards 6-11 year old boys, but the show was so good that it later appealed to girls, and even adults. With the success of Batman: TAS, Disney was more comfortable doing a dark show, but they wanted Goliath, the main character, to be more optimistic than Batman. This was refreshing to its legions of fans and the show continues to have a huge following. The fans even attend annual conventions (The Gathering of the Gargoyles) where they discuss the show, hold contests, and watch interviews with the people behind the show. Fans have finally breathed a sigh of relief with what they believed was never possible, a Gargoyles DVD featuring all season-one episodes. It also brings hope to the legions of Disney Afternoon fans that maybe their favorite shows are coming soon.

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The five-part episode, Awakening, starts out in New York City where pedestrians are dodging stones that are falling from the rooftop of a tall skyscraper. A police officer named Elisa analyzes a huge boulder with claw marks and wonders what could have made them. Then, viewers are transported to 994 Scotland where the gargoyles save Castle Wyvern from a Viking attack. There, Goliath is the leader of the gargoyles who protect the castle and its human inhabitants. Unfortunately, the humans are generally ungrateful, and one day on a hunt for the Vikings, the castle is attacked during the day and the gargoyles are betrayed when they are destroyed while sleeping as statues. Goliath returns to find the rubble where his one beloved “angel of the night” used to perch, and realizes that only five other gargoyles remain alive. The inhabitants of the castle have run away, but are saved by the gargoyles. A magus, angry at the gargoyles for allowing the castle to be destroyed, casts a spell on them that turns them permanently into stone. They will only awaken when the castle rises above the clouds, something impossible in 10th Century Scotland.

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Cut to 20th Century Scotland, where a billionaire businessman named Xanatos finds the castle and takes it above the clouds to the top of his skyscraper in downtown Manhattan. Xanatos believes in the story of the gargoyles and watches as they awaken from their thousand-year dream. The castle is then attacked by laser gun-yielding troops, and the gargoyles protect the castle. This is when police detective Elisa goes up to the castle and discovers Goliath and his five-gargoyle clan. She proceeds to show him around the city, while Xanatos tries to recruit Goliath to help him against his enemies. Elisa is also the one to show Goliath the truth about the city, as he begins to believe once again that he can trust humans. As the five-parter progresses, Goliath realizes many things along the way, including who he can and cannot trust, that Xanatos is not all that he seems, and that Goliath’s old love (now called Demona) is still alive. By the end, all of the gargoyles take on new names. The oldest and wisest becomes Hudson, the three younger ones become Lexington (the short brown one), Brooklyn (the horned red one), and Broadway (the heavyset blue one), and they name their dog-like one Bronx.

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Part of what made this show a great show was how all characters, major and minor, were round characters with complex histories. Each character’s personality was explored in depth with individual episodes dedicated to showing each character’s flaws and distinct characteristics. The sixth episode, The Thrill of the Hunt introduced The Pack and Lexington’s fear of being alone and isolated in this new world. The Pack was a group of television superheroes that secretly wanted to hunt the gargoyles for sport. They would be recurring villains throughout the show’s run. In Temptation, Brooklyn explores the city’s evil side and is convinced by Demona that the gargoyles have no choice but to stick together. This destroys his vision of a human society that could one day accept him for who he is. It also explores more of Goliath and Demona’s relationship with one another. This development would continue with the second disc with episodes such as Deadly Force where Broadway realizes that he can’t be playful all of the time, and that there is a time to be serious. It was also a social commentary on the issue of gun control when Broadway accidentally shoots Elisa. In Enter MacBeth, Goliath realizes that home is not just the castle, but wherever he can be together with his clan. In Long Way to Morning Hudson’s history is explored when he remembers the past and the situation that led him to step down as the leader of the gargoyles in 984. He realizes that just because he is old, does not mean that he is useless when it comes to defending his friends, which is what happens when he has to defend Goliath against Demona in the future.

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What also made the show great was the fact that the creators wanted to create continuous storylines that would last for the entire season. The first season, for example, shows the progression of how Goliath and his clan come to view all of Manhattan as their new castle they have to protect. This realization comes in Reawakening when Goliath sees all of the good he can do in the city if he helps Elisa out. The fact that this release has been released as a full season set is also important because each successive episode is a continuation of the last one. For example, in Enter MacBeth we still see Elisa wearing crutches she got in the previous episode when she was shot. We see Xanatos finally leaving jail, and it is also the episode when Goliath decides to move into the clock tower of the police station. In Her Brother’s Keeper we see The Pack (minus Jackal and Hyena) in jail, which also happened in a previous episode. New characters were introduced which would also be explored in season two. In fact, the conclusion that Goliath comes to by the end of the final episode is the set-up for season two when Goliath and his clan become the new heroes of Manhattan.

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The thirteen season one episodes featured in this release are the following:

Disc One
Awakening: Part One
Awakening: Part Two
Awakening: Part Three
Awakening: Part Four
Awakening: Part Five
The Thrill of the Hunt
Temptation

Disc Two
Deadly Force
Enter MacBeth
The Edge
Long Way to Morning
Her Brother’s Keeper
Reawakening

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Is This Thing Loaded?

Disney has actually managed to include some interesting special features in this release, but it makes me wonder what they’re keeping for future releases (crossing my fingers!). Besides the mandatory previews found on all Disney releases (The Aladdin Trilogy, Spider-Man: The Venom Saga, Bionicle 2: Legends of Metro Nui, and Power Rangers: Dino Thunder), the first disc includes an interesting audio commentary on the first five episodes narrated by Greg, Frank, and Keith. Here, they talk about everything related to the creation and development of the show, and give some insight into some of the episode’s highlights. They talk about the voice actors, the pitching process, and the development of the characters throughout the series.

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On the second disc are two other interesting features. First up is a short documentary called “The Gathering of the Gargoyles” (13:47) which is about the annual Gargoyles Convention. This particular convention was the one in 2004, which was held in my current hometown of Montreal. It was actually pretty weird to see these people walking around a hotel I have spent countless hours in. Anyways, it’s an interesting documentary featuring interviews with fans and the reasons why they love the series. It also shows interviews with Greg and Keith in Montreal, and highlights some things that the fans do during the convention. It actually sounds interesting, and I’ve heard that the next convention is going to be in Las Vegas. Maybe Disney will go back to these fans for the next disc. That would actually be interesting. Hearing people talk about how Gargoyles has influenced their lives was very refreshing and reminds me that shows have a clear impact on viewers. The second feature on the second disc is the original show pitch with Greg Weisman (4:01). This is a very funny pitch with storyboards that are narrated by Greg to the bosses at Disney. There’s a very funny storyboard at the very end, and in fact the entire pitch is quite clever and interesting. It is most interesting to see how the characters have changed from their original design.

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Case Study:

Gargoyles has been released in a standard two-disc keepcase with a flip tray for the second disc. The cover features a stylized picture of Goliath in a metallic sheen. This edition is being billed as a “Special 10th Anniversary Edition” and a golden band features the name prominently on the top. Inside the case is a episode list for the two disc and a list of supplements.

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Ink And Paint:

Gargoyles is a richly animated television show, which manages to be both colorful and dark at the same time. Many of the main characters wear colorful clothing (or they have colorful skin), but the show largely takes place during the night. Of course, the night in this case is not as dark as in, say, Batman, and it features a more purple tone to the sky. The animation for this first season was done mostly in Disney’s own studios in Japan. There, producer Fran Paur wanted to make a show that was more trim and stylistic. He had just come off of Batman and wanted the show to be simpler than Batman was to animate. Another great feature of the animation is the excellent use of light and shadows as the gargoyles move through the city. The animation is matched by the quality of the prints presented on this release. Almost all of the episodes are free of the grain and dust present in some television show releases. The show is also presented in its original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio.

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Scratch Tracks:

Gargoyles also features an impressive voice cast which made a difference in this release. The voice of Goliath is Keith David who lent his deep and soulful voice to the troubled character. Great voice actors including Jeff Bennett (best known as Johnny in Johnny Bravo) as Brooklyn, Bill Fagerbakke (best known as Patrick in SpongeBob SquarePants) as Broadway, Thom Adcox-Hernandez as Lexington, and Ed Asner also voice the other four gargoyles. On the back of the case is a “feature” that reads “Features Voice Talent from Star Trek: The Next Generation” which is referring mainly to Jonathan Frakes (better known as Cmdr. William T. Riker in Star Trek) who lends his good guy voice to bad guy Xanatos. I don’t know if this has increased sales, but it will probably continue in the second season when other famous guest starts appear on the show. As for the female characters, Salli Richardson also lends her voice to the Elisa Maza, and her character’s design is actually modeled after the actress. The voice of Demona is provided by another Star Trek alumni, Marina Sirtis (best known as Counselor Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation). Another part of the audio that has made this series impressive is the score by Carl Johnson, who adds his amazing dramatic score to the series. The DVD release also features closed captioning for the hearing impaired and audio commentary for the first five episodes with Greg Weisman, Frank Paur, and Keith David.

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Final Cut:

Gargoyles is a great show all around, and I’m so excited about the fact that it’s finally being released on DVD. This signals a change for Disney, who has never released one of its Toon Disney properties on season set DVDs. However, this show was an obvious choice for a first release with its large fan base, demonstrated by the convention. There is even a movement among fans of Gargoyles who are trying to prove the show’s popularity in order to resurrect the show for another season, and hopefully more releases. Some are even buying multiple copies to donate and give out as presents during the Holiday season. For whatever reason, I recommend this show mainly for being a landmark-animated series for Disney. It is a fine show with great characters that only became more complex as the show developed in its second season. I really hope that this does well enough to guarantee another release (even if the second season has to be divided into multiple releases). I also hope that with this releases’ popularity, we can begin to see more Disney Afternoon releases (Duck Tales – Volume One, anyone?).

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

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