Hearst Entertainment (1991), BCI (January 16, 2007), 5 discs, 675 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $39.98
Prince Valiant, having already fulfilled his dream of becoming a knight of the Round Table, now must defend Camelot from treachery and deceit. His friends, meanwhile, continue on their quest to become knights, and Valiant finds his true love just when his friend Rowanne realizes how she really feels about him.
The Sweatbox Review:
For more on this series, please read our review of Volume One.
In BCI’s first volume of The Legend Of Prince Valiant, the famous comic strip character had completed the first season of his television show, which ended with him becoming a knight of Camelot’s Round Table. The first set also included the first seven episodes of Season Two, so by the time that Volume Two begins, Val is already somewhat comfortable with his role as a knight. The first few episodes of this second set offer a mix of morality plays and light adventure similar to the first season, and one episode nicely explores the past of Sir Bryant; but the series then takes a welcome turn into territory that many comic strip fans will find at least a little familiar.
On Side B of Disc One, we meet someone that fans will recognize as being hugely important to the Prince Valiant mythos, a princess from the Misty Isles named Aleta. Immediately, the show evolves into a soap opera (albeit with the intrigue and adventure intact), with Valiant becoming quite smitten, and his best friend Rowanne surprisingly developing feelings of intense jealousy. (Their friend Arn remains rather humorously oblivious to all of this.) Previously, any hints of romance between these characters had been barely noticeable, but this five-episode story arc takes the characters into a new direction. It certainly adds a new level of interest to the proceedings, although it is a bit disheartening to see Rowanne, a formerly strong character, reduced to being a petty girl whose vengeful response to unrequited love threatens those closest to her. Fortunately, she has the opportunity to redeem herself later on, and anyways there is much else going on in this set of episodes. We also meet Aleta’s father, a banished rival of King Arthur; and Mordred, another banished son of Camelot, returns to make things uncomfortable for the king. This five-part storyline is one of the series’ high points, rich in romance and drama.
After that, things go back to normal for a little while. Valiant, Rowanne, and Arn continue in the service of Camelot, finding that Mordred’s machinations have planted poisonous thoughts in the people of Arthur’s kingdom. They now face treachery from within, knowing that Mordred will use dissention in Camelot as a background for his ultimate attack. It also becomes apparent during the course of the series that Mordred is not only manipulating Camelot; there are other lands that he is managing to turn against King Arthur, with Vikings and barbarians then threatening to destroy the dream that is Camelot.
In Episode 52 , The Shadows Of Destiny, the seeds are planted for further episodes, as Valiant learns of a prophecy that he shall become the king of Camelot. Episode 55, The Aurora, begins a five-part story (all parts written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens) that sees Rowanne initially implicated in a theft, only to leave Camelot before taking the final steps towards knighthood. Arn figures prominently in this story as well, having to prove that he does not shine solely in Valiant’s own light. This is another mini-epic that advances the overall storyline immensely and adds to the series’ sense of forward progression. It is not long before Morgana returns, Mordred teams with a facially deformed man named Maldon, and the final assault on Camelot is unleashed.
Although little attempt is made by the show to follow particular storylines from the comic strip, this second volume of episodes shows that the series upheld the best aspects of the strip’s storytelling. The stories are told in a natural fashion, partially due to the Family Channel’s dictate that no magic be shown. There is plenty of action, but it stops short of being overly cartoony or unbelievable. A real effort was made to tell stories that featured positive values, while avoiding being preachy. Valiant and his friends are all brave and noble, and yet they do have their faults. One of the strengths of the show is how it portrays consequences for one’s actions. Typically, when a character acts out of malice or jealousy, bad things happen; at the same time, noble deeds are rewarded. I really enjoyed watching this series, with only the visual side of things dampening my enthusiasm.
The drawing seen in this show seems to become a little more confident in Season Two, though the appearances of characters could still be more consistent. (This problem is even worse when considering how much Aleta and Rowanne already resemble one another.) The Korean animators never do seem to get comfortable with animating those realistic mouths, nor do they ever adapt to working on a show so high in action. Consequently, this show remains well intentioned and ambitious, but falls flat artistically in terms of the animation. I was reminded of what I said last time: the show looks great (video quality notwithstanding), until anyone moves. If the show had stronger animation, I would likely give it a 9 out of 10. Unfortunately, for all the emotion portrayed by the characters, their appearances are often stiff or, when they move, painfully awkward. On the other hand, some scenes do look pretty great, even if the animation is stilted due to the low budget. The show obviously prided itself on it classical character design and beautifully painted backgrounds, but one wonders if the artistic ability and money could not have been put to better use. I think of a show like Samurai Jack, which has simple designs and limited animation, but the action is fully realized, as the animators catered their work to what the budget would allow. By contrast, when you watch Valiant and Rowanne running in this show, they look leaden.
Still, it is mean to overly criticize a show that tries so very hard and is so well written and acted. I am very grateful that BCI decided to release The Legends Of Prince Valiant on DVD. A show like this is meant to be viewed in full, in sequential order, and watching the saga of Prince Valiant and his friends unfold is a pleasure. Val’s creator, Hal Foster, would likely be proud.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Volume One covered a lot of ground concerning the show’s origins, but BCI didn’t slack off when preparing content for this second volume release. Two Audio Commentaries hosted by Andy Mangels are included. Mangels is joined by show creator David J. Corbett on each track, as well as the respective writers for The Aurora (Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens) and the series finale The Hinge Of Fate (Brooks Wachtel). Mr. And Mrs. Reeves-Stevens comment on how fortunate they were to write the entire five-part arc, quite different from their experiences with Star Trek: The Next Generation. They also comment on the use of metaphors on the show, the importance of both plot and character on The Legend Of Prince Valiant, and the fact that they could kill people but not portray magic. Wachtel, for his part, reveals scenes that had to be cut from the final episode, and we hear about how controversial it was to have a female story editor on the show (Dianne Dixon).
Two Interviews follow. Noelle North (11:10), voice of Rowanne, discusses her career (dating back to Fred And Barney Meet The Thing!) and working with such a good cast on The Legend Of Prince Valiant. Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (15:48) expand on their commentary effort, describing what they liked so much about working on the show. After the interviews, we get Storyboards For Peace On Earth (14:41), playing with music only.
I can love cross-promotion when it’s done appropriately, and as such I thought that this next bonus was a wonderful idea. Defenders Of The Earth: Terror In Time (21:45) is the complete Defenders episode that saw the team travel back in time and help Prince Valiant save his wife Aleta. Defenders Of The Earth had a wonderfully loopy concept as it was, teaming Flash Gordon, Mandrake The Magician, and The Phantom, but adding Val to the mix was truly inspired madness. Val even has the right haircut when appearing here, whereas The Legend Of Prince Valiant gave him a much more contemporary (and less sissy) hairdo.
Galleries gives us shots of backgrounds (about 10 stills, many with two shots), and the voice cast (over two dozen photos in slideshow format).
As good as these special features are, I think I had the most fun with another bit of promotion from BCI. I have to admit to being somewhat giddy to discover that the More From Ink & Paint section included three screens’ worth of previews for BCI’s other animation and live action Saturday morning sets. Page 1 (11:41) gives us the openings or trailers for He-Man, New Adventures Of He-Man, She-Ra, Flash Gordon. Ghostbusters, Journey Back To Oz, Groovie Ghoulies, and Bravestarr. Page 2 (9:18) has Blackstar, Happily Ever After, Hero High, The Freedom Force, Space Sentinels, Mission: Magic, and A Snow White Christmas. Lastly, Page 3 has the live action shows Ark II, Space Academy, Jason Of Star Command, The Ghost Busters, and Isis. I doubt I’ll be able to buy every set, so it’s great to at least have a little sample. Seeing these also helps to clarify which ones I’m desperate to own, and which ones I shall be avoiding like the plague.
DVD-ROM: BCI graciously gives us a few episode scripts in .pdf format.
This second volume basically matches the packaging of the first. A double-thick keepcase holds discs on each side, with a two-disc tray in-between. Four discs are double-sided, while the fifth disc is single-sided and holds the bonus features. A glossy 8-page episode guide is also included. The whole caboodle gets a slip sleeve that slides over the top, reproducing the case’s cover. As usual, this is another classy effort from BCI, though I did find it tricky to get the discs out of the case, as the hubs are rather tight.
Ink And Paint:
Even if the drawing level slightly improved in this set of episodes, the transfers are about as weak as what was found in Volume One. Images quiver, lines appear and disappear, there are occasional flashes of light, and the picture is generally soft. I’ll put it this way: it looks like it was DVNR’d to within an inch of its life. If no Digital Video Noise Reduction was used, then the video elements simply were not that great to start with. The bigger your display, the more disappointed you will be. The video didn’t totally ruin the show for me, but it certainly kept me from enjoying it as much as I could have.
The 2.0 sound, available in English only, is flat and uninvolving, but has no serious problems. I don’t wish to sound too negative, so I’ll just comment more on the terrific voice casting that was done for the show. Robby Benson captures all of Valiant’s emotions, ranging from nobleness to slight arrogance. In a fun bit of casting, Val’s true love Aleta is voiced by Paige O’Hara, thereby reuniting Disney’s Beast with his Beauty. Noelle North gets the chance to show a great range of good and bad traits as Rowanne in this set, and Michael Horton is steady as Arn. Series regulars Tim Curry (NOT playing a villain!) and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. are joined by such talents as Ron Perlman, David Warner, John deLancie, and John Rhys-Davies. It is hard to think of a show with better talent behind the microphone.
If you tried the first set, you are well on your way to knowing if you will want the second. I quite liked the first season of the show, but as the second season got underway, I found myself even more engrossed in the serialized storytelling. The addition of romance and higher political stakes ups the ante here, while the stories remain full of positive lessons that teach by example rather than by preaching. The animation is almost never as strong as it wants to be, and the video presentation is decidedly disappointing; but the great writing and voice work sold me on the show, and I will doubtlessly be watching it again with my kids as they get older. The bonus features continue to impress, with worthwhile commentaries and interviews, not to mention some cross-promotion that is justifiable and fun. Since the advent of BCI’s animation-on-DVD offerings, anything before it seems like the dark ages.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?