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Reviews DVD Video Reviews Gargoyles: The Complete First Season
Gargoyles: The Complete First Season
Buena Vista Home Video // Unrated // $29.99 // December 7, 2004
Review by Randy Miller III | posted December 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author | Start a Discussion
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Surprisingly short-lived but still a popular favorite, Disney's Gargoyles was easily one of the best animated series of the 1990s. Combining the humor and fantasy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the dark, brooding atmosphere of Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles was a favorite among many wide-eyed kids, teenagers, and the parents of both. Sadly, like most other shows aimed at a younger audience, Gargoyles burned brightly but didn't last long. After only two seasons' worth of shows (with 65 episodes in all), it was soon replaced by The Goliath Chronicles, a terribly inferior version of the original that was all but abandonded by co-creator Greg Weisman (and rightfully so). Still, the quality of the original is evident even today, more than ten years after its inception.

Earlier Disney-produced animated series---such as Duck Tales, Tale Spin, and Darkwing Duck---were fun in their own right, but hardly worthwhile to anyone but younger audiences. It was with Gargoyles that Disney really attempted to create a more mature and dramatic effort, most likely from the impact of the previously mentioned Batman: The Animated Series. Featuring likeable characters, terrific atmosphere and plenty of action, it became a success that could be enjoyed by parents and kids alike. I remember watching it almost every day with my dad, and I'm sure there are many others with the same memory.

For those unfamiliar with the series, here's the plot: in Scotland circa 994 A.D., the Wyvern castle is closely guarded by gargoyles: mythological creatures that are stone statues by day, but awaken at night. Although there is tension between some members of the castle and the gargoyle clan, these winged fighters are loyal to the humans. It's quite a unique partnership: each race protects one other on a daily basis, and neither would survive without the other's help. After a bait-and-switch tactic by enemy forces---aided by a double-crossing ally---several of the gargoyles are lured from their posts, trapped in stone before they can return to the safe confines of the castle. Their home is ransacked the following day, and many of them are blamed for the tragedy. Many of the gargoyle statues are destroyed, and the remaining ones are put into a more permanent state of sleep.

1000 years later, the remaining gargoyles awaken after the castle remains are moved to the top of a Manhattan skyscraper owned by billionaire David Xanatos. A different time, a different city, and a different society: although the surviving gargoyles are familiar with one another, they've got some serious adapting to do. Naturally, they make a few friends and enemies right from the start. Elisa Maza (seen above) plays the part of the "April O'Neil" character, a determined New York City policewoman who does her best to help the gargoyles adjust to their new lives. Enemies are far greater in number, from a few of the clan's original members to the billionaire Xanatos himself.

More characters would be introduced in the show's expansive second year, but the first did a great job of introducing the main characters and establishing the locations. There were 13 episodes during this first season, all of which are contained in this collection. They're a terrific batch of adventures that demonstrate the strength of the show right from the start, especially in the five-part pilot. Here's a complete list of the included episodes in this 2-disc set:

Disc One: Awakening (parts 1-5, 125 minutes total), The Thrill of the Hunt, and Temptation.

Disc Two: Deadly Force, Enter MacBeth, The Edge, Long Way to Morning, Her Brother's Keeper, and Re-Awakening.

Besides for the terrific story, there were a number of elements that really made Gargoyles work well. Sure, the wonderful orchestral score helped to reinforce the gothic tone of the show, and the artwork was also great from the start. For my money, though, the most excellent aspect of the show was the great voice talent involved, including Keith David (Goliath), Star Trek: The Next Generation's Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis (Xanatos and Demona), Ed Asner (Hudson), and the incomparable Frank Welker (Bronx). With these bases covered so well---and many more---it was no surprise that Gargoyles was such a solid effort. Although it's a shame that its time came and went so quickly, the show's first two seasons remain of the better animation landmarks of the past decade.

With only a few instances of age making itself evident during this first season (in both the dialogue and animation itself), the overall quality of Gargoyles speaks for itself. If you're a long-time fan of the show with fond memories, chances are you'll be as surprised as I was at how well the show stands up today. For animation lovers that missed out on this series the first time around, though, you'll be doing yourself a favor by checking this release out. It's a solid collection of shows, made better by Disney's great DVD treatment. These episodes look and sound better than ever, and a few valuable bonus features help round out this excellent 2-disc set. With that said, let's see how this release stacks up, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Presentation:

Presented in their original TV-friendly 1.33:1 aspect ratios, these first season episodes look excellent overall. The transfer is virtually dirt-free with no major digital imperfections (save for a few slight interlacing problems, common with most traditional animation releases), and the colors are bold and clear. It's a substantial visual improvement over the original broadcast appearance, and fans won't be disappointed in the least. Likewise, the Dolby Digital Surround mix offers a pleasing audio presentation that fits the show's immersive atmosphere. English captions are also included for your convenience.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:

The overall presentation isn't perfect, but Disney scores a few points for trying. The animated menus look good---featuring a cool "night/day" transformation sequence of the Gargoyles---and the navigation is smooth and simple. Each 24-minute episode stands alone with no chapter breaks, which proves to be slightly annoying but a minor issue overall. There's roughly 150 minutes of content on each disc, and no layer change was detected during playback. The packaging is also really sharp---featuring a foil-enhanced cover and terrific cover artwork---with both discs housed in a slim-line double keepcase. A handy episode list is also included inside.

Bonus Features:

It's not often that we're treated to bonus features for the first season of a television series---let alone an animated show---but Disney's thrown in a few extras for good measure. Disc One features a series of Audio Commentaries for the five-part Awakening with co-creator Greg Weisman, producer Frank Paur and voice actor Keith David (who joins in during episodes #3-5). Naturally, the time goes a little quicker when all three participants are present, but it's a thrill to hear from the creators firsthand. They shed quite a bit of light on the show's early development, also throwing in plenty of personal reflections to boot. A must-listen for fans of the show, and easily the release's most valuable extra.

Disc Two features a pair of interesting extras, starting off with The Gathering of the Gargoyles (14 minutes). This short documentary features footage from an annual Gargoyles fan convention (which has been going strong since 1998), containing all the appropriate highlights: Q&A sessions with various cast and crew members, homemade fan costumes (an especially well-made effort is seen above), and other random acts of colossal super-nerds the show's devoted fanbase. The last extra included here is the show's Original 1994 Pitch by co-creator Greg Weisman. This short 4-minute piece contains a generous helping of early sketches and a verbal glimpse at what would later become the Awakening pilot. Overall, a short but sweet collection that supports the show well.

Final Thoughts

I was fairly surprised that Gargoyles made it to DVD so fast, but the overall quality of this release surprised me even more. The show itself has held up well over the past decade---and should even impress today's target audience---but long-time fans of the series should pick this up without hesitation. Disney's done a great job on this 2-disc set, combining an excellent technical presentation with a nice assortment of bonus materials. Overall, a solid effort in every department makes Gargoyles: The Complete First Season a release worth adding to any animation library. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is a verbose art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.

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