The best cartoon everyone should watch, and here's why
So I’ve been reading various posts pop up on tumblr how cartoons of today as “so much better” than the 90s toons, and how in the 90’s, cartoons “lacked variety, intelligence, talked down to kids, and one that many felt most important, the lack of POC as the cast in which they play a major role, without being stereotyped”.
Let me bring you back to a little time in 1994 when the Disney Afternoon was the highlight of kids days. Amongst cartoons like Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, Ducktales, Tale Spin and other Disney classics, allow me to introduce (or remind) you of one of the most “adult yet for kids” cartoon series that Disney EVER put out.
Running for 78 episodes over 3 seasons, this series took the kid friendly Disney Afternoon, and gave it a very serious action drama that didn’t treat children as children, but as adults. With a gripping storyline soaked in mythos, history and Shakespeare, this series did more than entertain, in many instances, it educated. I could ramble for pages about this series, but let’s just cover some of the big things.
“Pay a man enough, and he’ll walk barefoot into hell.” ~Xanatos
1. Treating kids like adults.
No other Disney cartoon ever had the balls to start with the main villain saying something like the above. No kids cartoon has (I’m talking kids shows, not the likes of Simpsons and South Park). But it wasn’t to be edgy. The writers has reasons and lessons to be told. And tell them, they did. Life, death, revenge, loss, love, hatred, forgiveness and acceptance were all themes of this series, and many more.
So, how did this series treat kids like adults? The storytelling. Yes there were the occasional gags, the jokes, the puns, but they were woven into the show and never overused. The story was written to appeal to all watchers. Action, adventure, romance, drama, sci-fi, history, mythos, everything was here. The stories never talked down to you, but at you. They were never written for giggles, but for reasons. Really, the only thing that makes this a “kids” show, is that it’s animated.
2. The Storylines
The story arcs in this series were incredible. From short few episodes, to entire sagas, to the one large series spanned arc, this series didn’t skimp out. It bounced from the past to the present on many occasions, allowing the stories of the past, to influence the future. Things you would see for fleeting moments in one episode, would come back for large parts further down the line.
(Don’t trust these kids.)
Gargoyles was huge into Shakespeare. it wonderfully incorporated Shakespearean tales and mythos into it’s world (with it’s own spin of course), and told it well. It was gripping and made kids want to read his works. It had excellent writers that wrote a very coherent, very expansive story.
3. Lessons to be learned
Beyond the themes, were the lessons it told. Family, trust, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, all major focal points of the series. Character growth is the biggest storyline of all. All characters grow and change, all of them learn and keep learning. They were never written in a way to talk down to anyone, never belittling in their lessons.
I can’t talk about Gargoyles without talking about the episode Deadly Force. Cartoons in the 90s has PSAs. a lot of them. It was just common. Gargoyles was no exception, but when they did it, it wasn’t just to kids, it was to adults as well. Up to this point, our main character Detective Elisa Maza, has always carried, and used her firearm. Nothing much was ever said about it. She was a police officer, this is what she does. A very simple thing in a cartoon for a police officer to use a gun, something they could have really gone without much attention. Except, they didn’t. In this episode, Broadway is fascinated with a cowboy movie, and after watching it, he visits Elisa in her apartment. He finds Elisa’s gun, sitting in her holster. Wrapped up in the excitement over the movie while Elisa is tending to dinner in the kitchen, Broadway takes the gun, and starts to play pretend cowboy. Bouncing around the room having fun, he accidentally shoots her.
This is now a situation that is very real, because children DO this. They see things, they emulate them, and they play, not understanding what the consequences might be. So when Gargoyles decided to go through route, they didn’t take it lightly. They don’t hide it and treat it like a boo boo. Not only do they show blood repeatedly (almost unheard of for a child’s cartoon), Elisa nearly dies from her injuries, twice.
Yes, she survives of course, but the description of her injuries was very real, and the consequences of the injuries lingered in future episodes. But what makes this episode beyond a simple PSA, is how adult they handle it. Do they turn it into the normal “GUNS BAD” type PSA with no lessons other than fear tactics? No. Instead, at the end of the episode, Elisa accepts responsibility for the accident, saying “I should have been more careful where I kept it. We both made mistakes”.
They don’t turn the episode into one of fear, but one of education. Was the child (Broadway) wrong for playing with the gun? Yes, absolutely. But the adult (Elisa) was equally wrong for leaving the gun loaded and in it’s holster, and she acknowledges that. When Broadway replies with “Yeah, but you nearly paid for this mistake with your life.”, she answers with, “Then let’s not repeat them”. The lessons learned isn’t about gun violence or guns are scary, it’s about gun responsibility. How is this showcased in a later episode? Elisa then keeps her gun in a lock box. So not only is there a lesson for kids not to play with guns, there is a lesson for adults on how to safely store firearms. Talk about good writing! Taking a very real situation, and handling it not with kid gloves, but with respect.
Lessons were a huge part of Gargoyles, and while woven into every episode, they were never slapped in your face, but part of the story. Lessons like home is where your family is, not where you live, that hate only furthers hate, so it is better to forgive to end the cycle, to accept those that are different from you, and to lessons of loving and learning about your own heritage. Speaking of…
4. You want POC?
Let me introduce you to the Maza family. Peter, Diane, Derek, Beth, and of course our star, Elisa, a half African American, half Native American family.
All characters get their own chance to shine, with character history and development (with of course, a fair chunk of the series being Elisa episodes). While in the 90s many cartoons were whitewashed, this series showed people of all colors, and having one of the main cast not be white was a big step for Disney. This show took great steps not to stereotype, and was about the fight for equality, peace, and acceptance for all.
5. The characters and voice actors
They loved their characters in this show. Practically everyone got a back story. Some small, some massive. Explanations, personalities, histories, it was all there. They explained why characters did what they did, what made them how they were. Xanatos was the shows villain, but was he truly evil? No. He was human, he had flaws. He had a heart under that evil exterior, and as a character, he grew. Everyone did. No one was a “typical ___ type”. Everyone changed. Some got better, some got worse, but everyone grew. They had reasons to grow.
As for voice actors? Do you like Star Trek? The production team sure did, because there were a LOT of Star Trek actors on this series, from Jonathan Frakes (Riker from TNG) as Xanatos, Marina Sirtis (Troi from TNG) as Demona, Nichelle Nicholes (Uhura from TOS) as Diane Maza, Kate Mulgrew (Janeway from Voyager) as Titania, to many more. There were a LOT of Trekkies in the cast, all doing wonderful VAs.
But it wasn’t just the Trek connection, other voice actors such as Ed Asner as Hudson, Jim Cumming as Dingo, Tim Curry as Sevarius, and Keith David as Goliath (that man has such a sexy voice LOL) to name a few. The voice acting in this series was some of the strongest in any cartoon, which actors giving very powerful and emotional performances throughout.
Like I said, I could chatter for pages and pages about why this series is worth checking out, but I think this has gotten long enough. The series is available on DVD to buy off Amazon, or you can find it on YouTube if you search (but seriously, buy it, support it!). As for why I wrote all of this? Because I wanted to show that while some cartoons of today are very well done, they’re not as ground breaking as some people may think. Hidden gems like Gargoyles did it before, and did it well, and I just wanted to showcase a wonderful Disney cartoon that didn’t get the recognition it deserved back in the day.
Also, Gargoyles is just such a damned fantastic series that deserves a watch!