Gargoyles is a 1994 animated series created by Disney and is the show that brought now legendary producer Greg Weissman to fame. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the show as a kid but I could never remember the details of it and after seeing the level of praise it has maintained over the years and finding out the whole series is available to watch on Youtube, I decided to do my first full on dive into the show.
The storyline kicks off in 994 AD, Scotland during the ages of myth and superstition. In those days humans lived alongside humanoid looking bat creatures called Gargoyles, who turn into stone by day and are ferocious warriors by night. The Gargoyles protected the people from outside threats but were eventually betrayed by them having most of their clan slaughterted and the survivors frozen in time by a magic spell. 1000 years later, genius billionaire David Xanatos breaks the spell and relocates the Gargoyles to Manhatten, New York where they soon find themselves in conflict with him and forced to adapt to a new era.
In many ways the show feels as though its a product of a different era itself. The show doesn’t shy away from showing serious violence when the time calls for it and it generally carries itself in a very sophisticated manner as the characters often act and speak in the way their roles should(though the show does embrace more typical action show dialog as time goes on) and it avoids dumbing itself down for its audience. The opening episodes of the series even feature some minor swearing and the relationship between lead Gargoyle, Goliath and the group’s human companion Elisa is played off very subtlety unlike in modern shows even including some japanese animation. It does remember who its target audience is however so it typically strays from getting too dark for its own good though disturbing things certainly happen from time to time.
Bleeding from a gunshot wound. You know. For the kiddies.
The show also encompasses several different genres over the course of its run as it functions as an urban fantasy, a gritty crime drama and a Shakespearean tragedy (the show actually borrows pretty heavily from Shakespeare as Weissman has admitted he’s a huge fan of his works). Despite this it maintains a tight continuity with almost every episode directly tying into another and though it gets slightly more episodic in its later half, it makes sure to never contradict itself and foreshadows its future events relatively well.
Its also largely supported by its cast of characters who come across as strong yet flawed and many of them undergo their own individual character arcs over the course of it’s run. The villains of the piece are also executed very strongly as the show general averts cliche villainy and gives each of the villains sympathetic or relatively understandable motivations for their actions. Even Xanatos who would normally be portrayed as a typical rich evil mastermind, actively learns from his mistakes, tries to be as pragmatic as possible with his plans and is slowly humanized more and more throughout the series to the point where you can almost question how evil he really was to begin with. The characters themselves are largely supported by top-notch voice acting from the voice cast (many of whom you may know from the original Star Trek) and the show delivers some pretty powerful performances in some of the more dramatic scenarios in the show.
Despite the shows many strengths however, it is flawed. Though the series maintains its continuity and it does feature some character development throughout it, the Avalon Journey arc quickly becomes a bit too episodic and dragged out to the point where it feels like it could have been half as long as it ultimately ended up being. Additionally the series lacks a complete conclusion due to the third season known as The Goliath Chronicles being considered non-canon by Weissman due to him having little influence in it though the season two finale is relatively satisfying.
Gargoyles is a product of an age gone by and though it has its flaws the show deserves to be acknowledged as a prized relic, demonstrating a level of storytelling and characterization that many shows today can learn from. It stands today as one of the greatest pillars of western animation and hopefully more shows will follow in it’s footsteps.
Available on Youtube