When I was a kid, I loved watching Disney cartoons. Goof Troop, DuckTales, and especially TV spinoffs like Aladdin and Hercules – that was my jam. However, there was one cartoon that stood above all the others to me and, looking back, is probably indirectly responsible for some things I love most to this day. That was Gargoyles. I can still remember seeing the pilot, “Awakening,” when it was released as Gargoyles the Movie: The Heroes Awaken on VHS. When the introduction played, I watched in awe as Jonathan Frakes, Keith David, Sally Richardson, Marina Sirtis, and the rest of the cast talked about their characters amid cues from the iconic theme music that still echoes in my head as I write this. For whatever reason, I didn’t realize that Star Trek: The Next Generation’s William Riker and Deanna Troi were playing Xanatos and Demona (the first two Trek alums to join the show) until my dad told me that was the case when he saw I was watching the video for the ten millionth time. I even remember playing the interactive game that came with the movie over and over. As a result of all these fond memories, I knew that with this year being the 25th Anniversary, I had to do a piece on this very special show that defined my childhood in a major way.
Gargoyles opens in Scotland in the year 994. The Vikings continually attack the Gargoyles’ home, Castle Wyvern, and time after time the Gargoyles, led by Goliath, stop them. However, most of the people they protect hate them, save for a young boy named Tom. One night, after a brutal attack that culminates in the majority of the Gargoyles being destroyed during the day and the princess being captured by Viking leader Hakon, the wizard Magus – thinking the remaining Gargoyles are at fault – turns them to stone until “the castle rises above the clouds.” Upon discovering he was mistaken, the Magus is overcome with guilt, and he, Princess Katherine, and Tom promise that they will repay their debt to Goliath by ensuring the safety of the future of the Gargoyle race. After the Magus casts his spell on Goliath so that he may be with his clan, the show cuts to a thousand years later, as billionaire CEO David Xanatos brings the castle to Manhattan (brick by brick) and rebuilds it atop his skyscraper, which allows the Gargoyles to wake up in a whole new world. Introducing them to this new world is a police detective named Elisa Maza, who, over the course of the series, bonds with all of the Gargoyles, but particularly with Goliath. This doesn’t sit well with Demona, Goliath’s lover, who is later discovered to be in cahoots with Xanatos, the latter of whom was manipulating them from the start.
As the Gargoyles – who take names from New York locations: Bronx, Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway, and Hudson – adjust to the modern world with Elisa as their confidante, they encounter foes such as TV stars the Pack, consisting of Jackal, Hyena, Coyote, Fox, and Wolf; (who is later revealed to be a descendant of Hakon, something that, in retrospect, should’ve been obvious, given the fact that the two characters looked somewhat similar and were both voiced by Clancy Brown) Tony Dracon, and Macbeth. Macbeth is notable as being the Gargoyles’ first foe based on the writings of William Shakespeare, for which creator Greg Weisman has an affinity due to his work as an English teacher prior to his TV success. The Shakespearean homages continue throughout the show, particularly with regard to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The series, at least insofar as Weisman intended, ends with the Hunters arc, as Elisa gets a new partner and, as a result, she and Goliath must confront their feelings for one another. The final episodes, subtitled The Goliath Chronicles, are generally considered non- canonical by Weisman, save for the first episode of season 3 (something that he doubles down on in the comic series from Slave Labor Graphics that continues the story, but that’s for another article down the road).
Gargoyles bought a unique perspective to the Disney cartoon, and a lot of that came down to the influences behind the Manhattan clan, particularly Hill Street Blues, an aspect that was bought to the fore via the various cases Elisa would investigate. As a result, the show was often a heady brew of police procedural and fantasy drama, inadvertently adding to the then-burgeoning urban fantasy craze that would soon take hold. The seedy elements of New York City gave the Gargoyles an opportunity every episode to protect the city even when they weren’t dealing with the machinations of Xanatos and Demona. That being said, as this was a Disney cartoon, there would occasionally be a life lesson, whether it was Broadway learning about guns or Goliath learning about personal responsibility thanks to Fox’s father, Renard. Re-watching the show as an adult, it can seem a little heavy-handed, one can’t help marvel at the fact that, even when these life lessons were on display, the main storyline was never forgotten, and they fit seamlessly into the ongoing narrative. A lot of that comes down to the brilliance of Weisman. Weisman never forgot that, amid all the magic and mayhem, the stories and characters came first. Sure, the fantasy trappings were fun, but it was always the characters that kept audiences coming back, and they’re why the show still holds up to this day. It was almost as though we were riding shotgun with the Gargoyles as they learned about this new world. We reveled in their triumphs, mourned their losses, and even learned a little something from their missteps.
All of these things were bought together in an epic series that still resonates. As a result, it begs the question of why the show was canceled, which, among several other concerns, came down to it not being as popular as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Despite the cancelation and the end of gathering conventions, a small but vocal fanbase still exists thanks to the deep lore and characters, as evidenced a few weeks ago by Keith David’s comments about a revival. While bringing the show back may be a long shot, it’s good to know that, 25 years later, fans are still out there championing the exploration of the Castle Wyvern clan.