STUDIO: Disney
MSRP: $39.99
RUNNING TIME: 596 Minutes
• "Gathering the Cast & Crew" featurette
• Episode introductions
• Commentary on four-part episode "City of Stone"

here, we tend to be big fans of children’s entertainment that doesn’t speak
down to the tykes. Baby talk is useful when a kid is being introduced to
grammar, but it’s unnecessary and insulting when they’re nine or ten. You won’t
find any baby talk in Gargoyles; it addresses its audience
with an intentional balance between complicated characters and plots, and
gleeful action and conspiracy. The question then is whether it as successful in
this balance as Batman: The Animated Series, or if it gets too bogged down in
self-importance to appeal to an audience of disparate ages.

The Show

history of the gargoyles, as covered in the brief first season and flashed back
to in this second season, is that they were summoned by magic to support humans
during the most brutal period of the Dark Ages. Many of the humans began to
turn on the gargoyles, fearing them as a race, until even those who had
summoned them were no longer on their side. A curse was laid upon many of the
gargoyles, that they would be stone for a thousand years. The show picks up
after those thousand years are up, as our downspout heroes, led by the
soft-spoken Goliath, awaken in
Manhattan to a world that doesn’t believe
in them. The curse isn’t completely dispelled, however; the gargoyles can only
function at night, and turn to stone during the day.

The first
season of the show was only twelve episodes long. For this second season, a
massive fifty-odd shows were ordered by the network, resulting in a sudden mad
dash to expand the world, expand the characters, and expand the staff. It is a
credit to the showrunners that the second season carries itself with an
elegance that one wouldn’t expect from the need to so quickly broaden their
palette. The storylines throughout the first volume of this season are
decompressed, analogous to modern-day comic books as opposed to the punchy,
self-contained storylines of contemporary cartoons. Even the episodes that
don’t contribute directly to the progression of one of the subplots are setting
up characters and situations for further on in the season.

Admit it: you’ve been angry at boobs before, too.

If such
cleverness in the writing and plotting sounds a bit Byzantine for children to
handle, don’t worry; the balance I mentioned before is carefully weighted
throughout. The immediate level of discourse — the dialogue and action — is shallow
enough to comprehend fully, no matter your age. Goliath is angry at Xanatos,
that’s easy to get; Goliath punches Xanatos in the face, that’s also easy to
get. Where the story gets more complicated is in extrapolation of the bare
events: Goliath is angry at Xanatos for something that isn’t Xanatos’ fault,
and this sets up a minor guilt-complex in our hero, et cetera. So, even though the dialogue itself is stilted at times,
I won’t hesitate in claiming that this is a well-written show, because of the
consideration given to all events.

The above
plot example is mostly fabrication, mostly because communicating any of the
individual plots would necessitate a big ol’ monologue on par with a Whedon fan
trying to explain Buffy to a novice. A number of the individual story threads
are worth noting (or teasing) here, just to give a taste of the territory
covered in the first half of this season. Within the span of these twenty-six
episodes, you’ve got your immortal Scottish king Macbeth hellbent on vengeance;
you’ve got the callous murder of innocent humans, courtesy of a rebellious
gargoyle; you’ve got your Identity-esque internalization of
multiple-personality disorder; and you’ve got your episode devoted to literacy.

In short,
there’s a lot of potential for rich stories, and, taken as a whole, the
episodes fulfill that promise. Also, there are plenty of springboards provided
for children to ask questions of their more knowledgeable parents. Who was
Macbeth? What do novelists do? Were the English really that badnasty? If the
show isn’t strictly educational, then it is the catalyst to education.

Michael Moore would soon arrive on scene to complain about the store’s policy
of a free rifle with each purchase of a hammer.

It also
manages to introduce young minds to the concept of layered, complex villains,
and the associated moral questions. Each of the show’s primary villains —
Macbeth, wealthy anti-gargoyle crusader Xanatos, and human-hating gargoyle

Demona — are invested with believable motivations. As a result, none of their
sinister plots suggest evil just for the sake of providing our heroes with
something to fight. It’s a gray-shaded world unique to the world of cartoons.

The hero
characters don’t fare so well. While they have long histories, the gargoyles
simply fill archetypal roles. There’s the strong one, the clever one, the quick
one, the slow own, the wise one, and the puppy. Y’know, just like Lord of the
Rings. It’s an interesting dynamic, having flat heroes face off against
well-rounded villains. The fact that so often the gargoyles are unable to stop
the villain from achieving his or her goals speaks to me of broader commentary,
but on the surface level it’s an unsatisfying blend.

The show’s
character design and story elements certainly didn’t suffer from the rush for
an expanded season, but some of the art and sound design weren’t so lucky. The
animation occasionally feels very rushed, with limited tweening resulting in
jerky motion. You know how animators make huge gaps in between each frame in
order to simulate slow motion? Picture that occurring during an expository
conversation. The cognitive dissonance is enough to drive one mad.

soundtrack also hits a few false notes, mostly by incorporating too much
repetition. The main Gargoyles theme is memorable in a Phantom
of the Opera
way, but its simple progression is over-utilized, and the
emotional support is sacrificed by the excessive familiarity. The sound effects
are often recycled, as well, and weren’t very good in the first place. They’re
so thin and fabricated, they sound as if they had been plucked from a SFX CD
found in a Wal-Mart bin.

"My body fabricated it for you!"

everything about the sound or artwork is bad news, though. The voice acting is
uniformly excellent (and, strangely enough, features just about the entire cast
of Star
Trek: The Next Generation
) and varied; and the background artwork is detailed
and gorgeous. From time to time, a parallel could be drawn to Dave Sim’s Cerebus
in the relative quality of character and background work.

Gargoyles was an experiment of a show. The
producers created an exciting, complex, and moral tale using the mode of the
Saturday morning cartoon. I could recommend this half-season wholly on the
merit of the experimentation, but fortunately the show is of exceptional
quality, having overcome its technical setbacks to stand up there with the best
of mid-nineties children’s programming.

8.7 out of 10

The Look

A dark,
fullscreen presentation. Because of the limitations imposed by story, a lot of
the show takes place during the night, and so the color palette is limited to
purples, blacks, and blues. While each hue is well-represented in this
transfer, the lack of variety does get monotonous (tritonous?). Some effort
seems to have been made in expanding the palette, increasing the vibrancy,
because I picked up on minor enhancement artifacts in three episodes, but they
were all in the background.

7.8 out of 10

It’s as if they’re stuck in all the levels of Pitfall.

The Noise

The sound
design covers a lot of territory in good ol’ unassuming Dolby digital. There is
significant use of the lower ranges, what with all the cracking of stone and
explosions, and such sounds come through nicely. Goliath’s voice is just deep
enough to rumble your woofer, and it’s a great effect that lends just a little
bit more to his character.

There are
sporadic problems with sound-editing, with effects or dialogue cuts overlapping
sequences where they shouldn’t, and, as I mentioned above, some of the sound
effects are thin and clash with the rest of the design.

7 out of 10

Before long, the fetish was out of vogue,
and the freaks were forced to return to their cages.

The Goodies

bonuses are few in number but high in content. Showrunner Greg Weisman provides
a brief introduction to each of the twenty-six episodes, and, though these
introductions are only a few seconds long, he manages to sketch a history of
the creation of the show that rivals most behind-the-scenes featurettes.

For the
four-part episode "City of
Stone," in which much is learned
about both Macbeth and Demona and several humans have their skulls crushed by a
mace, Weisman gets together with teammates Frank Paur and Michael Reaves to
provide a stream of commentary. It’s obvious from the commentary that the
creators thought of their show as having an audience much wider than just

The last
feature is a mini-doc called "The Gathering of the Cast & Crew"
which covers the rush to expand the production for the fifty-two episode
season. It’s a good feature, with a unique spin thanks to the situation, and a
handy catalogue of all the actors, both new and returning.

7.5 out of 10


The Artwork

The red
text on the red background seems a weird choice, border or no. The grungy
texture of the background also feels out of place. Of course, your eye is drawn
straight to the figures of Goliath and Demona, so it doesn’t matter much what
the background is. The two gargoyles are drawn with more depth than they appear
in the show itself and they look great. Who wouldn’t
want to get all up in the middle of that lovers’ quarrel?

Oh, and
that tagline at the bottom? Totally unnecessary. Disney seem to enjoy putting
superfluous text on their boxes. They do it to their Ghibli releases, too. Shut
the fuck up, Disney.

8 out of 10

Overall: 8.5 out of 10