Premiering in 1994, during a time where Disney was really trying to create series with mythos and complexities, Gargoyles stands out as one of company’s most ambitious animated series of the nineties, and a bonafide masterpiece of the decade. Gargoyles came with an unparalleled production quality that was just impressive all around. From an excellent score to a massive cast of voice actors (comprised mostly from “Star Trek” alums) right down to the amazing animation, Gargoyles was anything but a gimmick. The writers unfolded a complex mythos, and great back stories for each of the gargoyles (many of whom had their own strengths and weakness) all delivering an episodic fantasy with substance.
Set in contemporary New York, the series first introduces us to Officer Elisa Maza who is tasked with investigating a series of strange occurrences in the high rise of local billionaire David Xanatos. We’re then drawn into medieval times, 994 Scotland, where we meet gargoyle clan leader Goliath who presides over a large civilization of flesh and blood gargoyles. Despite some of the more xenophobic humans, gargoyles live side by side with man in their castle. By day the Gargoyles sleep, transforming in to stone statues. The hibernation and sunlight helps them regain strength and energy, and by night they come alive, living among the denizens of their castle as protectors.
Their one weakness is that during the day as they sleep, they’re most vulnerable to attacks. When Goliath’s clan is accused of a crime they didn’t commit, five of the gargoyles are locked in a dungeon while Goliath flies off oblivious to the incidents, anxiously warning their allies of an invasion from opposing forces. Little do the Gargoyles know that a member of the humans in their castle has betrayed their own. The enemy stages a siege during the day where they slaughter every single sleeping gargoyle in their vulnerable stone state. Goliath returns to find his clan in literal rubble. Thanks to a magical spell, he and his remaining clan are frozen in a perpetual stone stage for an entire millennia, incapable of continuing their lives.
When they awaken from their curse in modern day 1994, there’s a massive culture shock for mighty Goliath and his group. During the time asleep, billionaire David Xanatos shipped the castle’s remains to New York to add to his high rise, bringing the gargoyles with him. When they awaken, Xanatos is both horrified and curious about their existence. Leader of the clan Goliath struggles to figure out who his allies and enemies are and happens across Officer Elisa. She gradually becomes friends with the team, promising to keep their existence a secret, as David Xanatos slowly reveals his ulterior motives for the beasts.
The great Keith David lent Goliath the immense presence that he deserved, playing the conflicted leader who longed for the old days, but inevitably had to adjust to modern times. The lovely Salli Richardson voiced Maza, who was an often loyal and tough as nails heroine who would eventually form affection for Goliath. There was also Jonathan Frakes who played the group’s enemy David Xanatos, a mastermind billionaire who delved in to the magic and mysticism of the Gargoyles’ era to help his agenda. The show had its share of fish out of water moments, but it rarely resorted to slapstick comedy. Often times the adjustment to modern times was jarring, especially for the group, many of whom found technology and vices like movies and television hard to resist.
There were many excellent foes and episodes during the series all too short run, with the group confronting the vicious and brilliant MacBeth, as well as the Wolf Pack, a team of sports stars that make it their mission to hunt down the Gargoyles. The first two seasons aired on the Disney Afternoons animation block in America and then was eventually aired on Disney’s One Saturday Morning for its final and third season. The last season is still a very controversial arc among fans and the show’s creators, as the show returned with the subtitle “The Goliath Chronicles.” Less focus was placed on the group and more on Goliath, and his storylines, while the show featured a lower budget. This meant often sub-par animation, and a clunky series of convoluted storylines.
The series also noticeably strayed from the out of time narrative in favor of shrinking the cast significantly to Goliath, Elisa and Goliath’s daughter Angela. The writers hand us a pretty dull arc where they search the world for other surviving Gargoyles, as well as the mythical Merlin’s stone. The latter half of the series revolved around Goliath and his group fighting masked anti-gargoyle extremists named the Quarrymen, all of whom were devoted to killing gargoyles. Obviously modeled after the KKK, they became the final season’s villains, ending the series’ run in 1998 with a climax that resolved little and left the door wide open for so many more arcs we never got to see.
The creator of the series dismisses the third season entirely, later writing a comi book that took off after season two and formed its own ending for the Gargoyles. Almost thirty years later, Gargoyles is one of the most beloved animated series of the decade, and of all time. And yet, it’s still such an under-utilized franchise that Disney still hasn’t taken advantage of. With today’s overflow of content, you’d assume Disney would bank a reboot of some kind, or at least a decent Blu-Ray release. Until then the fans will have to continue waiting and hoping we can see the clan again.