Is This Rewatchable? Gargoyles “Awakening”

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1994 Anniversary

A lot of people were excited about the launch of Disney+ because of The Mandalorian, the new entry in the Star Wars Universe, or because they could finally access modern Disney classics like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid. I was excited because it meant that Darkwing Duck and Gargoyles were finally streaming somewhere. Gargoyles debuted on October 24, 1994. I was a month into my Freshman year in high school so I’m a little surprised that I remember getting into a Disney Afternoon cartoon at that age. Gargoyles exists for me as a fond memory as well as a reference in a joke that appeared on my album four years ago. Now I finally have the opportunity to ruin those memories, so I figured I’d might as well watch the first episode of Gargoyles and see if it holds up. You can also check out the joke below and let me know if it holds up. I’m guessing no.

One thing I definitely didn’t remember about Gargoyles is that the first episode ends on a cliff hanger, to be continued in episode two. I decided since that was the case I’d watch the first two episodes for this article. Then the second episode also ends with to be continued. And the third episode. And the fourth, at which point you realize that the first five episodes constitute a Gargoyles movie (which is why the following year it was released as Gargoyles the Movie: The Heroes Awaken). It’s a ballsy way to introduce a new cartoon that isn’t based on an established property. If a viewer missed the first episode, he or she would be starting out having missed part of the storyline already. Same for missing any of the other of the first five parts. Given that this was before streaming on demand and viewers couldn’t watch things they missed until the shows went into reruns, this could have presented quite a problem. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Gargoyles aired an encore of the first episode, but all five? It’s a bold gambit (speaking of gambits, X-Men: The Animated Series is also available on Disney+).

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It’s this but with Gargoyles instead of Demon Dogs (which are also sort of gargoyles)

The first scene of the debut episode looks straight out of the showdown with Gozer in Ghostbusters: there’s a disturbance happening on top of a skyscraper in Manhattan, and from the ground all onlookers can see is flashes of light and debris falling from the building. After establishing this scene, the episode travels back 1000 years, to Scotland in 994AD. It is at this point that as the sun goes down the viewer is introduced to the gargoyles. The gargoyles are inhabitants and protectors of Castle Wyvern. During the day they are encased in stone. When the sun goes down, however, the gargoyles come to life. While the gargoyles have been around longer than the inhabitants of the castle, the townspeople are still afraid of them, even though the gargoyles immediately demonstrate that they are there to protect the people by turning away an attempted Viking invasion of the castle.

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Goliath (voiced by Keith David) is the leader of the gargoyles, and at this point in the story is the only gargoyle that has been named. We find out via gargoyle exposition that the others never received names. After the failed invasion Goliath orders a group of gargoyles that scared some of the townspeople to go to the rookery as punishment while he goes off on a mission for the commander of the forces in the castle. Goliath heads off with another of the senior gargoyles, and while they are gone it’s revealed that the commander is a turncoat who made a deal with the Vikings, who invade again. Since it’s daytime, the gargoyles that are not in the rookery or off on the mission are frozen in stone at the castle, and the Vikings smash them. Episode one over.

Episode two opens back in Scotland in 994. Goliath returns, finds his clan smashed dead, and believes his lover and second in command who he told to stay behind has been killed as well. Goliath and the gargoyles in the rookery fight off the Vikings and the traitor. The princess and magus had been captured and the princess escapes. The magus believes that the gargoyles killed her, so he casts a spell to turn the gargoyles to stone “until the castle rises above the clouds.” The magus discovers that the princess isn’t dead and that Goliath rescued her, but by then the gargoyles are already stone and he can’t change them back because the head Viking just so happened to rip the counter-spell out of the spell book and burned it. What are the odds? Goliath is pissed off and sad, so he asks to be turned to stone as well.

Fast forward to 1994. Xanatos (voiced by Jonathan Frakes, not asking you things like in the video above) purchases the castle ruins and has them flown brick by brick to New York, where the castle is reassembled on top of his skyscraper. It turns out that Xanatos knows the entire story of what happened in Scotland in 994 because the magus wrote a book about it, and since the gargoyles are now in a castle above the clouds they come back to life. Some soldiers of fortune land in a helicopter and attack, and the gargoyles engage. This goes on for awhile until the men take something that they had been seeking and leave. This is also why from the ground it looked like Ghostbusters was happening on top of the building. Episode two over.

That’s pretty much the gist of the first two episodes of Gargoyles. They establish the backstory of the gargoyles and transport them 1000 years in the future to 1994 New York City. We get an idea of the personalities of the gargoyles who will be the centerpiece of the show and are introduced to Xanatos, who may or may not be up to no good, plus a cop who is on the ground amidst the rubble and I haven’t mentioned yet so I figure I should. She’s obviously going to be their April O’Neil. Some things I liked about the first two episodes:

  • The voice talent is very good. Keith David really gets to go deep voiced and distinguished/menacing with his depiction of Goliath. Frank Welker, maybe the biggest name in the history of voice acting, does one of the gargoyles. So do Ed Asner and Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi from Star Trek: TNG). As mentioned, Jonathan Frakes is also involved.
  • The animation looks great. The transfer on Disney+ is as it appeared on TV in 1994, so it’s not particularly vibrant but the rendition of the gargoyles is excellent and the little that we see of NYC is appropriately stylized.
  • It’s a well told story. If daytime cartoons in the early 1990s fell on a spectrum with the stylized grit of Batman: The Animated Series at one end and the pure, bubbly Disney animation of Talespin and Chip ‘n Dale at the other, Gargoyles falls much more closely to Batman. It’s obviously a cartoon meant for children, but it has a depth that appeals to older kids, which is probably why at 14 I was still into it.

Verdict time. Is Gargoyles Rewatchable? 

I think it absolutely is. Gargoyles also benefits from having been unavailable for so long. There’s a very good chance that most adults who watched Gargoyles in the 1990s haven’t seen it since, so it feels fresh. Also in the early going at least the cartoon doesn’t feel dated. If you signed up for are are planning on signing up for Disney+ Gargoyles is definitely worth a rewatch.

Were you a Gargoyles fan? Are you planning on getting Disney+ or if you did, what shows are you excited for? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

If you’d like to check out Gargoyles you can pick up season one at the link below. 80s Baby may receive a commission. 

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