Gargoyles establishing shot.

GARGOYLES

Original Medium: TV Animation
Produced by: Disney
First Appeared: 1994
Creator: Greg Weisman
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Gargoyles was a production of The Walt Disney Company, home of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the like. But it represents a true departure for The Mouse Factory. Its dark tone …

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… and its appeal to an older demographic stand in sharp contrast to the company's earlier ventures into TV series, such as The Wuzzles and DuckTales.

The Gargoyles are superheroes, at least to the extent Fantomah and Speed Centaur were superheroes — that is, they're grotesqueries with more-than-human abilities, who use that ability to do good. They're less human-like than The Thing, but if It, the Living Colossus can function as a hero, then they should have no trouble pulling it off.

Gargoyles debuted as part of The Disney Afternoon, that conglomeration of shows which has, over the years, featured Gummi Bears, Rescue Rangers and many other daily half-hour series, on October 24, 1994. The initial five-episode story gave their origin. Many years ago, they'd been alive during nighttime hours, as opposed to full-time stone statues, as we usually think of gargoyles today. Rather than part of a castle's drainage system, which is what real-life gargoyles were designed to be, they were the castle's protectors. In the year 994 (a nice, round millennium earlier), the gargoyles who protected Castle Wyvern on the coast of Scotland fell victim to a curse — instead of coming to life at night, they'd remain stone until the castle rose above the clouds.

In the late 20th century, the castle was subjected to a process far more common in fiction than in the real world. Billionnaire David Xanatos moved it, stone by stone, to America, and placed it on top of a huge Manhattan skyscraper, The Eyrie Building — where, of course, the gargoyles came to life the moment the sun set. Police detective Elisa Maza got involved with them, and helped them adjust to life in the 1990s. She even assisted in relocating them to the castle-like upper reaches of her precinct station, as The Eyrie Building soon became too hot for them — it seems Xanatos knew about them before he even bought the castle, and wanted them for nefarious plans of his own. He was in league with Demona, the she-gargoyle who had been behind the events leading to their original transformation to full-time stone.

Obviously, it was a good deal more complex than TaleSpin, Mighty Ducks and other segments of the ever-evolving Disney Afternoon. The whole scenario was created by writer/animator Greg Weisman (Buzz Lightyear, Kim Possible), who also kept the storyline progressing properly. Not surprisingly, many of the other writers came from comic books, where this style of melodrama with strong continuity had become common. They included, among others, Cary Bates (The Flash) and Len Wein (Swamp Thing).

The voice of David Xanatos was done by Jonathan Frakes, who is best known for his live-action performances as Star Trek's Cdr. Riker. Eliza Masa was Salli Richardson, also much better known for face acting. Goliath, the gargoyle leader, was Keith David (Spawn). Other gargoyles included Broooklyn, voiced by Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo); Lexington, voiced by Thom Adcox-Hernandez (Felix the Cat in a 1995 production); Broadway, voiced by Bill Faggerbakke (Patrick in Spongebob Squarepants) and Angela (voiced by Brigitte Bako (also best known for face acting). Demona was Marina Sirtis (another face actress).

Like many Disney Afternoon segments, Gargoyles ran two seasons, then the show moved on. But this time, a vociferous fan following demanded its return. It was revived almost immediately as Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, part of Disney's One Saturday Morning, an omnibus weekly show that also included Recess, Pepper Ann, Doug and other latter-day Disney offerings. There, it started on September 7, 1996. Weisman wasn't a part of this production, and fans didn't take to it as warmly. It ended after a single season.

But before it did, it got into comic books. Marvel did it for 17 issues, running February 1995 through June 1996, with Weisman writing early stories. Weisman is also the writer of a continuation of the original animated show, picking up where the second season left off. It began in 2006 from a very small comics publisher, Slave Labor Graphics (Dr. Radium, Little Gloomy).

Gargoyles did represent a departure for Disney, but not a true new direction. It was never followed up with others of its kind, and Disney today remains known for light, bright entertainment for younger viewers. Reruns of its 78 episodes are still seen on the cable station Toon Disney.

— DDM

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Text ©2006-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Walt Disney Co.