I’d like to tell you a story, once upon a time animation became the biggest commercial for young children in America. The shows were used to sell toys, which in turn would help pay for the animation used in making shows. This paved the way for merchandise-driven cartoons like The Transformers and G.I. Joe; from that same era came Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and from that came a whole lot of imitators. They did everything from sharks to dinosaurs in an attempt to get a piece of the success that TMNT was. The only thing more obvious than the imitation was the blatant commercialization.
This is what makes Gargoyles so unique in its approach, while merchandise did exist for the show.
Merchandise was not the sole purpose for the show, which sounds odd considering that it came from Disney. But rather they were interested in creating a genuinely good story to go along with the show and the pilot showcases all of it’s strengths. “Awakening” does everything a TV pilot should do, set up the characters, the premise, the setting, and the plot.
Noble, yet devilish-looking creatures are betrayed by their closest allies and are put under a magic spell, falling asleep in Middle Ages Scotland and waking up in 90’s New York. Well that’s certainly a sentence I never thought to write.
The “fish-out-water” aspect especially in the temporal sense isn’t exactly new, but the fact that the central characters are not only out of time but distinctly non-human add a unique flair to it. And not only that, but the fact that these characters are most likely the last of their kind also adds some drama to their characterizations.
New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town. I actually think this makes the most sense of all, there’s no end to famous landmarks, a wide variety of different locations for the action to take place in, and a popular setting for everything from superheroes to disaster stories. But most importantly, New York has long been a migrant spot for people all over the world, where cultures have clashed, blended and eventually become a part of everyday life. Time traveling creatures seems so out of place in the modern world, but it seems oddly appropriate when you think about it.
Here’s where things really shine, I love the designs of the gargoyles, each of them is given a distinct look that in many ways is grotesque (heh) yet colorful, regal, cute and handsome. We’re given a look into their strengths pretty early on and it shows that they can overpower humans pretty easily. The fact that they lapidify (there’s a word of the day for you) at dawn gives them an interesting weakness and helps cement why their relationship with humans is so important. The human characters are also given the same distinct design that really helps them stand out. Usually in cartoons where the central characters are non-human the human characters are for the most part overshadowed and can come across as uninteresting in terms of design or relevance, mostly due to the action being solely done by the non-human characters. Here that’s not the case, both in the past and the present the relationship between humans and gargoyles is an important piece of the narrative and how one treats the other is central to the conflict.
Goliath: While the show is undoubtedly an ensemble piece it’s pretty clear that he’s the central protagonist. He’s big, strong, noble, brave, and his goals are to safeguard the castle and everyone in it and be a good leader for his people. By all accounts this should make him boring as hell but he’s also given just enough characterization to make him, for lack of a better word, human. In 994 he was a stoic and noble guardian who recognized human foibles on fearing what they didn’t understand and endured it, more so he took an active part in keeping the peace between the the two races. The loss of most of his kind and the betrayal awakened a rather fearsome rage that you can believe that he would’ve killed those responsible if given the chance. And then being brought to a strange new world where he and this small group are the only ones left caused him to be melancholy, distrustful and distant.
And yet, it’s his newfound relationship with Elisa and the other gargoyles as they acclimate to their new world that helps shift his mindset from “learn about the dangers threatening my kind” to “learn about this new world and how I can help protect its people.” It’s a great form of symmetry that both he and Demona both nearly cross the line the same way, threatening to drop someone to their death. But while Demona doesn’t go through with it merely to placate Goliath, he doesn’t go through with it because when pressed by his companions he admits that despite all of his rage atbeing used as a pawn, he really doesn’t want to sink to her level. He is a gargoyle through and through, and a gargoyle is a guardian first and foremost.
Hudson: The oldest of the group and the only one to use a weapon in combat, as well as the only one to speak with a Scottish accent. But while he may not be young anymore he’s undoubtedly clever in battle and a firm believer in working smarter not harder. In many ways he’s the most superstitious of the clan and less likely to explore the city, which is probably why we see him relaxing more than the others. At the same time he’s not all “hey you kids get off my lawn” but simply acclimating to his new surroundings at a different pace.
The Trio: Brooklyn, Broadway and Lexington are what’s known as the “Kid-Appeal Characters.” Which in various mediums are usually characters who are much younger and more inclined to have fun and get into hi-jinks. Right now their personalities are: Brooklyn’s the cool one that leads the group, Lexington’s the small, smart one and Broadway’s the big one that loves food. I feel it’s a little weird that Lex is playing with a computer just a few nights after waking up from the Dark Ages but it is established early on that he has an interest in machines, so I’ll give it a pass. We’ll see how the three of them progress as the series go on.
Bronx: Bronx is the pet of the group and is pretty much a dog. Loyal and protective the one moment playful and friendly the next. While he may not be able to speak he does convey his emotions pretty well through his voice and expression. Overall there’s not a lot to say about him this early.
Princess Katharine and the Magus start the series treating the gargoyles the same as pretty much every human does, with suspicion and disgust. Katharine begins especially haughty and stuck-up and yet her willingness to look after her people before and after the sacking of the castle shows that she does have the character of a strong and wise leader. Her betrayal at the hands of the Captain and rescue at Goliath’s undoubtedly humbled her and forced her to rethink her past prejudices.
While I’ve mentioned the Magus before, I feel I should point out that he subverts the traditional case of the magic-practicing adviser that plots against the throne. In fact as we’re shown his devotion to the princess is so great that he’d curse the gargoyles on her behalf. After his mistake there’s a distinctly marked change to him and he adopts an incredibly humble tone to his voice and manner. Though the story is set a thousand years later, we may very well yet see what became of them and the eggs in their care.
Elisa Maza: She may very well be Disney’s first true badass female lead, even beating out Mulan by four years. Really she only needs rescuing twice and that’s based solely on the fact that she can’t work around gravity like they can. We’re shown early on that she’s a tough cop with a nose for trouble and a keen detective’s mind. While understandably freaked out when she first sees them she also has the good sense to ask who they are rather than run away from the “monsters.” And it’s her willingness to not judge their appearance and see the true nature of who they that helps coax them out of their own shells. Especially Goliath who’s been in a dour mood since he woke up. As a cop she’s the first to recognize a bad situation, and yet constantly strives to show Goliath the beauty of the modern world. Kind of a blend of pessimistic and optimistic viewpoints.
Hakon is a violent barbarian that leads through brute force and intimidation and while he is the one responsible for the destruction of the gargoyles, narratively speaking he’s pretty small in the whole of the story. One thing I didn’t notice at first was that he and the Captain are introduced in similar ways, threatening their men to rush head first into all most certain death. The Captain of the Guard is rather similar to the gargoyles, he undertakes a rather thankless job and gets nothing but mockery from the rather ungrateful court. But unlike the gargoyles there comes a point when he stops putting up with it and sells out all of Castle Wyvern. His friendship with the gargoyles might have been real, but it’s his own lack of fortitude that prevents him from stopping the massacre.
David Xanatos: Xanatos is an utterly fascinating character evil or not. He buys an entire castle and places it on top of a skyscraper just to test a legend and then effortlessly manipulates the gargoyles into acting like his lackeys for a time. He seems like the kind of guy that knows how to get his hands dirty but also knows that stupid risks are stupid so uses misdirection to get people to act the way he wants. But even after the gargoyles learn his true nature he never drops his amicable demeanor and seems genuinely disappointed that he can’t rely on them to act towards his interests. He’s not one of those villains that flies into a rage even as his robots are being destroyed but recognize that the gargoyles are performing better than his machines and so it’s time for plan B. Though he’s arrested at the end, his confident smile at the end shows that this is only a setback for him and he’s already got a plan C waiting.
Demona: The interesting thing about her is that her change to villainy isn’t a sudden one, all the elements were there from the very beginning. Her imperious nature against the humans, her willingness to betray the very people who helped safeguard her kind, all of that was there. If she didn’t trust the Captain to look after the gargoyles like she said there was nothing stopping her from warning the clan from the impending attack, but instead she chose only to save herself. Combine that with her willingness to lie to the clan in order to gain their trust she comes off as incredibly sociopathic. Her familiarity with modern technology, the fact that she was given name long ago and other holes in her story imply there’s much more to her backstory than initially given, and in the future will get a closer look at how she became so utterly twisted.
Next time we’ll examine the Trio a little more thoroughly and get some more introductions to other important characters when we come back to Gargoyles next year.
See you then!