Following their displacement from medieval Scotland to modern day Manhattan, the mystical Gargoyles must adjust to their new surroundings. Throughout their journey, they encounter enemies both new and familiar, prompting a complex and honest analysis of humanity that tackles themes of trust, morality, and acceptance.
Spoiler Level: None
In an industry currently thriving on fabricated nostalgia, it is a unique delight to spend some time with the real deal. Between the relevance of its themes, the heart of its characters, and the grandiose story arcs, Gargoyles feels warm and comfortable throughout its 78 episode run. Sentimentality is sewn into this show’s seams, evoking memories of fall mornings that took too long to turn light and cartoon marathons that lasted late into the afternoon, all wrapped up a beautifully scenic art style that felt nostalgic even when it was first released.
This is attributed, in no small part, to the series feeling absolutely full. During my first watch as a child, I remember feeling engrossed, entertained, and vaguely in love with humanity. As an adult, there are additional levels of fulfillment, empathy, and narrative satisfaction. The truly good stories can be consumed again and again with a new takeaway each time, and Gargoyles undoubtedly rises to this challenge. With layer upon layer of emotion driving the narration, this show is meant to grow alongside an audience—young, old, and all of us in between who still have a little bit of learning to do.
Morality sits at the show’s forefront, shamelessly portrayed within the series’ five-part introduction through depictions of betrayal, discrimination, and genocide. From there, the show largely focuses on ideas of trust and large scale forgiveness. When is it okay to be righteous? When is it necessary to grieve? It addresses those great, sprawling philosophical questions and acknowledges their complexity in digestible ways. It does what all great stories do: helps us to understand ourselves.
And it does so with a touch of brilliance by focusing on characters who, themselves, are separate from the human condition. Dropped into Manhattan and a thousand years out of their own time, the Gargoyles are forced to learn about the humans with whom they share the world. Their naivete lends itself to an almost anthropological exploration of human cultures. Admittedly, the series’ setting does heavily Americanize the story, but themes of patience, empathy, and companionship span across the world. To see these practices (or the lack thereof) through the eyes of the Gargoyles is to see them in yourself as though for the first time. It’s worth a mention that several Star Trek The Next Generation actors supplied voices to the show. Most notably, Jonathan Frakes played the villain Xanatos, Counselor Deanna Troi, Marina Sirtis, was the diabolical Demona, Data’s Brent Spiner played Puck, Klingon Worf, Michael Dorn, played the cyber enhanced Coldstone in a recurring role.Even Jean-Luc guest voiced a role.
Technically, the show is lovely. Solid animation and stellar voice acting make for good entertainment and scenic shots of late-90s New York at sunset are enough to make the city seem calm, even if only for a moment. Beyond that, the show’s writing pulls it into the category of truly great cartoons. With intertextual references to Shakespeare and Dickens, it’s clear that Gargoyles exists in a higher plane than most. While the quality did decline in the series’ third season due to challenges with development, the bulk of the show is impressive. Each of the individual pieces grow together to form one spectacular story.
Sometime during the third season the highly rated cartoon was was changed to Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles. After a handful of episodes under the new title the show simply disappeared. It’s unknown why Disney canceled such a popular show but in the years since there have been several talks to do a live action version of the show yet there is still nothing on the pipeline. To this day, Gargoyles remains a much beloved show and it’s early cancellation is one of Televisions biggest unsolved mysteries.
It’s no wonder why the show has built a cult following throughout the years. Rare is a story that is both entertaining and fulfilling. Through a combination of deep societal reflection and expert storytelling, the Gargoyles team created something truly special. If you haven’t seen it, it’s time to add it to your list. And if you have, it’s worth another watch.
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Acting - 8/108/10
- Music - 5/105/10
- Production - 7/107/10