I just received an advanced copy of the Mill Creek re-release of the complete Dungeons and Dragons cartoon on DVD and I have to say that I'm both surprised and a little bummed. Real quick, the cartoon was originally released a few years ago by BCI Eclipse (who also released the majority of the Filmation cartoon archive) and I was completely blown away by the set. There were some great special features and the packaging was just top notch. So when BCI went under this past year I knew that a lot of their catalog was going to go out of print, and as a guy who loves 80s cartoons on DVD I was kind of bummed out.
To my surprise Mill Creek announced that they'd acquired the rights to distribute the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon on DVD and as I mentioned I was both surprised and a little skeptical. Mill Creek is the company responsible for releasing those 50-movie value packs you tend to see clogging up the dump bins at places like Big Lots and Wal-Mart (Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection) and for the most part they seem to specialize in releasing medium to poor quality public domain material. Every once in awhile you'll see them handle a more commercial release like The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin: Come Dream With Me - Complete Series. Those Teddy Ruxpin DVDs, though cheap are of pretty poor quality and it made me a bit concerned for how well a show like D&D would fare.
Well, I cracked open the set last night and over all I have to say that it's well worth the fifteen dollar (or so) MSRP.
Packaging - This is where the set takes it's biggest hit and it's mainly why I dropped it down to 3 stars. The set comes complete with 3 DVDs (each with 9 episodes) that are housed in individual paper sleeves. These sleeves sort of snap into a set of grooves in the plastic case. It's kind of annoying to have to pull out the sleeves like this and shimmy out the discs which are pretty tight in the sleeves. There are no spindles or places for the DVDs to securely fit into the packaging.
Extras - There are NO extras on this set. It's just the episodes and a decent set of navigable menu screens.
Video and Sound quality - The video and sound is almost a direct transfer from the BCI edition, and this is where I was the most surprised. These DVDs play great and the video is as good as it looked on the BCI set.
So for those who didn't pick up the BCI DVDs and you're looking for an amazing deal on just the episodes, this is a great set. If you're more interested in picking up a nicer edition, grab up one of the remaining copies of the BCI set while they last (Dungeons & Dragons - The Complete Animated Series).
Anyway, as far as the cartoon itself goes, I think it holds up rather well which is a credit to the creators and writers of the series including Mark Evanier, Jeffery Scott, Michael Reeves and Paul Dini. Like He-Man, this was one of the first shows that brought action elements back into Saturday Morning cartoons, which made it both fun and exciting. Its shows like this that would really pave the way for the more intelligent non-comedic action cartoons of the 90s and beyond like Batman and Justice League. If you've never had the opportunity to catch it, the show is about six kids who get pulled into the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons while riding a roller coaster of the same name at a theme park or carnival or something.
They each end up with special powers, armor or weapons that represent various classes from the Dungeon and Dragons world, the Ranger (Hank, voiced by Willie Aames of Charles in Charge and Bibleman fame) with his energy bow and arrows, an Acrobat (Diana, voiced by Tonya Gail Smith) with her resizable bo-staff/javelin, a thief (Shelia, voiced by Katie Leigh) who has a nifty invisibility cloak, the cavalier (Eric, voiced by Don Most of Happy Days fame) who has a nifty shield, the Wizard, (Presto, voice by Adam Rich of 8 is Enough fame) who gets a hat that he can "pull" magic out of, and a barbarian (Bobby, voiced by Ted Field III) who had a bitchin' club and an almost annoying pet unicorn Uni (voiced by Frank Welker, the man responsible for voicing two of my all time best Transformers voices, Soundwave and Megatron.)
Together with the Dungeon Master, the kids are fighting against Venger (voiced by Peter Cullen, who voiced Optimus Prime on Transformers), an evil tyrant set out to ruling the D&D lands. I always dug Venger because he rode on a Nightmare and had that really disturbing single horn on his head. He always reminded me of another screen villain, the Source of All Evil from Time Bandits.
What I think is pretty awesome about this show is that it manages to capture a very specific feeling and area of pop culture from the 80's, that of book and dice role playing as well as Saturday morning cartoons (which in the 80's had a much different feel from the Saturday morning cartoons of the 70's.) Like I said above, and can't seem to stress enough, that the box set is beautiful and at about $35, is the perfect price for a nice nostalgia DVD set like this (end product gushing and pimping.)
I've got a lot of fond memories of watching this show, most of which revolve around getting up early on Saturday mornings, feigning sick to get out of soccer practice, and then vegging out to this show with either a bowl full of Chef Boyardee mini raviolis or Capt'n Crunch with Crunchberries, dry because I hated the damn Soggies. I also remember being completely ignorant of the table top role playing game, though I did have a couple of the D&D action figures, namely the Warduke and Strongheart. I think in my silly little mind world, the Warduke figure was actually more at home in the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome world than like a He-Man type world, what with his half on, half naked costume and evil red eyes. I don't know.
The complete Dungeons & Dragons series! In this extremely popular series an enchanted roller coaster delivers six youth into the magical realm of Dungeons and Dragons. There, each of them gains magical talents and abilities, all the better to survive their time in the Realm. The bow-shooting ranger, the acrobat, the thief, the cavalier, the boy wizard, and the barbarian are soon joined by a baby unicorn and tutored by the mysterious and inscrutable Dungeon Master. Opposing them is the evil Sorcerer Venger, as well as various ogres, demons, bounty hunters, dragons, lizard men, skeleton warriors and more, all intent on keeping the kids from getting back home!