There's no denying it: BCI Eclipse had some incredible animated titles that risked becoming forever lost to the archives of time once the company was forced to shut its doors this past year. Fortunately Mill Creek Entertainment, which by the way is distributed by BCI's parent company, Navarre, has acquired the rights to bring many of BCI's titles to the home market once more.
In the case of Dungeons & Dragons, this set represents the complete series released to the home market once more at a fraction of the cost of the BCI release. Coming in at a total runtime of 686 minutes, this set spans 3 discs and contains a freshened up version of the art showcased on the BCI set.
D&D was one of those cartoons that I watched as a kid back in the early 1980s nearly every week without fail that was unique in two areas: First, it was one of few shows that I was engrossed in that wasn't toy-driven. In other words, unlike He-Man and most other animated programs I consider myself a fan of, I never had a D&D toy with which to continue my own version of the excitement once the show faded to black. Secondly, despite my youth at the time of its original CBS broadcast, this one managed to stick with me even after all these years. Somehow I still recalled quotes from episodes that I hadn't had any contact with for 25 years. Not bad considering I have difficulty recalling quotes that my boss bestowed upon me just yesterday.
So what's the problem with jumping back in to a series that I regard so highly you ask? I feared that perhaps I remembered it too fondly! So often in revisiting landmarks of our own youth, we're sadly disappointed in how unimpressive the experience actually is. We all have a tendency of making things more grandiose over time. I figured maybe Dungeons & Dragons was best left to the blissful halls of memory where it was, in my opinion, nothing short of classic.
That said, I reluctantly slipped the first of this three-disc compilation into the player in the hopes that I hadn't disturbed a childhood memory. Boy was I in for a surprise! Rather than disappointing me with a lesson in the limitations of early 1980s animation or the realities of standards and practices when it comes to children's television, I was instead immediately reminded of why I loved the show so much back then. Let me begin this review by saying that truly Dungeons & Dragons was ahead of its time on many levels.
The saga begins with an episode that aired on September 17, 1983 in the form of a pilot written by the then overworked Mark Evanier. And while old Mark would contribute only this single episode to the 27 total, he deserves praise for kicking things off on the right foot. Perhaps the show's greatest strength lies in the rich development of the main characters. So often in animation of the time we had heroes who were basically interchangeable in their lines. All of the good guys were essentially the same guy differentiated only by their appearance while all of the bad guys existed only to destroy the good guys. D&D laid this archetype to rest with six protagonists who had personalities all their own. Not only that but the characters played off each other to perfection. Somehow the show's writers managed to capture the subtle (yet often over the top) dynamic that a fairly large group of children would possess in their interaction. Not only that but these were children who wanted, more than anything else, to simply return home. As a result the writers were presented with many interesting dynamics of individual frustrations and the group's resulting resourcefulness.
To aid them on their journey was the enigmatic Dungeon Master, who appeared and disappeared at will but not before dispensing a clue (riddle) that would point our heroes into the right direction. Their ultimate goal was to simply leave the realm of D&D behind and return home to their families. While that sounds simplistic enough from afar, the show was quite unique in that there were no shortage of opportunities for them to do so along the way. More often than not, their staying in the realm was the result of a decision they consciously made to do what was morally right over what they desired most. While it is said that the proverbial "dangling of the carrot" keeps the show moving, the creative team behind D&D was wise to keep that carrot in the foreground of the action on a nearly weekly basis. While we all secretly wished the kids could just go back home, it was their failures that kept us tuning in week after week.
This time around I was far more aware of the show's pop culture inspirations. While the series was modeled after the popular role playing game of the same name, it obviously drew more inspiration from Star Wars than it did rolling dice and earning points. In fact not subtle are the similarities between Hank (the ranger) and Luke Skywalker, Dungeon Master and Yoda, and I won't even bother getting too deeply into the Cloud Bears (let's just say the Ewok village doesn't exist only on the forest moon of Endor but in the Realm of D&D as well). These uncanny similarities are quite forgivable however, as they don't simply rip off the blockbuster franchise but rather "borrow" from some of the energy that made it so popular even after all of these years. Much in the way George Lucas is credited for taking pieces and bits of classic film elements to give Star Wars its timeless appeal, so too does D&D implement these charms.
The other element of D&D that makes the show remarkable nearly three decades after the fact are the environments and backgrounds. Here is a program that finally delivers upon the potential that is so often flaunted in fantasy shows but so seldom realized. Somehow the Realm just feels spooky. Be it the result of excellently painted skies with many suns and moons or perhaps the fact that rarely are our heroes situated in the same place twice, or maybe it's just the interesting creatures they encounter lurking around nearly every corner. Whatever the case (probably a combination of all of the elements mentioned above) it just plain works. This type of attention to detail is present everywhere in this series and as a result, the show holds up even against today's best fantasy efforts. The revised price of the Mill Creek release is the icing on the cake.
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 … more
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!