Does It Hold Up?: Gargoyles
By Crystal Harrell
’90s Disney was a peculiar thing. I’m not talking about the feature films released during that time as part of the Disney Renaissance, which spawned a decade’s worth of animated excellence while bringing shame to other competing studios. No, I’m talking about the programming produced by Walt Disney Television Animation. Most of the shows centered on the likes of their lovable animal characters, but there was an effort to bring more stylized action/adventure into the mix.
Hence, the creation of Gargoyles in 1994. The show follows a gang of ancient gargoyles from medieval Scotland that are cursed to live as stone until the castle they guard rises above the clouds, and only then will their spell be broken. They wake up in modern day New York City to discover that a powerful billionaire named David Xanatos has installed their castle atop his towering skyscraper, thus releasing them from their stone prison. The gargoyles are eventually revealed to NYPD detective Elisa Maza, and they team up to fight the crime-infested streets of the Big Apple while also dueling with some supernatural foes and enemies of the past.
Unlike the gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, these protectors of the night don’t sing songs or talk to pigeons; they’re much grittier with a tortured past lined with bloodshed and revenge. It sounds pretty brutal for a Disney series when I put it that way, but it actually is the darkest animated show the House of Mouse has ever crafted. The death toll is higher with more chalk outlines, gun violence, and character hospitalization than you’d ever dream of seeing on Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. That’s not to say the show is too gory or graphic for children. Gargoyles expertly appeals to all audiences without compromising its story for the sake of a certain age group.
The characters are also fully dimensional with overarching stories that contribute to the show’s lore. Goliath is the leader of the Manhattan gargoyles, and his brooding nature and initial distrust of humans delivers conflict in the grand scheme of the plot. Comedic relief is provided by the rest of the clan: Hudson, the old wise one; Brooklyn, the young rebel; Lexington, the naive optimist; Broadway, the fat compulsive eater; and Bronx, the makeshift gargoyle dog. Detective Elisa Maza is a wonderful companion to the gargoyles, as she exhibits both compassion and strong will in the battle of good vs. evil. A lot of the voice actors in the show are seasoned veterans, with a significant number of voices from Star Trek: The Next Generation, oddly enough.
Gargoyles ended its run in 1997, but has certainly aged well when watching in 2016. It was a bit before my time, so I never viewed the show at its peak, and frankly, I think my younger self would have been too frightened to do so anyway. Regardless, Gargoyles is a quality series with a darker atmosphere than expected for Disney, but is Palm Springs Comic-Con-approved and definitely still holds up.