Why Gargoyles on Disney+ should be your next box set
Mike Williams | On 16, Aug 2020
Since the launch of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, it’s been easy to reel off the big hitters available, as well as a few smaller movies by the name of Star Wars. Explore a little further and you’ll uncover an extensive catalogue of animated shows for a sweet hit of nostalgia, whether you adored Gummi Bears, preferred the frivolity of Tail Spin, or Chip ‘n’ Dale was your firm childhood classic.
One specifically underrated gem is mid-‘90s animation Gargoyles. Something of a risk compared to the usual fluffy, comedic escapades of Mickey, Goofy et al, Gargoyles is a gothic tale that struck fear into small children over the course of three seasons that this writer, as a 35-year-old cartoon aficionado, barely remembers with the same prestige as The Real Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
What’s notable from the very first episode is how fresh and ahead of its time Gargoyles is. Not only is there a five-part opener that throws us into the world of ancient warrior creatures who are stone by day and protectors of humanity by night, we’re given an impressively extensive backstory to how they became awakened in modern-day Manhattan circa 1994 (when the show aired).
Beginning with a brief commotion atop a New York skyscraper, we’re whisked to Scotland, 994 AD, in an extensive flashback that not only establishes who and what these formidable creatures are, but sets the tone for recurring themes of betrayal, revenge, bloodlust and power. Cue the entrance of David Xanatos – a rich, genius, villainous scientist. (Imagine a character who embodies the narcissistic philanthropy of Tony Stark and the god-like power lust of Frankenstein and you’ve an idea what to expect.)
We are also presented with half a dozen gargoyles – Goliath, Broadway, Hudson, Lexington, Booklyn and Bronx – ranging in stature both physically and in rank. They each have their own particular and identifiable character traits, individual storylines, arcs that are explored effectively through flashbacks (such as heavier issues of PTSD) and modern-day adventures or mishaps they stumble into.
Even the manner in which they are awakened and why, set atop a dizzyingly tall building, is inventive and competently explains and rationalises aspects of the narratives; it all unfolds with a logic that meshes seamlessly with the darker gothic-fantasy elements of the show’s mythology.
What also sets it apart from its 1990s counterparts is its straight-laced approach. Yes, Gargoyles has its silly moments and McGuffins to hurry some plotting along or resolve it, but it generally maintains a mature demeanour – something that other classics, such as Ghostbusters and TMNT, didn’t always manage. What’s more, the cartoon really holds up today in terms of the Shakespearean themes it explores and the messages it has woven into Season 1’s 13 episodes.
The very premise of the existence of a small group of “others” living in fear of being feared, and in turn ostracised, resonates as an allegory for minorities in 2020. The relevance of that, coupled with some of the more intricate and extensive plot-lines, really sets Gargoyles apart and proves that three decades on, you can still discover new and exciting creations from an era where both cartoons and toys were at the peak of their powers.
The true tragedy is that Gargoyles was cancelled because of its adult-friendly aesthetic and undertones and complex character arcs that were deemed too inaccessible. Ironically, the very reasons for its demise are, 26 years later, arguably its greatest selling points and strengths.
Gargoyles: Season 1 to 3 is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.