The World NEEDS This Movie - Why Disney's 'Gargoyles' Is The Literal Best, And Deserves To Live Again
If you've never heard of Gargoyles, it's what you might have watched if Batman: The Animated Series didn't have enough magic, myth, social commentary, and actual freaking Shakespeare.
If you grew up in the '90s and your tastes ran toward the dark, the action-y, and the unexpectedly deep, literate and meaningful, you probably rushed home every day after school to catch an animated series called Gargoyles on the Disney Channel. (If you've never heard of Gargoyles, it's what you might have watched if Batman: The Animated Series just didn't have enough magic, myth, social commentary, and actual freaking Shakespeare. An unlikely mix, but man, did it work.) And depending on where you hang out online, there's a good chance you've seen... a certain image floating around.
Well, let me burst the bubble right now. That headline is a fake. No Gargoyles movie is on the books, for 2017 or any other year. If you could see the date on this, you'd see it was posted April 1st. Uh, yeah.
However... tired rumors and salted wounds aside... a Gargoyles movie isn't a bad idea. In fact, it's a really good idea. Because Gargoyles was an amazing show then, and would be great now - especially with '90s nostalgia in full swing, and several other animated Disney series from the same era getting the full reboot treatment. Wouldn't even have to be live-action, though that would definitely be amazing. The show had a phenomenal voice cast and art style, and a super high-end animated reboot would rock. The beauty of animation is voices are pretty much forever, and everyone's still alive and kicking. And as you'll see at the end of this article - willing. If the dream movie was animated, and we went for a full cast reunion... Well. Dare to dream.
So really... why not?
People are talking about Gargoyles more and more lately, and it's fantastic to see. I saw a really, really good article the other day praising Gargoyles to high heaven, 'Gargoyles Was The Most Important Cartoon Of My Pre-Intellectual Black Childhood' by Jordan Calhoun over at BlackNerdProblems.com. This awesome read highlights what makes this show stand out as something completely different than just about anything else on TV, and important in so many ways.
The Word of Gargoyles has even gotten some buzz over at the official Disney blog. Right now, for whatever reason, people are talking. And until now, I've been listening... but now I'm talking too. There's nothing official about a movie now - but there really should be.
Heck, even that darn April Fool's post has been on my feed about 18 times in the past week. Maybe the Universe is trying to tell us something.
But really - looking at what's playing now, what's big and loved, and what audiences want... Gargoyles would catch fire. It'd break out huge, now more than it ever did 20 years ago. And in these increasingly scary times, I daresay the world needs it. If anything deserves a big break, a second chance, it's Gargoyles.
So let me tell you why.
This show is smart. And deep. And real.
Let's get that out right up front. I said in the first paragraph, "magic, myth, social commentary, and actual freaking Shakespeare?" Yeah. Gargoyles had all of that. If I may nerd out a moment?
First of all, the entire premise of the show pretty much hinges on one big metaphor for racism and xenophobia. The show is about, in short, a clan of 5 winged fantasy people (plus their 'dog'), magically transported from 10th-century Scotland, to "modern-day" (1994) New York City - after being betrayed by the very humans they were sworn to protect, and being the sole survivors of a terrible, traumatic massacre that killed the rest of their clan/family.
They're pretty big, they have wings and tails and horns and sometimes beaks... and they have a pretty much evolutionary/culturally-ingrained drive to protect "the castle." They're kind of built-in superheroes. And now they have a choice: to keep to themselves as recluses, or reach out and do good, in a world that hates them. (So, keep the definition of 'castle' small, or expand it to mean 'this new world.')
And because they're good people... and because otherwise we wouldn't really have a TV show... they reach out. And whenever people see them, because they look pretty "monster-y," and they don't really know how this country/time period/world works, it... goes about as well as you'd think. (Painfully badly.)
Is this starting to sound like a metaphor for something?
They're literally very visible people from another race/species, and country (and time period) adjusting to a wildly different culture and way of life. They go through a layered and gradual transformation, take on names - a huge departure from a nameless society! - that reflect their new lives, form self-identification with their surroundings, walk the balance between embracing the unfamiliar outside world and preserving their individual histories - there are academic papers to be written here on the psycho-cultural implications in Gargoyles. (Not that I've... moving on!)
Is it becoming clearer now, exactly how deep this show was? And that's just its own themes. It gets even better, bringing in a ton of mythological figures - seriously, in what other show can you have Anansi the Spider a couple episodes away from King Arthur himself, and Titania, Queen of the Fae? And the weirdest, best part is... it all works. What might seem ridiculous in another show never really seems out of place here, probably because like everything else, it's so well thought-out and respectfully written, that it just... works.
...Also, the fact that one of the recurring major characters is named "Macbeth" would be a clue. (Yes, That Macbeth.) Shakespeare is a recurring entity here, with classic storylines (an entire episode is basically a retelling of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - and it's hilarious and great) and iconic characters repeatedly woven in - holy mackerel, you like tricksters? You like Loki, Marvel fans?
Then have I got a fun little weaver of chaos for you to meet. He's pretty, he's clever, he's Actual Robin Goodfellow, Shakespeare's Immortal Prankster Who Mess-Eth Up All The Crap, Trolling Reality For Funsies. Puck. Like Macbeth, Yes, That Puck.
But it's not just the Shakespeare name-dropping book-smarts. It's the important stuff.
I'm gonna point you again to that article by Jordan Calhoun I linked back at the beginning, and I have to quote it just a bit, because it does such a wonderful job of laying out exactly why Gargoyles was such an important series. (Seriously, read it.) Because you can't really overstate exactly how much of a change this show was from Disney's regular fare, and how important it was to take that chance.
Gargoyles. Got. Deep. And dark. And real.
Not for shock or awe, but because this series had a few things to say. It took the dice and made the gamble: Gargoyles would discuss mature themes… using complex story arcs… all hidden in the guise of an action cartoon.
Along with fantastic stuff like magic and robots, Gargoyles tackled actual real-life issues like racism and ignorance other shows were afraid to touch - and not just in fantasy-metaphor form. Episodes like the now-infamous (for the best reasons) 'Deadly Force', a cautionary tale about responsible gun use (which has been wonderfully covered by the above article, so I won't as much here), got incredibly literal, and pulled exactly zero punches. When characters suffered, they hurt.
In the first five minutes of the pilot, Gargoyles demonstrates you're in for something different. Visually. Goliath catches a sword blade in his hand, and it cuts his "thick skin," and the metaphor becomes reality. The Disney Channel after-school cartoon actually focuses on a small trickle of blood... and it isn't a censored fantasy green or blue. These are people, and they bleed. They can be hurt. In many ways.
Gargoyles did not talk down to its younger viewers. This show respected the kids that made up its audience. When other cartoons just tried to distract or sugarcoat harsh realities, Gargoyles didn't hide the truth. It showed us that yes, the world could be scary, and bad things did happen to good people. Terrible threats did exist, and sometimes they came from outside the "castle," and sometimes from inside. Even your own mistakes.
But the night was also filled with heroes. And even as the writing on this show didn't shy away from occasionally horrific realities, it never lost sight of what was at the core. Protecting the castle, saving the day. It just did the superhero thing in a startlingly beautiful way.
'Deadly Force' wasn't the only time Gargoyles did a very special episode that rang true, that any other show would have made eye-rollingly trite. Another episode on literacy, Lighthouse In A Sea Of Time, was a love letter to books, not a finger-shaking "read or else," or a painful "yo, books are cool, kids!" It captured the essence of the power and magic of stories like nothing I've ever heard before or since. And is that not why we love anything, TV shows, comics, movies, games? At the very core, isn't that why we're here on Moviepilot.com? Stories?
We would have nothing without stories. And Gargoyles... shone a light.
"The written word is all that stands between memory and oblivion. Without books, we are neither teaching nor learning; we are cast adrift. Books are windows to the past, mirrors to the present, and prisms reflecting all possible futures. Books are lighthouses in the dark sea of time."
That wasn't a literary classic I just quoted. That was on a TV show. That was on a Disney animated after-school cartoon. That was on Gargoyles. It stayed with me as I grew up to become an author and write my own "lighthouse." This show made some kind of wave.
...And now I'm done being a book nerd. Time to be a movie nerd! And tell you about -
The ground-breaking cast that worked like magic.
It wasn't just the clever storylines that made Gargoyles amazing - it was the people in them. Each and every one of the characters was given their own arc and development, hopes and fears and dreams. Even characters you might look at and go 'oh okay, they're just there to be silly comic relief' get written well and respectfully. Broadway, the blue chubby guy, voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, aka "Patrick Star" as you'll probably know his voice? He's the one in the gun episode that will probably break your heart. And the reading one. The development is full and beautiful, and everyone in Gargoyles gets their chance to grow, change, and shine.
Gargoyles had characters you could connect with. One reason was the diversity, in both its actors and its characters. It starred a resourceful, tough, multidimensional woman of color, and a (non-human) man trying to find a place in a hostile new world that judged/feared/hated him based upon his appearance. Both voiced by incredible black voice actors. And that inclusive storytelling carried over into the rest of the cast, with an ensemble of amazing female characters, and more.
One who was really important to me personally was Lexington. Heck... still is.
Several years after the show was over, creator Greg Weisman confirmed what a lot of us (me included) suspected - Lex was gay. I can't possibly tell you how important that was to me as a scared 13-year-old kid, growing up, learning that my favorite cartoon character was like me, and there was nothing bad or wrong with him - or me either. I'm not kidding when I say Lex (and his wonderful voice actor Thom Adcox-Hernandez) was incredibly important to my being as okay as I am right now, and maybe even being here to write this article.
Thanks, Lex. Thom. Greg. Gotta move on before I cry and ruin the movie-persuasion momentum!
Particularly, I can't say enough good about the ladies. Gargoyles showed us, this is how you write strong female characters. They don't need to punch things or burst in with guns blazing (though sure, they do that). They just need dimensions and brains and goals, and varied, distinctive personalities and voices. And wow, do they have them.
Demona, one of the primary antagonists, deserves her own article. I don't have the time to tell you about her complexities or why she deserves to light up the big screen (with the big guns and high explosives she favors), or the amazing job Marina Sirtis did portraying her tortured layers... so you should really watch the show and let her break your heart. (And the rest of your bones, given the opportunity.)
Because I have to tell you about the two amazing leads... who in the perfect world I'm dreaming, would reunite to share their vocal magic and cast their spell one more time.
Keith David as Goliath
You've got by now that Gargoyles was a unique show, about people led by a thoughtful, intellectual, powerful man, misunderstood and painted as "monstrous," trying to find his place and provide protection and help to a world that often hated and rejected him for it. So it needed a main actor with a unique voice. And my gosh, did they find one in Keith David. You might recognize him more recently as an actual Disney Villian - he played the diabolical Dr. Facilier in The Princess and the Frog. (Hello from the other side! He's got friends on it.)
(Gotta include this. The only thing that matches his voice acting is his singing. Holy freaking eargasm, Batman! We're ree-ady!)
But it wasn't just the wonderful timbre of his resonant voice that did Goliath the justice he deserved. Keith David gave Gargoyles's protagonist a depth of understanding, pathos and wisdom, and communicated both his justified hesitation to trust a world that had hurt him so very deeply, and his sincere desire to grow past his trauma, be the bigger, better, whole person - and heal. And learn. Goliath was not just a warrior or a defender or even a leader, he was a seeker of knowledge, always trying to understand more about the world around him.
On his 'down time,' he'd be down in the library, nose in a book. He was perceptive, deeply connecting with those around him and discerning their needs and hopes and fears, particularly his clan, the people closest to him. And Keith David clearly communicated all of this about this layered character through his incredibly nuanced voice work. He did not phone it in for the Disney cartoon show. He gave Goliath the dignity, respect and craft he merited. And it was good.
And he wasn't alone. He had a counterpart, matching him word for word. Which brings me to...
Salli Richardson as Elisa Maza
Gargoyles delivered some of the best-written female characters I've ever seen, anywhere - and example #1 is the amazing female protagonist, Elisa Maza, voiced by the incomparable Salli Richardson. Elisa was an Actually Good Cop, part African American, part Native (Hopi on her dad's side), and unlike the people on the rest of the show, she had absolutely no magical or technological abilities whatsoever - she had to keep up with the fantasy/sci-fi ridiculousness with pure smarts and awesome.
And she not only held her own, but probably saved the gargoyles more times than they came to her rescue. Elisa was never a damsel, always kept a cool head in distress, and while the Gargoyles were proving they were humanity's best hope for the future, she was always theirs. And Salli Richardson provided her with the level-headed, practical, sometimes-snarky, tough, soft-by-turns, dramatic performance Elisa demanded, and basically knocked the role out of the park in every way.
... And did I mention them together? Take everything I just said and square it. That's about how good they are in their interactions -and yeah, the romance. The chemistry can't really be overstated. The slow build of their poignant relationship is the best, most gradual, artful development, and it's enough to make a stony heart sing.
There is also a metric crapton of other awesome voice talent you might recognize, like Ed Asner as Hudson, John Rhys-Davis as Macbeth, and Tim freaking Curry, as the villainous Dr. Sevarius. Prolific animation voice actress Cree Summer you'll recognize as literal Disney Princess Kida from Atlantis, as well as half your childhood, probably. (And again, I know you're gonna pinpoint Broadway in about 2 seconds. But here, Bill Fagerbakke actually gets to do some dramatic acting work instead of Patrick Star's usual silliness - and shines.) Literally, I can't say enough good about the amazing voice talent that worked their craft on Gargoyles.
...But I'm gonna try. Are there any Star Trek fans in the house?
You got the all-star voice cast... but did I mention, the Star Trek connection?
I believe it was Jonathan Frakes who said on the Gargoyles DVD commentary - yeah, okay fine I have no life - "old Star Trek actors don't die, they just voice act on Gargoyles." Well, Mr. Frakes, you are correct, sir. And thank you very much for lending your voice and interpretation to one of the most complex, multidimensional and brilliantly badass TV antagonists of our time. I'm talking about David Xanatos. There's a gambit named after him, you know.
And with the resurgence of Star Trek in popularity - due largely to Reboot/Continuation Movies, hint-hint, wink-wink - and, of course, its cousin franchise Star Wars - this might be relevant to some interests of yours.
If you've ever seen an episode of Star Trek, especially TNG, but also Voyager, DS9, and even The Original Series... well, you are really in for a treat. Get ready for some familiar... voices. It's kind of amazing, just how much these two amazing fandoms go hand-in-hand. There's gotta be some parallel universe stuff going on here. Enjoy. Maybe play your favorite ST theme in the background as you scroll, for maximum warp - I mean, fun!
And a fun nerd fact, Salli Richardson once guest starred, in the flesh, on an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine! Seriously, there's so much overlap I'd say 'every time you hear a crossover voice, drink,' but I don't want to be responsible for anyone dying of alcohol poisoning.
You might be wondering why I told you all of that, though. It's a neat tidbit, lots of Star Trek actors, lots of cool people were involved 20 years ago, but... why am I telling you this now?
It's what the world (STILL) needs. And it would be BIG(GER).
You know, for a fandom that's coming up on 22 years old, you'd think the Gargoyles crew would be pretty dead, right? Not so much. They're a lively bunch, who crank out awesome fan-works on the regular.
Case in point? Get ready to rock!
And that's just one (incredible, gorgeous, life-making) example. The fandom is alive and well. And why? It's not just '90s nostalgia-goggles talking.
It's why I gave you that long-ass list of Star Trek people, not just for a neat fun fact. It's why there's any movie buzz at all right now, and people are paying attention! It's why I still care, after all this time, and wrote this big thing!
It's because in a lot of ways... they're the same.
They did the same things. Take everything I said in this article. The well-written characters, the storylines, the important social issues. Star Trek did them. Gargoyles did them too. The fact that there's so much actor overlap... It's icing on the cake, but it proves my point in an amazing way.
Star Trek was big then - and now it is again. 'Gargoyles' would be too. In the exact. Same. Way.
People didn't just care 20 years ago, and this show wasn't just amazing and important then. It still is now.
Gargoyles is everything we wanted and needed in TV in 1994 - and it's everything we still need today. But now, even more desperately. Putting aside '90s nostalgia for a minute, even all the cool stuff in this article - what do audiences want right this second? Why is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a record-breaking hit, in a slew of mediocre sci-fi flicks? It's not just the pretty special effects. We want exciting, fun, well-written stories that respect their audience, with talented, inclusive casts, about people who seem real and ring true, and make us feel like we're watching something important and lasting and good - and we prove it at the box office.
Like I said before, Gargoyles was ahead of its time. Maybe too far ahead; I'm not sure 1994 was the time for it to really explode and hit big the way it deserved.
But now... I feel something changing in the winds. If Disney said "okay, let's give this one good shot," and took a chance - a flying leap of faith - and said yes, to a film or a new TV series, or even a one-time special, now, when the world is ready?
It would take the world for a ride, and it would be a thing of beauty. Not just for moviegoers, and not just for fans.
The world is scary. Turn on the news, get on Twitter for five minutes, just listen, especially to young and vulnerable people in your life. We are scared. Why do you think the superhero genre is in such full swing? Because we need heroes now, more than ever. And the heroes in Gargoyles were never afraid to look fear right in the eye, don't sugarcoat it, acknowledge it, give it dignity. Say yes, there are things to be afraid of. Not just fantastic things like magic and robots, but real things like misaimed guns and power-hungry bigots, and racism and ignorance and fear, institutions that very much do threaten individual lives.
In times like these... we need Goliath back.
...Good thing he wants to come back.
That's right, guys. It's not just me and a bunch of other loyal fans. Time and again, whenever someone who's worked on the show - and that absolutely includes creator Greg Weisman, who's said it on Twitter about 6,000 times - is asked if they'd do it again, or come back for round two?
The answer is yes. In a heartbeat. Because it was good, and they know it. And I'm glad. They should know they made something good, and we're grateful. (If any are reading this - wow. And thank you.)
Pretty sure Salli Richardson has an idea of how important her work was and is, since she still delivers Gargoyles panels to packed convention audiences. Does my nerd heart good.
(When creator Greg Weisman was asked "do you think Gargoyles overshadows your current work?" His reply was:
"Yes, but in a good way.""How so?""I'm proud of it."
Good. He should be. And should be given the chance to make some new good work out of a old, good thing.)
I've spent this entire article nerding out and trying to find the best thing about Gargoyles, the one most golden, convincing reason why yes, a movie needs to happen and has a good chance - and aside from box office dollars (which I do think are there, this is not a Hail Mary here)... I really think the best thing is hope.
When I was a scared, sick, abused 4-year-old, learning that there really were monsters under the bed, I needed that. Now that I'm a grown-up, the monsters are still there, and I still need that. And Star Trek, and especially Gargoyles is still helping me fight them in a lot of ways. I think they can help the world... and make a really cool movie while they're at it.
I still got some hope. That someone will read this, and everything that other amazing, dedicated fans have been saying, and give a Gargoyles another serious chance, on the big or small screen. It'll resonate. Good, important stories tend to do that.