Monday, January 08, 2007

Forgotten TV Shows: Dungeons & Dragons

A co-production of Marvel Productions and TSR, six kids (Hank the Ranger voiced by Willie Ames, Diana the Acrobat voiced by Tonya Gail Smith, Sheila the Theif voiced by Katie Leigh, Presto the Magician voiced by Adam Rich, Bobby the Barbarian voiced by Ted Field III and of course Eric the Caviler voiced by Ralph Mouth himself Don Most) enter the Dungeons & Dragons ride at a local amusement park and are transported into the world of swords and sorcery, where, with the help of the Dungeonmaster and the unicorn Uni, try to find their way back home.

Click here to watch the show's opening sequence:

A Dungeons & Dragons commercial from 1983:

Here is a picture of the voice cast from the show. The cast included Willie Ames as Hank, Tonya Gail Smith as Diana, Katie Leigh as Sheila, Adam Rich as Presto Ted Field III as Bobby, Don Most as Eric, Frank Welker as Uni, Tiamat the Dragon (and about a million other voices, Sidney Miller as The Dungeon Master and Optimus Prime himself Peter Cullen as Venger.

Although aimed at a young audience, the show had distinctive (if not somewhat repetitive) plots, and was unusual in children's television for the amount of ethical awareness and empathy displayed to and encouraged in the viewer. It was not unusual for members of the band to lose hope or break down in tears, only to be comforted by others, or reinvigorated through good works. The level of violence was controversial for children's television at the time, and the script of one episode, "The Dragon's Graveyard", was almost shelved because the characters contemplated killing their nemesis, Venger.

Click here to watch a scene from that episode:

Then there was Eric...

While all the other kids trapped in this strange world are unquestionably out to do what the group feels is right, Eric was a whiner who didn't go along with the crowd, the lone dissenting voice.

Writer Mark Evanier who helped to develop the show as well as wrote it's pilot has a few columns about his experiences working on Dungeons and Dragons (they are certainly worth reading as well as his other stuff, click here to check them out). In one column he discusses Eric as the one thing he really didn't like about the show.

"Parents groups" and consultants insisted they include the preferable dominant "pro-social" moral: "The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong". This majority rules mentality meant that Eric, the lone dissenter was always wrong and always paying for his social recalcitrance. The creators were not allowed to teach children to think for themselves, to decide to do things because they were the right thing to do, and not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted. Which of course makes sense since the group is always right, right? (in case you couldn't tell that was sarcasm)

Click here to watch a scene with Eric:

In 1985, the National Coalition on Television Violence claimed it was the most violent show on network television. At least some of the criticism of the show was based not so much on its actual content, as its association with the Dungeons & Dragons franchise which had become highly controversial by the 1980s due to its supposedly occult content.

Dungeons and Dragons was canceled in 1985 and although the show aired for three seasons only 27 episodes were made. Contrary to many rumors the show was not canceled because of it's "violence" but due to falling ratings. Other popular false rumors were that a final episode was made but never aired (a script was written but the animation for this episode was never been completed) and the notion that the writers originally planned on ending the series with the shocking revelation that the main kid characters were actually all dead, having died on the rollercoaster that supposedly brought them into the mystic realm of the series and that the entire series takes place in Purgatory or Hell (the show's writers have publicly dismissed this rumor.)

Diana, Shelia and Uni as drawn by me, you know pretty close to the original designs only with big boobs. Call me a one trick pony.

Two years after it's cancellation, the series had success after premiering in other countries. In France and in the United Kingdom, satellite television channels were showing re-runs at least into the late 1990s, but no where in the world was the show as successful as it was in Brazil. Airing as Caverna do Dragão ("Dragon's Cave") almost daily over 20 years during the Xou da Xuxa, the most famous Brazilian children's show it became one of the country's greatest cartoon hits.

Dungeons and Dragons has recently been released on DVD in both the UK and the US. Special features on the American disc include:
-The all-new half hour documentary, Entering the Realm of Dungeons & Dragons, featuring interviews with the show's production team, writers, animators and network executives.
-Two commentary tracks for episodes Night of No Tomorrow and The Dragon's Graveyard with producer Bob Richardson, story editor and voice director Hank Saroyan, writers Mark Evanier and Michael Reaves and CBS executives Ted Field II and Judy Price, and animator Michael Swanigan. Hosted by Special Features producer Andy Mangels.
-Full length animated storyboard with interactive episode comparison for Episode #16 The Girl Who Dreamed of Tomorrow.
-Choose Your Own Adventure DVD Game.
-50 Detailed Characters, Creatures and Artifacts, Profiles with Bios, Images and Clips.
-Short live-action fan film by Sean Kennedy.
-Uni's Fun Facts Trivia.
-Extensive Gallery of original model sheets and memorabilia.
-Radio show style presentation of unaired final episode Requiem featuring select original cast members.
-Alternate and rare footage.
-Easter Eggs.
-DVD-ROM extras, including scripts for multiple episodes (with the un-produced series finale script), complete storyboards and the original series bible.
-Not to mention a load of previews for other Ink & Paint shows like He-Man, She-Ra, Flash Gordon and Blackstar.

It runs about $40 and is well worth the cost! I highly reccomend this for any child of the 80's up for a bit of nostalgia.

Oh and here's a fun quiz to take:
Which Dungeons & Dragons Character Are You?

Click here to find out who you are...


Dr. Zaius said...

I have no recollection of this show, although I watch lots of cartoons. On the quiz, I drew Venger as well. The tortured mind of the villains's soul always makes the most interesting characters.

Becca said...

If you love crazy cartoons from the 80's you should check it out.

And it's no surprise you got Venger I suppose in a way he is akin to your badass orangutan self.

Dr. Zaius said...

Somebody actually called me badass! You have made my day, human.

Anonymous said...

I liked that show a lot--I always wanted that bow and arrow thing the ranger had.

And, speaking as a red-blooded American male, I liked the drawing, and if you're a one trick pony, make sure that trick is freaking awesome.

cat said...

Oh please this had to be the best cartoon of all times, i tried to explain it to my 9year old daughter and searched everywhere for her to watch even a clip, and only your site let BIG UP for that...CAT xx said...

Thanks for the post, really effective info.