Dungeons & Dragons: A blast from the past
Taking a look back at what I think was one of the top ten cartoons I watched back when I was younger (re-runs FTW!) – Dungeons & Dragons was a cartoon based upon the popular role-playing game. Never heard of it? Have a read of this and see if it tickles your fancy. After all, “Only heroes will make it home”.
Released back in 1983 and produced in partnership by Marvel Productions and TSR Entertainment, Dungeons & Dragons was a cartoon based upon the popular TSR role-playing game (RPG) of the same name. The adventure begins when a group of six friends go to a theme park and find a Dungeons & Dragons ride. Midway through the ride, they are magically transported into the actual realm based upon the ride (and the RPG). They are then met by the Dungeon Master, who appoints each of them a class (cavalier, barbarian, thief, ranger, magician and acrobat) and proceeds to be their guide throughout their quest to find their way back home and to their own world.
Even though the series itself was originally aired before my time, I still have vague memories of watching re-runs of this cartoon when I was a kid. Then, in 2005 (or 2004 if you lived in the USA), the entire series was released on DVD, courtesy of Fox Kids and Jetix. The box set contains all 27 episodes, with each episode lasting approximately 24mins in length. Each of the four discs also contains bonuses; such as fan commentaries, character profiles and interviews. Deciding to rekindle fond memories, I could not help but grab myself a copy of said DVD box set and watch the entire series through from start to finish. Whilst the animation does look pretty dated these days, each episode seems to have maintained and withstood the challenge of time much better than the graphics. If you want to watch a cartoon with a priority of razor-sharp, detailed graphics over the actual storyline, this probably is not the cartoon for you. The soundtrack itself also carries a slightly dated feel – not to the extent of 8-bit or even 16-bit computer games – but still compliments the series, with a really catchy opening theme that seems to stick in one’s head after a while.
The main characters are, of course, the group of six friends that begin the opening of every episode by attending a fair ground and sitting on a Dungeons & Dragons roller-coaster ride, before being whisked away to the fictional land that the ride was based upon (as well as the real-life, popular board game series). The main characters also have a range of personalities that set them apart from each other and help to make each story more interesting.
Hank, the ranger, is essentially the leader of the pack – although the group, as well as Hank himself, do not seem to verbally acknowledge this fact until several episodes into the series. Armed with a magical energy bow, he seems to be the one that keeps a level head over all situations. With blond hair and blue eyes, he is also usually the one that ends up rescuing or protecting Sheila whenever she – or the group in general – gets into a spot of bother – which has probably prompted many a fan coupling with the more mature fans.
Sheila, the freckled, redheaded thief, seems to switch from damsel in distress to acts of bravery quite often. Her magical cloak gives her the power of invisibility when she wears it with her hood donned. Arguably, she is the most emotionally driven out of the gang. A few episodes have seen her emotions get the better of her and even cloud her judgement over others – including the ranger, Hank. She also often voices her concerns over her younger brother, Bobby, keeps both a watchful eye on him in moments of danger, as well as keeping his manners in check.
Bobby, the barbarian, is Sheila’s younger brother. Whilst he is the youngest out of the band of six friends, he is also gifted with a magical club which gives him a fantastic amount of brute strength. Despite his often brash actions, this freckled, blond haired boy also has quite a protective, soft spot for Uni; a unicorn foal who stumbles upon the group of youths – jumping into the safety of Bobby’s arms – during the opening scenes of each episode and ultimately becoming a part of the team – or at least something akin to a mascot or family pet. He also quite often demonstrates the age gap between him and the rest of the group with some of the childish comments and tantrums that he throws. However, he always heeds the words of his older sister, Sheila, and holds a protective streak over her whenever she is upset or trouble is about.
Next up is Presto, the magician. Clad in a green magicians robe – complete with a matching pointy green hat – this spectacled boy is perhaps best described as the stereotypical ‘nerd’ of the gang. His weapon of power is his wizard hat; which gives him the ability to cast spells and pull items (weapons, items and even living creatures) from within it. Unfortunately for Presto, his spells sometimes have the ability to backfire – at times with quite hilarious consequences. His complacency with regards to his spells means he can sometimes be teased by the others over his actions. This in turn gives the boy a feeling of low self-esteem when it comes to his magic, but nevertheless, he is always ready to keep on trying to improve things.
Diana, the token ethnic minority character of the group, is gifted with the powers of an acrobat. Armed with a magical staff that can shrink and grow in size, this Afro-American girl has the ability to use her object of power both in order to aid her with her acrobatic skills, as well as using the staff as an actual weapon too. Characteristic-wise, Diana is considerably more in control over any emotional outbursts than her close friend Sheila. She carries a bit of a no-nonsense attitude – especially towards Cavalier Eric’s – but not so much that she is incapable of warm or positive feelings towards her friends and other characters that they come across in the series.
Last but not least is my personal favourite character from the series – Eric. Armed with a magical shield that has the ability to protect both himself as well as others within close proximity, the dark haired Cavalier, although decked out to look like some kind of knight in shining armour, is actually quite a coward in reality. The son of a wealthy father, Eric is fond of complaining about the harsh terrains that he and his companions have to travel through in each episode – often making snobbish comparisons to his lifestyles back in the world they left behind; much to the dismay of the others. When trouble rears its ugly head, the Cavalier is commonly known to take the cowardly course of action – running away. However, he does have rare moments of bravery – ones that he acknowledges to himself aloud as being quite foolish and regrettable. Personally, I think he does mean well – but just does not know how to cope with the fact that he is far from home – and his only coping mechanism is to whine and carry a sarcastic attitude. But that is just my opinion.
Of course, no 80’s series is not without its main balances of ultimate good and evil. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons, it is the impish but humanoid stature that of the Dungeon Master who takes it upon himself to appear at random times to encourage the group of lost youths towards their journey home and offer almost Yoda-like riddles of guidance during their times of need. Most of the time, his brain teasing advice ends up confusing the main characters but before they have a chance to find out more information from him, like a great magician, Dungeon Master somehow disappears from sight.
Even though there are many forms of evil that try to hinder the six friends from reaching a way home, the main malicious character that appears on a regular basis is a demon named Venger. A tall, pale and fanged creature with a cloak that doubles as wings, Venger’s main goal is to steal away the magical weapons of power – the ones that Dungeon Master gave to the six friends when they entered the world of Dungeons & Dragons – in order to have total control over the whole realm. When he is not scheming to acquire the six magical weapons, he often plots to gain control over certain cities and regions of the realm. As with most stereotypical bad guys, Venger’s evil acts include kidnapping, imprisonment, destruction and blackmail – with the added powers of dark sorcery.
If you remember watching this cartoon when you were younger, I would say it is definitely worth another watch – just so that you can appreciate the little things you may have missed out on as a child. Until I re-watched it, I had totally missed out on a couple of geeky references that had been slipped into the dialogue of the series – mainly a good few Star Wars ones! Also, there were quite a few characteristics and morals that I would not have understood when I was younger that I do understand now – and this gives the main characters even more depth. If you have never seen this series before – and are a fan of the Dungeons & Dragons board games (or any similar kind of table-top gaming), have a thing for dragons, mysterious creatures, quests and cartoons – I would say definitely give this series a look.
Even though the quality of animation may not have fared as well as it could have over time, the plot of each story always leaves me wondering just what will happen in the next episode and how the group of friends will – if ever – reach their home. After all, as the slogan on the DVD box set says; “Only heroes will make it home”.
All screenshot images © Marvel Productions, TSR Entertainment, Jetix and Fox Kids.