January 11, 2007

DVD Review: Dungeons & Dragons - The Complete Animated Series

Back in the 1980s, Saturday mornings were ruled by cartoons. It didn''t matter what station you turned on, you would find cartoons in one form or another. Back in 1983, and then in reruns for years after, a show called Dungeons & Dragons became a big hit. It has long since been off the air, but now it gets to live on with this DVD release of the entire series. Watching this brings back some great memories. I remember turning them on and just wasting away the mornings. Those days are long since behind me, now I choose to sleep as long as I can, besides, Saturday mornings are not quite as chock full of the animated treats as they once were.

Dungeons & Dragons had something of a built in fanbase. Being built upon the popular, and long lasting role playing game, has its advantages, although I must claim ignorance when it comes to the game. I was never into it, although it does seem to be ripe for the pickings of other mediums, as this show proved. It lasted a mere 27 episodes, but they brought a new world of action cartoons to the fore, pre-dating the arrival of such mainstays as GI Joe, He-Man and Transformers.

The show centers on a group of six friends who were mysteriously transported to this dungeon filled realm while riding a Dungeons and Dragons roller coaster. Once they arrive, they are greeted by Dungeon Master, a Yoda like figure who offers guidance in the form of riddles. He has bestowed upon the group magical weapons, things like a bow that fires arrows of light, a cloak of invisibility, and a hat with which you can cast spells. They are set on a quest to find a way out of this place and get back home.

Between the friends and their goal lies a world filled with dangerous creatures, demanding terrain, and the evil Venger, the one horned face of evil who is out to get their weapons. There is also Tiamat, the fearsome five-headed dragon who is also foe to Venger, and Shadow Demon, Venger's right hand man. Each episode finds the six being sent on a quest by Dungeon Master, and invariably facing off with the forces of evil, learning about themselves along the way.

Watching them in big chunks may burn you out, but space them out and you will be in for a throwback treat. I say limit your intake, as, for as enjoyable as it is, the episodes do follow somethng of a formula, giving it a slightly repetitive feel. Still, the design and flow of the show is quite good, and different from a lot of the other shows around.

This offered up a good dose of action and excitement, not to mention a feeling of genuine peril. Plus there is some great scoring done. The voice work is first rate, including the great Peter Cullen as Venger, but better remembered for voicing Optimus Prime of Transformers (soon to be on the big screen in the upcoming Michael Bay film), and Happy Days' own Ralph Malph, Don Most.

The biggest downer of the series is that it never had a proper send off, it just ended. The kids forever trapped in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. However, a final script was drafted, one that was never animated and could be a finale or push the show off into another direction. That script is performed on this set, in its entirety. It is a great performance that features a massive revelation. They reveal that...... uh, uh, not going to spoil it for you here, you're going to have to listen to it to find out the big news. It was surprising to me and would have made for a great episode.

Audio/Video. Both of these look pretty good. This is probably the best it has been presented since it was originally, broadcast. Even then, it is probably better than that.

Extras. This set has some great extras, including the previously mentioned final script performance. There is a collection of opening and closing animations that were produced, some animated story boards, episode commercials, a couple of commentaries, and an informative documentary with interviews with some of the major players. In addition to that, there is a D&D game book with an adventure based on the characters from the series, doesn't mean a lot to me, but it is definitely a nice touch.

Bottomline. Plenty of memories are set to be mined with this set. It is well presented and has a nice collection of extras. This is a keeper for any fan of the show, or for someone looking to show their children what cartoons were like back in the day.



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