If the war drums and choral harmonizing in its intro don’t get your blood pumping, surely Keith David’s deep, triumphant voice-over will: “We are defenders of the night. We are Gargoyles!” A new generation with Disney+ access can now experience the dense lore and breathtaking action of Gargoyles, a cartoon created by Greg Weisman for Disney Television Animation in 1994.
The show starred an oppressed warrior clan of sentient, bat-winged humanoid creatures who are frozen in stone by day and once protected their medieval Scottish castle until they were betrayed and woke up in modern-day Manhattan. Thematically, Gargoyles was a fantasy take on Marvel’s X-Men—mining mythologies from around the world for its stories, casting a technocratic multi-millionaire as its central villain, and commenting weekly on prejudice, identity, and even sexuality through its motley crew of heroes and villains.
“Gargoyles was the first series I created and produced and is still probably the thing I’m best known for,” Weisman said in an interview with Following the Nerd in 2015. “And I’m fine with that, because the work still holds up 20 years later, and because this series was and is my baby.”
Weisman’s echoed that sentiment often over the years, and he’s not wrong. If you look at the elements that made Gargoyles compulsively watchable, you can map them to several of the most successful fantasy and science-fiction properties of the late 20th and early 21st century. The medieval battles that play out look like animated versions of Lord of the Rings setpieces. Its protagonist Goliath’s British Isles origin and romance with ’90s New York cop Elisa Maza now feel like a workshop of Outlander. Mythic beings from around the world appeared in the series, integrating fairies, spirits, and gods into a melting pot that echoed the fantasies of Neil Gaiman. And the Gargoyles themselves—ancient beings who are frighteningly good at combat and frequently used in the wars of man—might as well be humanoid versions of the dragons in Game of Thrones.
Dropping them into the future and the tensions of New York City in the same year that Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor made for wildly compelling television. Their archnemesis was David Xanatos, a rich jerk so entitled that he buys the Gargoyles’ castle home in Scotland and installs it, brick by brick, as the penthouse of his skyscraper. When his actions wake the Gargoyles after a 1,000-year sleep, he cons them into acting as his elite strike team until they puzzle out his game and stop him, becoming New York’s heroes in the dark in the process.
All of this was enhanced by the show’s rapid action animation from Disney, but also the overseas studios Jade Animation and Tama Productions (and later Nelvana, the Canadian studio). Its operatic opening theme and other music composed by Disney veteran Carl Johnson set the series’ epic tone. And its subdued color palette dropped fans into, depending on the episode, a gritty NYC present or a dark Scottish past, since Gargoyles slept during the daytime.
Its depiction of heroes as a marginalized group who can literally only operate in the dark lest they turn to stone has since resonated with fans around the world. Starting in 1997, a convention called the Gathering of the Gargoyles brought cosplaying fans to cities like New York, Dallas, Orlando, Los Angeles, and more for years, a tradition Weisman and his cast and crew participated in too. (The last one was held in 2014.) It was no coincidence that the show used stone carvings that evoked the creatures of hell, nor that the show named one of its seductive Gargoyle villains “Demona” and gave her bright red eyes. The show’s argument is that the Gargoyles’ outward appearances have no bearing on their personhood.
The show’s critics at the time hated this, by the way. One piece in the Bangor Daily News called both the Gargoyles’ noble nature and the mixed-race representation of their closest ally Elisa, “politically correct plot twists and turns [that] have robbed gargoyles of their historical malevolence.”
In fact, Gargoyles gets lots of credit for its early emphasis on diversity, whether Weisman intended that or not. “Working on Gargoyles was where the problem of a lack of diversity in cartoons first sort of crystalized for me,” Weisman once told Black Nerd Problem. “Things we were doing casually, like making Elisa Maza a woman of color, were being hailed as revolutionary, which was both cool and disappointing at the same time.”
As always, it mattered in the ’90s and it matters now that Salli Richardson—who has over 60 credits to her name as an actor and over two dozen as a director and is a woman of mixed African, Caucasian, and Native American descent—voiced Elisa Maza, a woman of half-Native American and half-African American descent. It mattered that Keith David, a black Shakespearean actor with a gravitas-laden baritone, led the Gargoyles as Goliath. It was a happy accident that the Star Trek franchise and Gargoyles share so many cast members, but both series have always operated from this progressive premise.
If anything, the show’s star has only burned brighter since its cancellation in 1997. Fans have clamored for a revival for years, which they got in the form of a brief comics run written by Weisman between 2006 and 2009. In 2018, Jordan Peele was reportedly working on directing a Gargoyles reboot movie through Disney, though we haven’t heard much on that front since.
The call for a revival was reawoke with the announcement of Disney+ and the immediate demand that the show, which has only been available on intermittent VHS and later DVD releases, be included on the streaming service. When Disney+ launched, the show trended immediately. Fans got that wish, Weisman and his former cast members encouraged them to go even further, to persuade Disney to revive the show through the #KeepBingingGargoyles hashtag. Keith David and Marina Sirtis are both up for it.
As an original intellectual property, the show was artistically so strong that it factored into the Disney TV Animation’s strategy at its highest echelons. “Michael Eisner eventually became one of the show’s biggest boosters,” Weisman told SYFY Wire last year. “So he then turned to me and said, ‘OK. Warner Brothers has DC, and I’m being told that Marvel is a no-go. We need to build an action universe for the Disney brand. Can Gargoyles be the foundation of that?'”
This was before the company had purchased Marvel or Star Wars, of course, but it’s a question Disney should seriously reconsider. By the end of 2019, both those franchises will have completed major cinematic arcs. In Gargoyles, Disney has a property distinct from both of those worlds, waiting to be turned into a billion-dollar franchise.
Gargoyles has been frozen in stone for over 20 years. Wake it up again.
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