We’re currently in a time when Hollywood seems more likely to revamp, reboot, remake or re-adapt an already established property than to take a chance on something wholly original. Financially, this makes sense as the general public is already aware of the franchise in question and may be more likely to go see a new iteration out of a sense of nostalgia or plain old curiosity. We’ve seen Hollywood continually mine our rich, fertile and imaginative childhoods as a source of box office fodder (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant/Alien Ninja Turtles) and that’s not likely to stop any time soon. So I’m here to take the initiative and offer up some forgotten franchises, some lesser-known vintage properties and some downright obscure media to sacrifice to the box office gods. Our initial feature will plead the case for a re-imagining of one of my favorite mid-90s animated shows and you can read it after the jump. Hollywood! Adapt This: Disney’s Gargoyles.
As a child of the 80s and 90s, it’s been tough, at times, to see my cherished childhood memories be treated as nothing more than dollar signs. Hollywood reboots are a double-edged sword: some people hold their memories of those properties so dear that to alter them is tantamount to sacrilege, while others are enthusiastic for a revival of a forgotten franchise and eager for a re-imagining. I waver between those positions depending on the project in question. I was fully behind the feature adaptation of the first Transformers (not so much the sequels) and am vehemently opposed to Disney’s possible reboot of The Rocketeer. So my aim today is to distract Disney with a shiny property they left behind: Gargoyles.
What It’s About:
Created by Greg Weisman, the animated, half-hour series originally ran from late 1994 and ended in early 1997. The premise was fantastic: stone gargoyles, imported from Scotland, awoke at night to shake off their rocky shells and soar across the New York City skyline to protect the innocent. With the exception of their leader, Goliath, the rest of the gargoyles took their names from the city’s notable landmarks: Brooklyn, Broadway, Hudson, Lexington and Bronx. Each of them had their own strengths: Lexington was the brains, Broadway supplied the humor and Bronx was the fiercely loyal gargoyle dog. They also came with built-in weaknesses (turning into vulnerable stone statues at daybreak and an ability to glide, but not fly) that were seamlessly blended into the plot. The voice cast was exceptional, anchored by the robust and commanding presence of Keith David while also featuring Ed Asner, Frank Welker, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis to name a few. The pre-HD animation was rich and atmospheric, while Carl Johnson’s score was an orchestral force.
But it was the tone of Gargoyles that really set it apart from other animated shows of the day. Perhaps not as dark as the earlier running show, Batman: The Animated Series (which I hold as the shining example of what animated episodic television can be), Gargoyles still took on a Gothic tone, often emulating Shakespearean dramas. Complex character arcs were woven in throughout the series with shifting alliances, grudges held unawares for centuries and oftentimes a murky moral ground that determined a character’s motivation. Betrayals were a common theme and alliances outside the central gargoyle clan were tenuous at best. Humans initially betrayed the gargoyles in 10th century Scotland and the clan differed on how much they trust people in the present day. Billionaire industrialist David Xanatos is both the reason for their revival and main antagonist to their existence (along with a host of other gargoyles and powered up villains). New York police detective Elisa Maza acts as the main source of information and the most trusted friend to the gargoyles (plus some weird Beauty and the Beast-type interactions with Goliath).
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?
The marketing potential is endless (the original franchise spawned action figures, video games and eventually a comic series). A feature treatment could easily be done today with present movie-making technology that wasn’t available in the mid 90s. A precedent for blending magical fantasy with sci-fi elements has already been established with the success of The Avengers and the continued progress of Disney/Marvel’s second wave. Gargoyles is a high-concept property with franchise potential that’s family-friendly and already owned by Disney; in other words, this one is right in the Mouse’s wheelhouse.
But other than a potential cash cow, why bother? What possible worthwhile plotlines could center on a group of colorful grotesques come to life to defend New York? Well, Shakespearean tragedies are a good start. No one lays out a good old fashioned back-stabbing like Will. And there’s plenty of treason to go around. Aside from the inciting incident where the humans betray their own protectors, Goliath eventually finds out that his lady mate, Demona, survived the centuries as well, but she is not what she first appears.
Betrayals are great, but only if you care about the protagonists to begin with. What makes the gargoyles so appealing is that they are instantly likable for kids while also being great foils for dramatic interpretation. Much like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a lot of fun can be had watching these strange creatures attempt to adapt to a human way of life in the modern world. As anachronisms, the gargoyles are equal parts terrified, mystified and curious about modern machines, buildings, clothing and the like. (I’m pretty sure Goliath says, “What sorcery is this?” a number of times in the early episodes.) But this setup of the gargoyles as “the other” makes for an interesting through line. I’m not saying that Gargoyles is on par with “A Stranger in a Strange Land” or the savages of “Brave New World,” but perhaps a common plotline of mutants vs humans in X-Men stories is more appropriate. The gargoyles are visibly very different from society and yet are still a part of it. There’s an individual struggle (and yes, dissension within the group) on deciding whether to become a part of this new world or to retreat from it and go into hiding. Later episodes of the series even addressed the growing anti-gargoyle movement with a hate group who called themselves the Quarrymen. There’s plenty of social context to provide a rich story to go along with the stock and stone of Gargoyles, which could appease fans of all ages and sensibilities.
The Final Word:
Would I like to see a Gargoyles feature treatment or reboot? Absolutely. (I’d settle for Disney releasing the whole series on DVD finally.) My own personal take on it would be, obviously, an origin story, showing the numerous gargoyles defending their human caretakers in the distant past, only to be drastically reduced in numbers by treachery. Now that we have the audience’s sympathy, jumping them to the present day should be a piece of cake. Honestly, one of the coolest parts of the show was watching the sun go down, seeing the shadows slowly descend over the gargoyle statues and then seeing their eyes glow before they burst out of their stone shells.
The main sticking point would be in giving Xanatos a viable reason to spend the money to fly the battlement of an ancient Scottish castle all the way to New York (Because he’s an eccentric billionaire and he can? Because he’s a history buff and a mythology nut? Because he’s a power-hungry misanthrope obsessed with the occult like a modern day Hitler?) Maybe Xanatos is using them as muscle in some sort of nefarious corporate plot that Elisa Maza exposes, causing Goliath and his ilk to have to put their faith in one human or another yet again.
When you get down to it, the gargoyles are a family unit, albeit a dysfunctional one. Lexington’s brains help the gargoyles adapt while Brooklyn’s character arc evolves from a rebellious youth to a capable leader; Broadway is the friendliest of the bunch and most awed by modern culture, while Hudson is a curmudgeonly grandfather type. The familial core of Gargoyles keeps the story accessible and lets it get away with some of the more “after school special” type life lessons. But other than that, let the guys explore the city, get into trouble, fight some crime and bring some social issues to light. As long as the dulcet tones of Keith David are onboard, so am I!
If you’re interested in buying the Gargoyles episodes on DVD, check out the links below (unfortunately, Disney hasn’t released the entire series yet):
Not familiar with the series? Check out the badass trailer for Gargoyles below:
What do you think? Should Hollywood revive Disney’s Gargoyles or leave it well enough alone? Let us know in the comments below! As this is a new editorial we’re featuring on Collider, feel free to give us your suggestions on future obscure properties to explore. As a teaser for next week’s installment, we’ll take to the high seas and search for the lost treasures of Rule!