Be daring, and be decisive.
Remember Dragon’s Lair? Sure you do. Back in the 1980s glory days of video arcades, the game became a sensation thanks to its then-newfangled laserdisc technology. Players jerked the joystick or pressed at button a specially-timed moments, either continuing the animated story or sending the hero character to his death. Although frustratingly difficult, it gave the sensation of playing a cartoon, a predecessor of today’s gaming.
The game was a smash hit, so of course Hollywood had to cash in on it. In 1984, the cartoon Dragon’s Lair debuted on Saturday mornings. Only 13 episodes were made, which are now available on this two-disc set from Warner Archive.
In a faraway magical kingdom, Dirk the Daring (Bob Sarlatte), a heroic knight, protects the king and his subjects from various threats, including the dragon Singe (Arthur Burghardt). Along for the ride on Dirk’s adventures are the king’s daughter, Princess Daphne (Ellen Gurstell), the squire Timothy (Michael Mish), and Dirk’s horse Bertram (Peter Cullen, Transformers).
First things first, the Dragon’s Lair game was created by legendary animator Don Bluth (The Secret of N.I.M.H.). Sadly, Bluth had nothing to do with the TV series, with lacks the clean and lush animation seen in the game. The visuals are rough and clunky, and only serve to remind you of how much better the game was. The scripts they came up with for the show don’t help, offering poor attempts at humor and flatly-staged action.
Dragon’s Lair‘s big gimmick, which is intentionally meant to call back to the game, is that twice per episode, the story pauses and asks viewers, “What would you do?” Dirk is given two choices, and viewers are meant to guess which path he’ll take. Again referencing the game, one of the more amusing aspects of the original was the many gruesome-yet-hilarious ways Dirk could die, all beautifully animated by Bluth and his team. The TV series, then, shows viewers what would have happened if Dirk made the wrong choice, with its slapsticky results. Amusing, but too often the answers are copouts. Like, should Dirk fight the goons or the mudmen? It’s just a coin-flip choice, nothing more. At other times, it’s “How should Dirk get the magic book away from his enemies?” The answer is he swings on a chandelier to get it. What kid is going to deduce that during a commercial break? Did we even see a chandelier before this? In short, it’s an interesting gimmick, but it just doesn’t work.
The first episode is basically a remake of the game, recapturing scenes from the game we all remember, but in lesser animation. From there, the titular Dragon appears only sporadically, with other monsters-of-the-week filling in for him, mostly evil wizards. Side villains from the game, such as goons and eyestalks, make occasional appearances as well. The game’s comedy violence, complete with candy-colored gore, has been toned down considerably. Now, enemies merely disappear in a flash of blue light when Dirk slashes them with his sword. In one episode, Dirk fights off some wolves by swinging his sword so fast that he creates a massive gust of wind to blow them away without hurting them. There’s a Mythbusters episode waiting to happen.
Dirk never said a word during the game, which is a pretty short cartoon without all the death scenes, but somehow he had more personality there than he does here. The game always had him cowardly “eep!” and “whoop!” sounds in the face of danger, showing that this “daring” Dirk wasn’t all that daring. It gave him an everyman quality, which made him likable for players. That’s dropped in the TV show, in which Dirk, although comical, is just Mr. Generic Hero Character.
Daphne is the character most changed in the translation from game to TV. She’s no longer the sexed-up babe in the see-through nightgown, but portrayed as younger and more innocent. Fortunately, she exists as more than just someone to be rescued. Her regular shtick is that doesn’t see why the boys are the only ones who get to go on heroic quests, and insists on joining them. This is good, in that she gets to show a lot of courage and self-confidence, but not so good in that her klutzy ways of “helping” just make things worse for the guys. Timothy, a character created just for this show, doesn’t do much. There are a few plots about him longing to someday become a knight, but usually all he does is say stuff like “Look out!” or “They’re following us.” Bertram, the horse, fills the all-important cute animal sidekick role, because of course every cartoon just has to have one.
The picture quality is pretty rough, with a lot of white flecks marring the otherwise bright and colorful visuals. The audio is a flat and unimpressive mono track. There are no extras, which is unfortunate, as this would have been a great time to look back at Dragon’s Lair franchise. As always with a Warner Archive release, what we lose in extras we gain in simply getting these rarities on DVD at all.
The only value to Dragon’s Lair: The Complete Series is as a nostalgia item, or perhaps for collectors who must buy anything with the Dragon’s Lair name attached. As for the show itself, regardless of whether you wish to compare it to the game, it’s just bland. It’s devoid of any character or excitement, and that’s not what anyone wants in their fantasy adventure shows.