Millennia ago, mighty gargoyles guarded Wyvern Castle in Scotland. But after the castle fell to Viking raiders, the gargoyles are cursed to spend millennia petrified into stone statues. They awake a thousand years later in modern Manhattan, where they meet new allies, face new enemies, and fight old prejudices.
Produced by Disney, animated TV show Gargoyles aired from October of 1994 until February of 1997. With its engaging characters and surprisingly well-developed storylines, Gargoyles quickly found its audience among children and adults alike. Characters like the noble gargoyle Goliath (voiced by Keith David – They Live, The Thing), the leader of the Manhattan clan of gargoyles, or the fearless police detective Elisa Maza (Salli Richardson-Whitfield – Black Dynamite) are still fondly remembered by the show’s devoted fan base.
In our list of 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Gargoyles, we take a look at the less-known facts about this classic animated TV series.
15. For a children’s cartoon, Gargoyles was surprisingly dark
Originally, Gargoyles was pitched as a comedic cartoon about tiny gargoyles stuck in the modern day New York who befriend a kind-hearted school teacher. However, the executives at Disney weren’t too happy with that idea. Their reasoning was pragmatic: cartoon shows targeting kids under 12 years of age couldn’t show more than 10 minutes of commercials. By aiming the cartoon at the audience of 13-16 year-olds, it could easily bypass the rules about the educational content. Hence, darker and edgier Gargoyles.
With its muted palette of colors, multi-episode storylines and adult themes including crime, revenge and violence, Gargoyles is often compared to other classic 1990s cartoon: Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series. Timm doesn’t seem to be too happy with the comparison: in an old interview with Bruce Timm and his animator colleague Glen Murakami, Timm offhandedly dismisses Gargoyles as “namby-pamby anyway, with all that Celtic fantasy crap.”
14. The origins of Gargoyles
Although the show doesn’t have a creator credit, Gargoyles originated with Greg Weisman. A former English teacher who used to work as a writer and an assistant editor for DC Comics, Weisman was an executive at Disney when someone suggested that he develops a pitch for a show about gargoyles. Fascinated by these grotesque ornaments on medieval cathedrals, Weisman developed the premise of the show.
Inspirations for Gargoyles comes from all over the place: from cartoons such as Gummi Bears and The Simpsons, from the cop TV drama Hill Street Blues, from the literary works of William Faulkner and William Shakespeare and from Celtic mythology. Weisman officially joined the Gargoyles creative team as a co-producer midway through the first season. The husband-and-wife team of Michael Reaves and Brynne Chandler Reaves wrote most of the first season’s thirteen episodes. During the show’s long second season (52 episodes long) most of the creative team changed.
13. By its third season, Gargoyles got a complete overhaul… for better or worse
Gargoyles originally aired in syndication as a part of “Disney Afternoon”. By its third season, the show aired on ABC – recently acquired by The Walt Disney Company. While Gargoyles aired in syndication, the creative team behind the show had a lot of leeway in their work. Once the show aired on a major TV network, standards and practices were much tougher. To make matters worse, most of the crew – producers, story editors, etc. – were replaced by new people.
The new creative team working on the show – re-branded as Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles – didn’t have enough time to familiarize itself with the Gargoyles universe. This caused inconsistent characterization and storytelling. Fans reacted poorly. Running opposite Power Rangers on FOX on Saturday mornings meant that the ratings suffered, and the show was canceled after its third season. But, although the last season of the show isn’t considered a part of the canon by fans and creators alike, not all of it was bad.
12. Gargoyles tackled racism
Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles may have had numerous flaws, but its main story-line was pretty interesting and even daring for a children’s cartoon. Continuing the story from the second season’s finale Hunter’s Moon, the third season sees Manhattan clan of gargoyles dealing with ordinary people who are now aware of their existence.
Since people believe that the gargoyles are nothing more than dangerous monsters, it’s up to Manhattan clan to convince them otherwise. What makes the situation even more complicated is the emergence of the Quarrymen – a racist group of gargoyle-hunters led by John Castaway (voiced by Alan Cumming), who saw his father murdered by the renegade gargoyle Demona (voiced by Marina Sirtis). In their black uniforms and dark hoods, the Quarrymen bear an unsettling resemblance to the fascists and members of the KKK. At first, this organization successfully manipulates the fears of the public, but over time they get exposed for the violent thugs they are.
11. Dark humanity of the show’s villains
And yet, for all the black-hooded thugs on Gargoyles, the show offers a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of its numerous villains, allowing them to grow, change and sometimes even become the good guys. Many of the show’s villains have perfectly understandable (if not excusable) reasons for their evil deeds.
Case in point is the show’s “Big Bad” David Xanatos (voiced by Jonathan Frakes). As CEO of Xanatos Enterprises, David Xanatos, with the help of Demona, wants to awaken the gargoyles and use them for his nefarious dealings. When they refuse to co-operate, Xanatos tries (and fails) to create gargoyles of his own. It is only after Goliath helps save his newborn son Alexander from the mystical island of Avalon that David Xanatos decides to change his ways.
Other villains have similarly understandable motivations as well. Captain of the Guard (voiced by Ed Gilbert) who betrays Wyvern Castle to the Vikings does so because he hates the way humans of the castle treated the gargoyles. For the same reason, Goliath’s former lover Demona helps the Captain betray the castle. When Goliath awakes in modern times and falls in love with Elisa Maza, Demona becomes furiously jealous.
10. The biology of a gargoyle
As envisioned by the show, gargoyles aren’t really supernatural. Instead, they’re simply an unusual species of living creatures. As such, their abilities are a result of biology and natural selection evolution, not magic. At least that’s how the show’s creator Greg Weisman sees them.
Weisman compares the gargoyles’ ability to turn to stone to unusual biological processes from our world, like the bio-electricity of electric eels or the bear’s ability to slow down its metabolism during winter hibernation. The stone shell of the gargoyles is merely a layer of protective organic tissue. Also according to Weisman, gargoyles live far longer than humans, but they also breed far slower. The females can lay one egg every two decades. Their pregnancy lasts for six months, but the egg takes ten years to hatch. Finally, although gargoyles eat normal food, they can also replenish their energy by absorbing the sunlight during the day.
9. There are different types of gargoyles!
In the second season’s story arc (nicknamed by the fans “The Gargoyles’ World Tour”), main characters travel around the globe, fighting various dangers while searching for their cousins. It turns out not only are there many clans of gargoyles, but they all look completely different!
For example, there’s the Mayan Clan with its distinctly reptilian appearance and feathered wings that have inspired the mythological deities of the ancient Mayans. Living in the ruins of an old pyramid deep in the rain forests of Guatemala, Mayan Clan fights to protect the jungle and several dozen gargoyle eggs hidden in the rookery inside the pyramid. In Europe, London Clan consists out of gargoyles similar to traditional heraldic creatures like the unicorns, griffins and hippogriffs. On the other side of the world, Ishigura Clan lives in an old Japanese Shinto temple. Ishigura Clan taught the ancient samurai warriors Bushido. There are other gargoyle clans as well in Scotland, Korea and China. Most importantly, descendants of the original Wyvern clan still live on the mysterious island of Avalon.
8. There are cyborg and robot gargoyles as well!
Evil mastermind David Xanatos creates his cyborg gargoyle in the first season finale. With the help of Demona, Xanatos picks up the remains of a gargoyle smashed by the Vikings during their raid on Wyvern Castle in Scotland. Replacing the missing parts using a combination of science and magic, Xanatos brings the cyborg gargoyle back to life from a cold stone and names him, appropriately, Coldstone (voiced by Michael Dorn).
But Coldstone isn’t one, but many. It turns out he’s made out of three different gargoyles – beautiful Desdemona, her jealous yet noble lover Othello and scheming Iago. Although Othello’s personality is the dominant one at first, other two personalities begin to emerge over time. Eventually, they get their own, robotic bodies. Othello (as Coldstone) over time starts working with Goliath’s Manhattan Clan of gargoyles. Iago (as the robotic Coldsteel – voiced by Xander Berkeley) causes enough trouble for Coldstone and Desdemona (as Coldfire – voiced by C. C. H. Pounder) to eventually start chasing him all over the world.
7. Shakespearean influences on the show
As a former English teacher, Weisman is a huge fan of classic plays by William Shakespeare. Weisman even used to act in the productions of Shakespeare’s plays. Therefore, it didn’t take him long to start inserting Shakespearean elements into a cartoon TV show about gargoyles. His most obvious influences were Macbeth and Midsummer’s Night Dream. Hence the characters like Macbeth, Weird Sisters, Oberon, Titania and Puck.
Over time, these influences grew more pronounced. Gargoyles introduces a number of quotes from Shakespearein its dialogues. Characters of Coldstone, Coldfire and Coldsteel used to be gargoyles Othello, Desdemona and Iago, whose story of love and jealousy echoes the one told in the Shakespeare’s play Othello. Finally, Weisman had plans to introduce characters inspired by monstrous Caliban and wise wizard Prospero from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Unfortunately, the show got canceled.
6. Myths and legends and conspiracies, oh my!
In a world in which monsters and magic exist, what other mysteries and wonders may be real? Well, according to Gargoyles, pretty much anything goes! Like, for example, aliens. In the second season episode Sentinel, gargoyles meet Nokkar, an alien being in a secret base hidden on an Easter Island. Nokkar (voiced by Avery Brooks) befriended the local people ages ago and even helped them erect the Easter Island stone heads known as moai.
Historically, the Illuminati have been a short-lived 18th-century Bavarian secret society. In the world of Gargoyles, they are a millennia-old ominous secret organization manipulating the world events from behind the scenes. David Xanatos is their member and it is through him that the Illuminati learn about the gargoyles. Their plan is to hunt them down and force them to work for the Illuminati.
Finally, lets us also mention Avalon. Avalon is a mystical island where, according to the Arthurian legends, the body of King Arthur ends up after his death. In the world of Gargoyles, the island is ruled by King Oberon (voiced by Terrence Mann), leader of the Third Race – faeries, elves and other supernatural creatures behind various human legends.
5. Star Trek connections
At first, it was mere accident that the two actors from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation worked on Gargoyles. Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi) provided the voice for the show’s antagonist Demona while Jonathan Frakes (Commander William T. Riker) voiced the sinister CEO David Xanatos. After that, the show’s producers began looking for voice performers among former Star Trek actors.
Brent Spiner (Data) provided a voice for the mischievous fairy Puck while LeVar Burton (Geordi la Forge) lent his voice to Anansi. Michael Dorn (Worf) borrowed his voice to the cyborg gargoyle Coldstone while Avery Brooks (Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space 9) voiced an alien being known as Nokkar. Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series) borrowed her voice for Elisa’s mother while Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) lent her voice to characters of Anastasia Renard and Titania. The list goes on and on.
4. Gargoyles spin-offs
Even after the Gargoyles TV show got canceled, Greg Weisman planned a series of possible spin-offs with the help of other creators. A prequel called Gargoyles: The Dark Ages was to take place at Wyvern Castle in medieval times before the events of the show. On the other hand, Gargoyles 2198 was a sequel set in the late 22nd century, when the alien race called the Space-Spawn – first mentioned in the episode Sentinel by the alien guardian Nokkar – attacks Earth.
Several of the spin-offs centered on interesting supporting characters introduced in the TV show. One of them would have followed The New Olympians – a group of mystical beings loosely inspired by the Greek mythology. The other idea was to follow the adventures of Rory Dugan (voiced in the show by Scott Cleverdon), a modern day incarnation of the ancient Irish hero Cu Chullain. There were a number of other ideas as well, but only one ever got made, and even then only as a comic book.
3. There are several Gargoyles comic books
Over the least 20 years or so, there was a number of different Gargoyles comic books. First of them were a series of tie-in Gargoyles comic book stories published in the magazine Disney Adventure. That same year Marvel began publishing their own Gargoyles comic book series that ran for eleven issues. Not directly tied to the events of the show, Marvel comic book mostly dealt with attempts by David Xanatos to create machines and monsters that could defeat the gargoyles of Manhattan clan.
By far the most interesting was the bi-monthly comic book developed by Slave Labor Graphics and Creature Comics. Published between 2006 and 2008, this comic book was written by Greg Weisman and illustrated by a number of artists, including Karine Charlebois, Ben Dunn, David Hedgecock and David Hutchison. This comic book ignored the third season entirely. One of the storylines – called Bad Guys – was based on a proposed Gargoyles spin-off cartoon series about a group of former villains hired to fight the Illuminati.
2. There’s a Gargoyles computer game, too!
By mid-1990s, Disney Software developed a series of games based on the existing Disney properties, such as Aladdin and The Lion King. In 1995, they produced a 2D side-scrolling platform game based on the Gargoyles animated TV show. Buena Vista Interactive published Gargoyles as a game for Sega Genesis, a 16-bit home video game console that was popular at the time.
In Gargoyles, a player takes control of Goliath as he embarks on a quest to find and retrieve the cursed talisman known as the Eye of Odin. Once a real eye of the Norse god Odin, this magical jewel can change whoever possesses it. As Goliath hunts the Eye of Odin down through the centuries, he battles the Viking raiders in the ruins of Wyvern Castle and futuristic robots in the Manhattan skyline. Each of the 18 levels ends with a mini-boss fight, with Demona as the main antagonist in the game.
1. An episode of Gargoyles got censored
Overweight and kind-hearted, gargoyle Broadway (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) is often portrayed as something of a comic relief character. However, in the first season episode Deadly Force, his love of old movies goes a bit too far. After watching a western, Broadway steals Elisa Maza’s handgun and, while playing with it, accidentally shoots her. Believing that the local crime boss is behind the shooting, Goliath goes after his gang. Meanwhile, Broadway develops a deep hate towards firearms and starts chasing various arms dealers around the city.
Deadly Force begins as a standard Gargoyles episode and then takes a sudden, effective turn into drama and even horror. However, advisory groups weren’t impressed by the episode’s violent depiction of a shooting. Initially, executives pulled Deadly Force from the rerun cycle. The episode was later broadcast again, but only after editors removed some of the blood from the scene of Elisa’s shooting. Today, many fans hail Deadly Force as one of the best episodes of Gargoyles.
What do you think about Gargoyles? What is your favorite fact about this show? Share your thoughts with the others below!