Full of '80s kitsch and enjoyable swordplay interwoven into Christopher Lambert's best performance to date, the original Highlander film sparked a string of sequels and television series that were extraordinarily hit-and-miss -- oftentimes miss. Possibly the weakest of the bunch is the Gaumont produced Highlander: The Animated Series, a stab taken at giving the Highlander mythos a upbeat, stylish attitude to appeal to a younger audience. Fans of either the films or the Adrian Paul-helmed offshoot television series need not apply, as the story pretty much makes a by-line away from any resemblance. All we're left with is appeal towards animation fans and youngsters, and neither will find much to enjoy with this Highlander.
Set far in the future, roughly 700 years, the plot revolves around a young, recently-orphaned red-haired teenager named Quentin MacLeod. He's the offspring of Connor MacLeod, the protagonist from the live-action films. Apparently, all of the immortals got together at one point and decided to stop fighting, instead vowing to gather knowledge and live in peace. All except one, our central villain named Koltan, who kept on with the now-evil deed of finding the immortals that have retracted into hiding. While Kortan attempts to hunt them down and obtain their knowledge in the old-fashioned way (enter Queen's "Don't Lose You Head"), Quentin -- with the help of (cough, cough) Ramirez -- will learn the ways of being an immortal and peacefully extract the Jettators knowledge via a process called The Quickening and share his findings with the world.
Each episode, which normally lasts in the neighborhood of twenty minutes, usually has us following Quentin and Ramirez as they track down another one of the Jettators before Karton gets a hold of them. Normally, they have Quentin's sister Clyde and goofy six-legged pet Gaul stumbling along in tow, with Clyde normally serving as little more than a nagging voice of "reason" to the young Highlander. Quentin typically gathers knowledge with every episode, participating in more and more sword duels as the series progresses (though none terribly interesting), and gradually builds his prestige as the "chosen" final immortal.
Though it clearly has Highlander printed in the title, you're going to be very hard-pressed to find anything reminiscent of either Greg Widen's creation or the blithe successes that the Davis / Panzer live-production team created in this series. It's been stripped down to family entertainment with somewhat harmonious tones and morals attached to each episode, even though there's still some reaching backwards to its head-lopping-off roots. Sure, some name-dropping slips into the series, like The Quickening, The Game and such, but very little connects this to the gal-romancing, sword-crossing predecessors. You know the natural draw immortals feel towards each other in the original film regarding the necessity to fight? Just put it out of your mind.
Instead, this child-centric series works like a strange, semi-dark crossbreed between the animated Legend of Zelda, He-Man: Masters of the Universe and the purposeful drive behind Captain Planet, complete with a stiff visual style and hammy dialogue delivery. Strangely, though it's centered towards a younger audience, the material features a fair amount of "death" -- including stab wounds, bites from snakes, etc. Weak scripting ages Highlander a good ten years more than it should, giving it late '80s disposition though concocted in the mid '90s during the heyday of Highlander: The Series. It makes the series feel exactly the way it looks: like a carbon-copy of other animated television shows featuring a scattering of licensed elements from better live-action creations.
Though the actor voicing Ramirez does a fine job in trying to replicate a young Sean Connery, the rest of the cast just feels vocally off-kilter. Quentin really suffers from this, carrying a shrill-like whimper behind his vocals that makes him somewhat obnoxious to listen to for more than a few minutes at a time. Thankfully, he's not given very much time to deliver fist-clenched "we've got to fight" dialogue. Most of the activity diverts to the supporting characters: Kortan, the snarling villain, his annoying court jester Malone, and a barrage of Jettators coming in and out of the series like a revolving door.
What's confusing is the fact that Highlander: The Animated Series wouldn't be all that bad if it removed the focus on being a Highlander extension. If Quentin had been scanning this world -- a post-apocalyptic environment that's actually well-crafted and atmospheric -- to retrieve knowledge that the disheveled human race needs to know, it would've stood fine on its own without harking back to the MacLeod roots. Nothing would've had to have been sacrificed to make it a non-Highlander series, not even its persistent anti-war tones that try to tap into that familiar "G.I. Joe" / "Captain Planet" vein that was tapering off at that point. That, however, is a whole lot of ifs.
Instead, there were just too many ingredients thrown together in Highlander: The Animated Series to try and make it a marketable success, and it comes out of the creative whirlwind as a bland, odd wash that's too dark and bizarre for younger audiences and too child-minded in construction to hold an adult attention span. Nostalgia's sake alone might draw in interest, but one fact will stand out: it's just not very good.
Image Entertainment have released Highlander: The Complete Animated Series -- all 40 episodes, which usually running right at 22 minutes for a total of around 15 hours -- on four DVD in an overlapping Scanavo clear case, with no special features, subtitle options, or anything extra on top of the episodes themselves. Interestingly, Image have left the commercial break clips in each episode, along with the full credits at the start and finish.
Video and Audio:
You get essentially what you'd expect from Highlander: The Animated Series in the video and audio departments. Presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame transfers, the treatment feels very blurry when viewed on larger screens. Colors hold up with only a fair amount of solidity, revealing a few splashes of color that smear like crazy when heavily contrasted. Also, interlacing issues can be spotted pretty much throughout, most prominent being severe ghosting issues. The animation, in short, doesn't look pretty.
The Dolby Stereo stands as merely serviceable, supporting the dialogue, music and sound effects properly. Nothing is dynamic, though distortion is kept to a minimum. It fares better than the visual treatment, but that's not saying all that much.
Nostalgic value and admiration for the efforts taken at crafting a post-explosive world are the only reasons to take in Highlander: The Animated Series. Any chance of an interesting premise revolving around this post-apocalyptic narrative is shot down by stiff dialogue, an odd marriage of tones between child-friendly glee and some darker elements, and the unforgivable mangling of the Highlander storyline. Though priced at only $20 for all 40 episodes, this is the definition of a Rental package -- both for those that remember the series being "okay" and for those who find the idea of transferring knowledge around the earth in a post-apocalyptic world somewhat compelling. Watch 'em once to get the memories out of the way, if they're there, and move on.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site