For quite sometime the false rumor persisted that He-Man was a last minute revamp of what was to be a line of Conan the Barbarian action figures. Now anyone who has seen the iconic 80s Schwarzenegger classic will know, it's most decidedly not a children's movie, dishing out a healthy dose of nudity and wanton barbarian mayhem. However, likely wanting to tap into that young demographic transfixed by swords and high adventure, the sequel "Conan the Destroyer" was a neutered, PG-rated mess. A mild financial success, the market for selling Conan to a younger audience would not be closed and in 1992, Conan would make his way onto the small screen from the animation team behind the original mid-80s run of "GI Joe." "Conan the Adventurer" (which was also the title of a less-than-mediocre syndicated live action series that came a few years later) would further dilute the character for a young audience, resulting in a series loosely tied to anything coherently resembling Robert E. Howard's famed hero.
The first season of "Conan the Adventurer" runs a merciful 13 episodes, 51 less than the second season where the series changed from a weekly installment, to a daily one, however that doesn't excuse its utter mediocrity. Initially "Conan the Adventurer" displays signs of a serialized narrative format, following a hokey origin story leaving Conan's family frozen in time as stone statues, the after effect of the evil serpent sorcerer, Wrath-Amon. However, these hopes are quickly dashed and it becomes evident this Conan's adventures will be very generic and almost always wrapped up after two episodes. Now, I fully understand the series is a cartoon aimed at young kids and to expect the fearless, brutal warrior is wholly inappropriate, but ultimately, Conan shouldn't be directed towards kids in the first place.
At the core, "Conan the Destroyer" is a generic fantasy adventure that happened to luck into the Conan name and some elements of the source material. There are references to Crom, Conan is a fierce warrior, his infamous sword is a major element of battles, and some villains are clearly inspired by preexisting Conan characters. Yet, like so many cartoons that preceded and followed, the creators didn't have the confidence to let Conan carry the stories and instead saddled him with a coalition of ethnically diverse warrior stereotypes including Zula, an African warrior, Jezmine, acrobat, Greywolf, an Indian inspired wizard with werewolves for a brother and sister, and Snagg, Viking comic relief. If that weren't enough a magic Phoenix and Conan's trusty horse join our crew which often is in pursuit of the Snake Cult, but periodically gets waylaid by entirely out of place villains of the week, including a band of ninjas that promptly make Conan look like a chump.
Generic archetypes and cookie-cutter plotting aside, "Conan the Adventurer" does have its moments that should please kids. Themes of honor and loyalty run rampant throughout the series and while these might seems counter intuitive to a barbarian, are a welcome addition for impressionably youngsters. Likewise, the 22-minute episodes follow a formulaic but consistent story arc: initial encounter/fight leads to conflict leads to resolution. Sometimes the resolutions are filled with action, while other times the action is cut short for a moral to be told. It's an admirable but shaky approach, ultimately betraying a lot of what the character should be. "Conan the Adventurer" is definitely not the best cartoon series to (re)discover, but at least it's far more "grounded" fantasy than the abysmal glorified toy commercial known as "He-Man." Just try and remember, this one's for the kids, not for adults and that should make this "version" of Conan digest somewhat more smoothly.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer sports a somewhat muddy look, giving the program the appearance of something from the mid-80s, rather than mid-90s. Colors are as strong as one could hope from a video transfer, while moderate damage (from the original animation cells?) persists throughout the release.
The Dolby Digital English 2,0 stereo transfer is a little better for wear. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, with the generic fantasy cartoon score sometimes getting a bit too big for its britches. It's generally serviceable and only mildly impressive at best.
Generic and "Conan" in name only, "Conan the Adventurer" is a decent adventure/fantasy series for kids. While I still have my issue with even trading on the name of the character in the first place, I will say the series didn't bore me to tears and I could see a much younger (completely unaware of Conan outside of this cartoon) version of me wasting a few hours with the series. Rent It.