When you talk about Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) a person's interest immediately sways one way or the other. Either you've played the game and are understanding of what it entails or you label anybody that has ever thrown dice a geek. Whichever side of the fence you fall on it's hard to deny that D&D has become a powerful entity ever since its humble beginnings back in 1974.
With a subject that polarizes the audience right away it's surprising that D&D could ever mold itself to media other than that of the game. Books, movies, and an animated series have all been shown to the public with different degrees of success but for the sake of this review let's just forget about the novels and horrific film for a moment. Instead let's talk about the cartoon that was released in 1983.
Dungeons & Dragons was an animated show from a time period where cartoons thrived on television. Growing up in the 80's meant that on Saturday mornings your butt was firmly planted in front of the TV for hours on end. While the crew in Voltron was blasting through space and G.I. Joe was fighting for America, the kids in Dungeons & Dragons were just trying to find their way home.
The whole premise for this unique series got started in an amusement park when six kids sat down on the Dungeons & Dragons rollercoaster. As soon as the ride got underway they knew that it wasn't going to be Pirates of the Caribbean. Instead of just going around the track the coaster hurtled the children into the world of D&D. Lost and confused the kids were quickly taken under the wing of the Dungeon Master who doled out mystical weaponry and garments to aid them in their journey.
The entirety of the 27 episode series focused on the kids using their newfound powers and brains to get back to their own world. Along the way they each learned a moral lesson and also helped out some of the residents of this world. They also were constantly dogged by Venger and Tiamat who were the villains that wanted their power. Each episode followed a pretty specific formula and told a different story but in the end it was all about the Dungeon Master sending the brats on a wild goose chase.
The characters were easy for kids to relate to thanks to the wonderful voice acting and chemistry that bled into the script and on screen. Hank was the oldest of the kids and basically the leader when it came down to decision making time. Diana and Sheila were more or less equals in the group though each had their own personalities and Sheila always had to deal with her younger brother Bobby. Rounding out the main characters are my two favorites; Eric and Presto. Eric was the pessimistic snobby child that provided much of the comic relief and Presto was the team's bumbling wizard who had a tough time pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
For three seasons these kids traveled around the world of D&D trying to find a way home. Their entire adventure is included in this set and though there isn't a lot of continuity between the episodes the quality is there in spades.
"Valley of the Unicorns", "Quest of the Skeleton Warrior", "The Treasure Of Tardos", "The Dragon's Graveyard", and "The Winds Of Darkness" stand out the most from this collection. They each bring something to the table whether it's helping children get over fears or simply the quality of the plot there's something to enjoy in each. Few cartoons from my childhood have kept me as entertained as this set has and I can honestly say that going back to revisit the show has made me want more. It's easy to see why the series was as successful as it was back in the day.
Few cartoons from the early 80's withstand the test of time. Luckily for Dungeons & Dragons the more adult themes and production values help the enjoyment of the show later in life. On the surface this is an animated kid's adventure through the realm of D&D but beneath the childlike coat of paint are real issues that children can relate to. It's that depth which keeps the series afloat from start to finish and gives it a somewhat timeless appeal. The beautiful part is that you don't have to be a fan of D&D in order to appreciate what's going on here; so don't let that stigma keep you away.
The Night of No Tomorrow
Dungeons & Dragons is presented with its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and comes with a remastered transfer that does a world of justice for the show. What could have been a poor quality reprinting from master tapes was instead turned into a labor of love with some finely toned image quality. Grain and speckle may be presented but it has been cleaned up significantly for a sharper appearance that helps the show hide its age. Some colors are faded here and there but otherwise things are vibrant throughout. Fans definitely have something to be very happy about with this release though newcomers will merely be satisfied with the video quality.
Presented with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo audio track the sound quality in Dungeons & Dragons is basically as good as you'd expect. The audio is clean and crisp but very limited in terms of presence on the soundstage. It's acceptable for what it is but a remastered 5.1 track would have gone a long way to impressing like the clean up of the image went.
BCI went out of their way again with a fantastic set loaded with extras to keep fans pleased. For starters there is a 30 page Dungeons & Dragons game booklet with stats, story, and the basics for an adventure involving the animated characters. Viewers who love the show and play the game will undoubtedly want to give it a whirl but for those of us who just watched the show it's nice to have as an art piece.
As far as the content on the set itself all of the bonus features are located on the fifth disc. The first and probably the meatiest is a documentary that covers just about everything involving the show from its creation to popularity. A lot of the crew involved in its production steps in for some commentary about the series and it really proves to be a treasure trove of information. Because Dungeons & Dragons never received a proper ending fans everywhere were left disheartened. There was a script kicking around that was never produced though for this release a radio play was assembled to give viewers closure. This had to be one of the most unique features that I have seen for a cartoon release and it was definitely entertaining.
Some character profiles are available as well as some lost footage from the opening and closing animations. There is an animated storyboard for "The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow" and it's presented with simultaneously running animation and storyboard. There is also an interactive adventure and live action fan-made short film featuring Hank and Sheila. In the end fans will be thoroughly pleased with this release. There is so much value in the extra content alone that it warrants checking out. BCI has been doing a fantastic job releasing older cartoons to a new generation and Dungeons & Dragons continues that trend.
Few cartoons from the 80's maintain a timeless atmosphere that is every bit as good now as it was when it originally aired. I'm pleased to say that Dungeons & Dragons succeeds in that regard and BCI has assembled an amazing set. The 27 episodes combined with the bonus content and improved video quality make this set a no-brainer for those of you who watched the show when you were younger. Newcomers will be able to enjoy it as well though I do feel that most of the value here is nostalgic.