Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon Explored – This Dark 80’s Cartoon Is The Pinnacle Of An Amazing Era

    With the release of Stranger Things Season 4, a specific reference that starts the first season of the programme is given new life in our minds. Dustin, Will, Lucas, and Mike were playing the fantasy tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons in the first scene of Season 1 Episode 1.

    Within a fantastical scenario, players get to construct their own characters. They engage in adventures, engage in conflict with foes, and learn a lot along the way. It makes sense that the game would expand into other media genres given the environment’s diversity. 1983 animated short with the same name was inspired by this.

    In this cartoon, six children board a ride at an amusement park called Dungeons & Dragons. They might have already played the game, which would explain why they were so eager to ride that ride. They are teleported into a foreign dimension, where they must embark on adventures and use their newfound talents to battle evil, all the while trying to return to their original realm.

    A gorgeous meadow populated by unicorns, bleak graveyards, dungeons that can refill magical abilities, and other new locations all contribute to the world-building of the narrative. This also introduces a variety of villainous characters that compete with the main cast yet have outstanding character designs.

    We will discuss the series’ plot, protagonists, antagonists, voice actors, potential resolution, and impending live-action film in this video.

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    What’s The Dungeons And Dragons (1983) Animated Television Series All About?

    What’s The Dungeons And Dragons (1983) Animated Television Series All About

    The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series ran for three seasons and twenty-seven episodes from 1983 to 1985. It was animated by the well-known Japanese animation company Toei Animation, and it was produced by TSR and Marvel Productions (the studio that animates One Piece).

    It is based on the well-known board game Dungeons & Dragons, created by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, the latter of whom worked on the animated series’ co-production. The series, which draws its influence from role-playing games or RPGs, follows a number of characters who are pulled into a magical world and given various roles and powers while still pursuing the same objective.

    It centers on six teenage people who ride a roller coaster in an amusement park themed after Dungeons and Dragons. They soon find themselves in a foreign realm with dragons and magic, equipped with new tools, talents, and abilities. Naturally, their shared objective at this point is to return home. It will not be that simple, though.

    Every member of the cast stands out from the others thanks to their distinct personalities. As the Ranger, Hank commands the gang. He also uses a magically potent bow and arrow with glowing arrows that have been activated. The oldest and most composed of the group, he is also the oldest.

    Next, you have Bobby, the youngest. He is the Barbarian who sports a Viking helmet and carries a magical club as his weapon. The club can create huge shockwaves that can break doors, walls, and the ground. He is also quite emotionally charged unlike the more calm and collected Ranger.

    Then there’s Presto (whose original name is Albert). He is the magician of the group and is a stereotypical 80s nerd. He gets super nervous, wears glasses, and has low self-esteem. He generally whips out his magic from his magic hat and spells. Unfortunately, his magic never yields the results he intends to get because the user of the magic has to have a clear mind with reference to what they want. So, Presto’s indecisiveness and lack of confidence contribute to his magic not being what it needs to be. For example, while trying to whip out a burger, he whipped out a whole cow. But nevertheless, he manages to save the group when in trouble.

    Bobby’s elder sister Sheila is also a part of the group. She is a thief who can turn invisible by flipping the hood of her magical cloak over her head. Having come into contact with the Dungeon Master’s magic, she can understand fairy language quite well. This helps the group out when the Dungeon Master is caught and a Peter Pan-like fairy arrives to inform the kids about it.

    There’s also Diana the acrobat who uses a javelin to pole vault into different places or take out her opponents. Turns out, she is an Olympic-level gymnast in the real world as well.

    And finally, there is the snobbish brat Eric who is the Cavalier, ironically. He is characterized by his brattiness and cowardice and offers comic relief. Diana tends to roast him quite a bit but to be fair, he is realistic. And there does lie heroism in his heart as he is constantly seen using his strong and resilient shield to protect his friends and save them when necessary.

    Bobby finds a companion in Uni, a very young and cute unicorn who happens to tag along with Bobby and his group in their quests. It comes from the Valley of the Unicorns and like the other unicorns, it can teleport once a day. Its power obviously lies in the horn, which is something Venger wants as well. Without the horn, Uni grows sick and feeble.

    On the other hand, you’ve got the antagonists. Different episodes have different villains that range from bloodthirsty spiders to snails that kidnap the kids. However, the big bad guy of the show is Venger. His magic is super powerful and of course, he has an underlying, the Shadow Demon. His goal is simple – to get the powers and weapons of the children to get stronger in the realm he lives in.

    There is also Tiamat the dragon. Inspired by Babylonian mythology, she is a five-headed dragon who is one of the first adversaries the children face. She is the goddess of all the dragons in the show with each of her heads being a different color to signify the five races of the realm’s chromatic dragons – blue, red, white, black, and green. Each head spews out a different element, making her one of the most fearsome beings in the realm.

    However, she is not exactly a villain as she stands against both – the children and Venger. She does not even have any evil motivations and guards the Dragon’s Graveyard – a place with the skeletons of dragons and some magical artifacts possessed by the heroes of the past. The presence of these heroes proves how these kids are not the only humans to come to this realm.

    With the heroes now and then having their own powers, they must be getting it from somewhere. And navigating through an unknown realm to get back home surely sounds like something children should be incapable of. This is where the Dungeon Master comes in. A very short but powerful wizard who talks in riddles, Dungeon Master guides the children who he has taken as his disciples on their journey. He is the one who gave them and the heroes of the past their weapons. However, he is a mysterious guy who appears to give the kids a new quest and suddenly disappears into thin air. He just wants to teach them a valuable lesson while offering an opportunity to exit the realm, which could be a side effect of successfully completing a quest.

    The children often come very close to going back home but for one reason or the other, have to stay back. For example, in the second episode called The Eye Of The Beholder, they almost go back home but with one of their allies in trouble, the children decide to stay back to save him from the Beholder. This is a common pattern that continues throughout the story. In fact, they go back to their world in the thirteenth episode called ‘The Box’. But they are followed by Venger and choose to go back to the realm of Dungeons & Dragons to take Venger away from their home. They actually opened a portal to Earth eight times in twenty-seven episodes.

    As an adventure show, this animated series is extremely creative. The pacing is quite fast and does a great job at setting up the premise within the first sixty seconds of each episode, after which the story for the day begins to unravel. Each episode is also action-packed and high in adrenaline, keeping the eyes of the viewers glued to their screens. It explores several different places within the realm, several characters, and many more stories.

    The show also does a great job at highlighting the characters and giving them their character arcs. Cavalier starts off as a snobbish brat who only cares about himself and his father’s money. However, he is gradually turned into a more likable character as his bonds with the others are strengthened and he is often seen sacrificing his own selfish desires to help out his friends.

    There is a particular episode that highlights the darker elements of the story better. In ‘the Dragon’s Graveyard’, which is the twentieth episode, the children miss a chance to get back home once again and this takes a huge emotional toll on Ranger and Bobby, who are otherwise more high-spirited and optimistic. Ranger begins to agree with Cavalier’s selfish demands and talks back to the Dungeon Master. Meanwhile, Uni getting terribly injured turns Bobby against Venger, making the kid absolutely succumb to his hatred towards the wizard. In the end, they are both willing to kill Venger (which is a territory children’s cartoons try not to step into). However, all’s well in the end as the same old cliches of ‘If we finish you, we will become just like you’ pop up.

    It’s actually strange how Dungeons & Dragons is not as popular as it should be. Sure, the 80s were brimming with some of the best cartoons ever, but Dungeons & Dragons was good enough to get a piece of that cake. However, since it has a source material (which is the game), several avid fans of the game had a distaste for the cartoon. For them, the animated series was a watered-down version of the game. So, the greatness of the show that can be enjoyed by people who have not played Dungeons & Dragons cannot be enjoyed by those who have consumed the game to its fullest.

    This is somewhat similar to the Percy Jackson experience. If you were to watch The Lightning Thief without having read the book, you would be quite entertained. The cast is cool. The villains are cool with Medusa, Hydra, and Hermes’ son Luke opposing Percy, Annabeth, and Grover. However, if you’ve read the book, you’ll know how terribly off the movie is from the book, which is exactly why the movie is widely disliked by fans of the franchise.

    The first episode, ‘The Night Of No Tomorrow’ does a great job with its exposition of the plot. It begins with Presto screaming atop a hilly area to hear the echo. When Uni tries it, instead of hearing an echo of his own voice, the kids hear Tiamat the five-headed dragon.

    Tiamat arrives and the group is not strong enough to fight her. However, Shiela lures the dragon into a cave by standing in front of it and then turns invisible to confuse the creature. Then, Bobby hits a big piece of rock to block the entrance to the cave.

    The Dungeon Master appears to congratulate them. Eric the Cavalier is no fan of his riddle-talking and just wants a straight answer as to how to get back home. But the Dungeon Master tells them that there is a purpose to the group finding themselves in the realm and goes on to give them their first quest.

    They are sent to a place called Helix which will have a celebration tonight. Long ago, Helix was attacked by flying dragons. However, good magic had saved the village, and tonight, they will be indulging in the annual celebration of that event.  The kids are likely to find a way back home in this quest but this is the first episode after all.

    The Dungeon Master does warn them about Venger, who might get in their way. He also asks the children to head north.

    On the way, they find the castle of Merlin, you know, Merlin. The guy who is the strongest wizard in every story about magic. They meet with Merlin, who turns out to be the one who drove the flying dragons away from Helix. They try to get Merlin to help them with going towards Helix when Tiamat appears out of nowhere to attack them. With some teamwork, the five-headed dragon is locked in a dungeon.

    Interestingly, Merlin seems to be quite impressed with Presto’s magic and asks to keep him as an apprentice. Presto agrees to stay back and his friends wonder if it is because they would always make fun of him. Merlin asks for Presto’s help with the cauldron for reasons unknown. In Merlin’s absence, Presto looks for a spell to get home. He finds it in a spell book and tries it out. However, it releases several flying dragons from the cauldron who leave the castle immediately. Turns out, Merlin was Venger all along and used Presto’s good magic to undo Merlin’s spell.

    At Helix, Ranger learns that Merlin died a thousand years ago. He realizes that they were tricked. The village is soon attacked and the children head back to Merlin’s castle to save Presto. Venger attacks and they decide to unleash Tiamat to take Venger down. Meanwhile, Ranger tries to get Presto to undo the spell. Presto chants, “In the name of Merlin, in the time of sorrow, banish winged demons, let there be tomorrow”. Thankfully, the spell works, and Helix is saved again. This also shows us that despite Presto’s magic failing time and again, he succeeds when he is needed the most, during times of desperation.

    In the third episode, ‘The Hall Of Bones’, the children’s weapons lose their magical charge and they must immediately go to the Hall of Bones to recharge them. What they do not know is that Venger wants to steal their weapons and intercepts them midway. Using their weapons, he tries to fight Tiamat, oblivious to the fact that the weapons have lost their charge. He tosses the weapons aside and the children finally head to the Hall of Bones. But after their weapons are charged, Venger tries to take them away once again and this time, the spirits of the heroes of the past defend the kids against Venger.

    In the twenty-second episode ‘The Dungeon At The Heart Of Dawn’, a new villain, far more powerful than Venger appears. The scenario in this episode is so grave that the Dungeon Master not only accompanies his disciples throughout the quest but he is also severely fatigued from fighting back. Under Ranger’s command, Eric opens a black box which sends a signal to call upon the Realm’s worst devil. In a way, it is somewhat similar to Pandora’s Box. The demon causes destruction wherever it goes and it alludes that this is Venger’s boss.

    The Dungeon Master can barely fight back against it and must head to the Dungeon At The Heart Of Dawn to replenish his powers and the power of the weapons. Of course, it won’t be that easy as Venger and his various creatures arrive to stand in their way. Presto finds himself on the verge of death but ultimately, the Dungeon Master gets his powers back and saves everyone.

    It was also suggested that this demon they were fighting would take over the realm. It had left for the other realms to wreak havoc there but the Dungeon Master believed that it would return. There was also a moment in a previous episode where the Dungeon Master called Venger his son while Venger referred to him as his ‘old man’. This straight-up gave away the fact that they were related but the show was canceled before either of the two plot points could be covered. In fact, the show was canceled before the main cast could go back home.

    The cast of Dungeons & Dragons boasts renowned names in their roster of voice actors. Willie Aames voices Hank the Ranger. He is well known for playing Tommy Bradford on a 70s show called Eight is Enough.

    Adam Rich, who voices Presto the Magician, also appeared in Eight is Enough as Nicholas Bradford.

    Ralph Malph(6:50) from Happy Knows a.k.a. Don Most voiced Eric the Cavalier.

    Voice Actor Katie Leigh was the voice behind Sheila, the Thief. She is renowned for voicing Zuzu in Poppy Cat.

    Teddy Field III voiced Bobby, the Barbarian while Tonia Gayle Smith voiced Diana, the Acrobat.

    American actor, songwriter, and director Sidney Miller gave his voice to the Dungeon Master.

    The voice of the original Optimus Prime from the 80s Transformer was the man behind Venger. Finally, Frank Welker voiced Uni and Tiamat and stole the show with his animalistic screeches.

    What Went Wrong With The Cartoon

    What Went Wrong With The Cartoon

    After the sixth episode of the third season (that is the ‘Winds of Darkness’ episode), Dungeons & Dragons was canceled. The show suffered from low ratings and several reasons contributed to it.

    We’ve already gone over how the avid players of the RPG did not like the diluted version of the events in the cartoon. Rumor has it that the show was deemed to be too violent to be a kid’s show. The show did have its more severe moments, especially with Hank and Bobby wanting to kill Venger or the evil demon that paralyzed the characters with fear. The National Coalition on Television Violence thought that the show needed to display a warning before the episodes were aired and that it has been linked to violent deaths in real life. After a student committed suicide, his mother blamed Dungeons & Dragons for it.

    On top of that, a lot of people believed that the show perpetrated witchcraft and deemed it to be Satanic. The accusations have been proven false though.

    But an issue with the production gave the show its biggest blow. TSR was growing way too fast as a company with their several Dungeons & Dragons board games and books. They were also handling media in several formats, causing the company to spread out too thin. As a result, they could not afford to incur losses and with so many negative factors causing the cartoon series trouble, the show was taken off the air. A huge shame really, because the show was in fact, incredible (unless you are a die-hard Dungeons & Dragons player).

    This also means that viewers did not get any closure regarding the fate of the characters. The ending was conclusive but the children were still trapped in the realm of magic, fantasy, dungeons, and dragons. Naturally, fans came up with several fan theories about what could happen. An urban legend fan theory that grew way too popular would be the one where people believed the children died in the Dungeons & Dragons ride and ended up in Hell. This was obviously too dark for a children’s cartoon but hey, lots of animated media come from originally dark stories. However, this was untrue, as attested by the writer himself.

    Later, an ending called ‘Requiem’ was created by the series writer Michael Reaves. But it was never produced. Voice actor Katie Leigh reprised her role as Sheila for the radio play version of the episode. The story for the Requiem was later animated by VCI Eclipse, which is basically a fan-made animation with mostly comic strips and a voiceover. It used the audio from the radio play version. At some points, fans gave their voices to certain characters when necessary.

    The story opens with a dialogue between the Dungeon Master and Venger. Venger believes that the kids have made it this far in their journey because Dungeon Master standing behind them gives them their courage. Without the Dungeon Master’s support, they will lose their bravery. He then strikes a deal with the master – a deal where the Dungeon Master will revoke his support while Venger will command them to the edge of the Realm to destroy a special key. If they succeed, they will get to go back home. If they fail, Venger will take away their powers and their lives.

    In the meantime, the kids fight a seven-headed Hydra and find themselves in a very helpless situation. No matter what they try, the Hydra is way too strong for them. Suddenly, Dungeon Master appears. The kids think that they are finally safe as Dungeon Master can help them but boy they are wrong. Staying true to the deal, the Dungeon Master chooses not to help anyone and vanishes, turning the kids, especially Eric, against him.

    After a lot of struggle, the children manage to evade their perilous situation and continue with their journey when they find a fork in their road. The East looks like a road more travelled while the West slopes downwards. Hank decides to head West as it is more likely to have water while Eric wants to head eastwards as it is more likely to have a town-like settlement. They argue and ultimately, Hank gives up.

    The group heads eastwards and sets up camp. That night, Venger appears in front of them. He tells them how the Dungeon Master is not on their side, which is why they keep finding themselves in several quests but never back home. He then shows them a portal into the amusement park on Earth and tells them about a key. If they throw the key in the abyss, Venger will let them go home.

    Eric is game with this plan because there is nothing, he wants more than to go home but there is no way Hank can trust Venger. The group breaks into an argument and is ultimately split into two. Bobby, Uni, and Diana side with Hank while Presto and Sheila being beside Eric. That night, Eric’s group sets off to find the key in a galleon while a Bronze Dragon appears in front of Hank and co. After it shows their allegiance to them, Hank sets off to stop Eric with his team.

    On the way, he attacks Eric as he believes that he is playing right into Venger’s hands. He shoots a glowing arrow at him but Eric shields it. The arrow falls into the volcanoes below, causing a severe eruption that almost kills them. Later, they try to reach the cenotaph where one side looked into an abyss while the other side had a vault with a keyhole. In the middle of the room, an ornate sarcophagus sits. It looks like the sarcophagus of a noble wizard and contained the key. Eric gets the key and holds on to it but just then, a giant amoeba-like monster attacks.

    Everyone is overwhelmed by the monster who neutralizes almost every member, including Venger who has appeared. Hank and Eric find themselves at the edge of the Realm, arguing and fighting over the key. Hank tries to prevent Eric from throwing the key into the abyss but then, falls into it himself. Without Hank to stop Eric, he can now throw the key into the abyss. However, Eric changes his mind that very moment and uses the key to open the vault.

    As the vault of the door opens, a massive light causes the gelatinous monster to disappear. Meanwhile, Hank is alive as he was apparently holding on to a rock and was subsequently helped up by Diana. The while light ends up transforming Venger, who is revealed to be the noble and majestic figure that the kids saw on the sarcophagus.

    The Dungeon Master appears and is ecstatic to see his son again. The kids are shocked to know that Venger is the Dungeon Master’s son. Turns out, that Venger had chosen to follow a different master who turned out to be evil. And the primary mission was not to defeat Venger but to redeem him. With Venger freed, the kids are also granted their freedom and they finally get to go back home.

    Interesting Facts About Dungeons And Dragons

    Interesting Facts About Dungeons And Dragons

    With so much happening in each episode and throughout the course of the series, several burning questions arise in the minds of the viewers. And the obvious one is with reference to time and how the families of the kids are reacting since they are missing.

    The opening titles of the second season reworked the titles to show how much time had passed since the kids had entered the Dungeon realm. They presently exist as archived footage.

    In the ending credits, the amusement park is shown in the nighttime, which also explains how all the other visitors have gone back home while the kids are still trapped.

    However, how time passed in the two realms was addressed in ‘City At The Edge Of Midnight’. Turns out, time moves faster in the Dungeon realm and with respect to that, only a few hours had passed in the real world versus the weeks and months of the fantastical realm.

    This episode was also an incredibly creepy one with a demon called The Nightwalker kidnapping children at night and turning them into slaves. The episode “In Search Of The Dungeon Master” also glossed over the bad guys keeping slaves but they were ultimately freed by the kids.

    The show is no stranger to darker topics after all. Especially with episodes like “The Dragon’s Graveyard”. In “The Time Lost”, we got a glimpse of how evil Venger truly is after he opened numerous portals back in the time of World War II on Earth to help out the Nazis. Not a very friendly topic for a kid’s show.

    However, the story is less about the fights and the magic and more about self-discovery. In the very first episode, the Dungeon Master spoke about the kids being in this realm for a purpose. That’s why there is so much emphasis on Presto learning how to control his magic with increased self-esteem and Eric becoming more of a team worker instead of keeping his bratty behavior.

    Only when they finally re-discover themselves will they be able to return home. That’s probably why Eric’s final turnaround as a character causing Venger’s redemption in the Requiem storyline brought their quests to an end.

    The Future Of Dungeons And Dragons

    The Future Of Dungeons And Dragons

    Courtney Solomon’s live-action adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons in the year 2000 created headlines for all the wrong reasons. But maybe, things will be different this time around as a new live-action adaptation of this popular RPG is about to hit the screens in 2023.

    Writers Jonathon Goldstein and John Francis Daley are working on the story and it will be released on March 3, 2023. It was originally supposed to be released on May 27th, 2022 but due to Paramount’s line-up, the release date was pushed back. It was shot in Iceland and filming was wrapped up by August 2021.

    It is also set to have a star-studded cast with Chris Pine (previously seen in movies like Jack Ryan and Wonder Woman) and Michelle Rodriguez (who has starred in Fast & the Furious 9 and the science fiction blockbuster Avatar). Regé-Jean Page (who played the Duke in Bridgerton Season 1), British rom-com superstar Hugh Grant, Jurassic World’s Justice Smith, and Sophia Lillis from the It franchise will also be a part of the cast.

    Even though the lore behind the game is super dark, the writers have added comedic elements to this action-fantasy script. Since action fantasy movies tend to attract a younger crowd, the writers need to strike the right balance and diffuse excessive seriousness with the occasional comedy. We have already seen how the lovers of the game did not react well to the dilution of the original story. To avoid that problem, the writers have claimed to pay respect to the source material first.

    The original Dungeons & Dragons cartoon is definitely a must-watch for everyone. Despite being set in a fantasy world, it is very emotionally realistic. Bobby’s attachment to Uni in particular is very heartwarming to experience. Presto’s struggle with his esteem and Hank being shown as the Gary Sue leader but snapping and wishing to kill Venger out of rage makes them more realistic. The general spectrum of emotions that were expressed in every character was a breath of fresh air.

    Johnny Douglas and Robert J Walsh’s score added more flavor to this already successful recipe and the animal screech sounds were terrifying, proving that it was perfectly done and used.

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