|Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Series (1983)
Starring: the voices of Willie Aames, Donny Most, Adam Rich, Katie Lee, Tonia Gayle Smith, Teddy Field III, Sidney Miller, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker
If Vin Diesel and Stephen Colbert can come out of the closet, then I can too: I used to play “Dungeons & Dragons” in my teens.
Now, mind you, for the most part, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play it like it was supposed to be played, and the ones I did find usually turned into instant assholes the second they became the Dungeon Master. Still, I played it, it was fun more often than it wasn’t, and I had a blast. And if I’d continued playing it beyond my early teens, I’d probably still be playing it today, but I didn’t, and now it’s far too late to go back. I can still guiltlessly enjoy the animated series that was based on the role-playing game.
Given that “Dungeons & Dragons” almost certainly came into existence as a television series only because someone somewhere figured they could make a few extra bucks off the game, the show is much better than you’d reasonably expect. The premise involves six kids, all but one in their early teens, attending a carnival, going on the Dungeons & Dragons ride, and being magically transported into a strange world of swords, sorcery and monsters. Upon arrival in this world, each is transformed into a different character type, with their own unique weapon:
- Hank turns into a Ranger, with a magic bow that shoots magic energy arrows. He’s the de facto leader of the group, their Fred, if you will.
- Diana becomes an Acrobat, with a javelin/pole that extends to the appropriate length when she needs to vault over a chasm. She’s a definite tomboy.
- Sheila is a Thief, with a magic cloak that, when its hood is raised, turns her invisible.
- Eric is a Cavalier, with armor and a shield, each of considerable strength. He’s the group’s resident jerk.
- Presto, shockingly, is a Wizard – though it’s revealed at one point that he had the nickname before being transported into this world. He has a magic hat that works somewhat sporadically. A la Velma on “Scooby-Doo,” he’s totally useless without his glasses.
- Bobby is a Barbarian, with a Viking helmet and magic club that can cause earth tremors when he strikes it to the ground. He also acquires a baby unicorn, to which he quickly affixes the name Uni. He is Sheila’s little brother.
The premise of the show revolves around the kids attempting to get back home, guided along this path by the mysterious Dungeon Master, who looks like a dwarf and offers tidbits of philosophy that make him sound suspiciously like Yoda, albeit with decidedly better syntax. They’re invariably kept from returning home by the evil Venger, who’s after the kids’ weapons.
Okay, maybe it got a little old watching our heroes come this close to making it home in just about every episode, only to have something come up to keep them trapped in the mystical world. Still, it was easy to overlook that aspect if you were a fan of the game. Even though they were animated, you were watching kids your own age, with personalities not so terribly different from your own, actually getting to do the stuff that you were pretending to do in the game. Also, it was cool to see them battle some of the same monsters that you’d been battling. A rarity for Saturday morning cartoons of the time, there were recognizable voices behind the characters, including two members of the “Eight is Enough” cast (Willie Aames and Adam Rich) and the one and only Ralph Malph from “Happy Days” (Donny Most).
“Dungeons and Dragons: The Complete Series” will bring back a lot of fond memories for children of the ‘80s, and the characters and stories hold up extremely well today. It’s a safe bet that lots of dads will be buying this set, claiming it’s for their kids…but it isn’t. It’s totally for them.
Special Features: Guaranteed, not a single fan of the series will go away disappointed by this incredible set. The box itself is awesome, set up to look like the original cardboard box in which the role-playing game is packaged; similarly, the booklet is entitled the “Animated Series Handbook,” designed to resemble the various D&D guides, and contains character information so that you can actually incorporate the kids into your D&D games (ahem, that is if you still play). As far as the discs themselves, in addition to a 32-minute documentary on the creation of the series (a staple of sets by Ink and Paint DVD, and always a highlight) and a pair of commentaries by the series’ creators and producers, there’s a live-action fan film based on the show, an interactive adventure with the characters, and detailed profiles of various characters and creatures appearing in the series. There’s an animated storyboard presentation of “The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow,” along with the different opening credit sequences for the show over the years. What fans will really geek out over is a radio-show-styled performance of “Requiem,” the script for the final episode of the series that was never animated. Also worth checking out are the DVD-ROM features, which include scripts, more storyboards, and the original “bible” for the show with detailed character descriptions.