I’ve been looking at comics and cartoons recently, so I thought I’d look at another thing that combines both, which is animated shows based on Sunday comic strips. Up for review this week, The Legend of Prince Valiant!
The Dream (by Dianne Dixon)
First up, this show has one of the best theme tunes you’ll ever hear for any show, Where the Truth Lies. Immediately speaks to the high quality of the show, which was produced for the Family Channel in 1991. Robby Benson, who was enjoying success around this time as the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, plays the eponymous hero. A filmic score and direction gives this show an immediate sense of grandeur and the script is mature, with a real sense of consequence. King Willem and his people, including his son Prince Valiant, are defeated by King Cynan and exiled from Thule. Valiant struggles to adapt to rebuilding from the ground up in a swamp, but a dream provides him with a new destiny.
After a strong start the episode slows down a bit to deal with the idea of what the people of Thule have sacrificed. Valiant’s angst is believable but it’s for the best that it’s worked through quickly to set him off on his ambitious and optimistic quest to become a Knight of the Round Table.
The Journey (by Dianne Dixon)
Valiant struggles to adapt to independence, but makes friends with the peasant boy Arn. Their tussling at the beginning of the episode is a little homoerotic, an early bromance. Worth mentioning is the inclusion in the script of believable but now extinct creatures like a giant snake and a dinosaur, which is an element taken from the original strips, among other time-displaced elements like cavemen-like savages. Camelot is presented as fantastical as well, with shimmering light and colour adding to how mythical it is in Valiant’s perception, although a swamp witch presents it far more starkly and nightmarish to further inspire Valiant’s quest. The slow burn continues.
The Blacksmith’s Daughter (by Chris Weber and Karen Willson)
The assembly of the main cast continues as Valiant and Arn meet Rowanne of Bridgesford, a village that has been overrun by cruel soldiers. Rob Paulsen, who typically plays heroes like Raphael in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Donatello in the more recent Nick version), is excellent as the feckless and obnoxious Robert Draconarius, never as good as his older and more dominant brother Duncan, played coolly by Neil Ross. When Rowanne decides she wants to join in Valiant’s quest, Baron Duncan seeks to suppress the idea of having a dream for the purpose of exerting his own authority over his little kingdom. Rowanne is presented as a feminine and strong heroine, ready to reject old ideas, and the seeds of Arn’s attraction to her are planted early.
The Kidnapping (by David J. Corbett)
We conclude this week with Rowanne being kidnapped by a mysterious but incompetent assailant, so Valiant and Arn go to rescue her. Jerry Houser plays “bounty hunter” John Brodditch as a laughable character with delusions of grandeur (“I’m just trying to make a living!”) who Rowanne not only knows but escapes, with the real danger coming when the Baron’s official bounty hunter, the sinister Garth, begins to pursue them. Brodditch is an interesting character that could have returned, but alas didn’t.
Wrapping up: This is a show that takes time to get going, but the writing is of a high quality. I’ll be looking at the first season in the future, alternating with episodes of Filmation’s The New Adventures of Flash Gordon.