An oral history of Gargoyles, Disney’s groundbreaking animated series

Gargoyles Disney’s groundbreaking animated series

View source “One thousand years ago, superstition and the sword ruled. It was a time of darkness. It was a world of fear. It was the age of gargoyles. Stone by day, warriors by night, we were betrayed by the humans we had sworn to protect, frozen in stone by a magic spell for a thousand years. Now, here in Manhattan, the spell is broken, and we live again! We are defenders of the night. We are Gargoyles!” Goliath’s narration over the intro sequence in Season 2 Gargoyles is an American animated television series, created by Greg Weisman and produced by Weisman and Frank Paur for Walt Disney Television Animation Buena Vista Television, and originally aired from. The series is notable for its relatively dark tone, complex story arcs, and melodrama; character arcs were heavily employed throughout the series, as well as Shakespearean A Gargoyles video game adaptation for the Sega Genesis, as well as a spin-off comic book series, were also created in. The show’s storyline continued in a comic book series of the same name, written by Weisman and produced by Slave Labor Graphics.

The show formerly aired on Disney XD The United States, but ended its run in March This show currently airs on:

Italy Serbia Disney Channel Sky Movies Disney United Kingdom

This show is now on Disney + Music from the show’s introduction was used in the DuckTales reboot series finale episode ” The Last Adventure!

Gargoyles Story

The series features a species of nocturnal creatures known as Gargoyles, that turn to stone during the day, focusing on a clan led by their only named member, Goliath. In the year 994 A.D., the clan lives in a castle in Scotland alongside humans, until many of them are killed by betrayal and the remainder are magically frozen in stone until the castle “rises above the clouds”.

A millennium later in David Xanatos purchases the Gargoyles’ castle and has it reconstructed atop his New York City skyscraper, which towers above the clouds, awakening the six remaining Gargoyles. In trying to adjust to their new world, they are aided by a sympathetic N.Y.P.D. detective, Elisa Maza, and quickly come into conflict with the plotting Xanatos. In addition to dealing with the Gargoyles’ attempts to adjust to modern New York (including the others’ also taking names – after various parts of the city), the series also incorporated various supernatural threats to their safety and the world at large.

Gargoyles Episodes

Gargoyles episode list A total of 78 half-hour episodes were produced. The first two seasons aired in the Disney Afternoon programming block. The controversial third and final season aired on ABC Saturday mornings as Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles. Except for the first episode of the season, “The Journey”, these episodes were produced without the involvement of the series’ creator Greg Weisman and are not considered canonical by him.

Gargoyles Cast

The voice cast featured several actors who are alumni of the Star Trek franchise including Marina Sirtis Jonathan Frakes (respectively, Deanna Troi and William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation), who were featured regularly as principal cast members. Other Star Trek actors such as Michael Dorn (Worf on TNG and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Brent Spiner (Data on TNG), Colm Meaney (Miles O’Brien on TNG and DS9), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge on TNG), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series), Avery Brooks (Benjamin Sisko on DS9), Paul Winfield (Clark Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), David Warner (various characters, most notably Gul Madrid in “Chain of Command”, a two-part episode of TNG), and Kate Mulgrew (Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) were guest or recurring stars in the series.

Gargoyles Development

Greg Weisman, a former English teacher, has often cited his goal of ideally incorporating every myth and legend into the series eventually. However, although Weisman created Gargoyles, the series’ first season was almost entirely written by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Reaves and Brynne Chandler Reaves. They wrote twelve of the thirteen episodes, with the one remaining episode being written by Steve Perry. Weisman himself did not have any writing credits on the show until the third season a season which, ironically, Weisman has since disowned.

The second season consisted of 52 episodes and featured a much larger writing staff, including Reaves, Chandler Reaves, and Perry, as well as newcomers Lydia Marano, Cary Bates, Gary Sperling, Adam Gilad, Diane Duane, and Peter Morwood, amongst others. For the third season (consisting of 13 episodes), most of the writing staff was new to the show, although returning writers included Marano, Gilad, and Bates.

Many Shakespearean characters and stories found their way into the show’s storylines, particularly Macbeth’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The series was also influenced by medieval Scottish history. Weisman also cited the influences of Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears and NBC’s Hill Street Blues on the series. The latter in particular inspired the ensemble format of the series and the 30-second “Previously, on Gargoyles…” recap found at the beginning of later episodes. The former was an influence on the original comedy development of the show, which was subsequently made darker and more serious before production. Some aspects of the Disney animated series Bonkers, which Weisman helped develop, also influenced the show to some degree. Most noticeably, the relationship of Toon cop Bonkers, and his human partner Miranda Wright, was used as a template for the relationship of Gargoyle Goliath Elisa Maza, as was the then-recent movie Beauty and the Beast New York artist Joe Tomasini brought a suit against Disney, claiming that his copyrighted screenplay and character designs had been copied during the development and production of Gargoyles. The case was ultimately thrown out after it was proven that Disney did not have access to Joe Tomasini’s creations.

Gargoyles Reception

The show was only moderately successful at the time, yet did not fall into obscurity. In, IGN ranked Gargoyles 45th place on the list of top 100 animated series of all time (“A decent success at the time, Gargoyles has maintained a strong cult following since it ended more than a decade ago”). In, featured it on the list of six cartoons that should be movies. In, included it on their list of legendary medieval and fantasy TV shows “that rock your face”.

Gargoyles Comics

Disney Adventures Gargoyles comics were published in the magazine Disney Studios Adventures, 11 stories in total. A two-part story “Stone Cold” is notable in that it provided a story idea that was later used in the TV series in the episode ” The Price “. Another story, “The Experts”, was intended as tie-in advertising for Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Gargoyles Marvel

Gargoyles (Marvel Comics) Marvel Comics issued a Gargoyles comic book series that ran for 11 issues. The books did not directly follow the continuity of the series, but they did reference specific events that took place within it. The Marvel series was tonally darker than the animated television series, dealing largely with Xanatos’ experiments to create creatures and machines to defeat the Gargoyles. Greg Weisman, television series co-creator, did not have any direct involvement in the story development of the comic series but was consulted on some plot points to be sure it stayed within certain boundaries.

Weisman was eventually hired to write for the comic, but Marvel cut the deal with Disney before his run could be produced. Weisman still has his unpublished script for the comic, and would eventually use it as issue #6 of Gargoyles SLG comic. The characters Beth Maza (who appeared in a photo in “Deadly Force”) and Petros Xanatos appeared in the comics before their full debut on the show.

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An oral history of Gargoyles, Disney’s groundbreaking animated series

Talk with anyone associated with Gargoyles, Disney’s groundbreaking animated series that originally aired from 1994 to 1997, and – to a person – they’ll invariably use the phrase “ahead of its time.” The show was a stark departure for Walt Disney Television Animation, which had created – in the years prior – several generation-defining shows that formed The Disney Afternoon For nearly 10 years, The Disney Afternoon dominated after-school syndicated TV with shows such as Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, and Goof Troop. However, where those shows were bright, cheerful, and relentlessly optimistic, Gargoyles was dark, smart, gothic and full of literary allusions.

Disney's groundbreaking animated series

The show was a major departure for the company. It was a wholly original property that wasn’t based on a toy line, a feature film, or existing characters. And it seemed to target an older audience than its Disney Afternoon predecessors.

But the show traveled a long and bumpy road before it finally came together as the series beloved by older millennials and late Gen-Xers. It originally began life as an adventure comedy in line with Gummi Bears and didn’t feature Goliath at all. Over the course of two years of development and three pitches to Disney CEO Michael Eisner, the show changed dramatically. And it eventually became a huge hit.

So much so that Michael Eisner (after getting talked out of buying Marvel years before the eventual purchase) looked to the show to build a brand-new action franchise for the company. Gargoyles were meant to be the foundation upon which an entire universe of shows would be built. Alas, what could’ve been?

During its relatively brief life, though, Gargoyles truly broke new ground. Aside from the stark contrast in character design and color palette it had with its Disney Afternoon cohorts, the show boasted an astonishingly impressive cast. Jonathan Frakes, Keith David, Marina Sirtis, Ed Asner, and Frank Welker all voiced central characters. Supporting or guest-starring roles featured the likes of Clancy Brown, Jim Cummings, Michael Dorn, Matt Frewer, Kate Mulgrew, Nichelle Nichols, John Rhys-Davies, Brent Spiner, Paul Winfield, Avery Brooks, LeVar Burton, Hector Elizondo, Roddy McDowall, Tony Shalhoub, and John Forsythe. And so many more.

With the characters of Elisa Maza and Demona, Gargoyles was also notable for featuring two strong female leads. Indeed, Elisa was one of the very few women of color to be featured on after-school television at all.

SYFY WIRE sat down with several of the people who brought their unique creative visions to the table and helped craft one of the most compelling shows Disney ever created. These are, quite literally, the people who brought Gargoyles to life. Together with Greg Weisman (creator and producer), Keith David (voice of Goliath), Jonathan Frakes (voice of Xanatos), and Carl Johnson (composer), we take a look back at this seminal show that continues to make waves and command fan obsession.


Groundbreaking animated Setting the Scene

Greg Weisman (creator and producer): There was a sense among my boss, Gary Krisel, which I shared, but that he had also talked to Jeffrey Katzenberg about, that The Disney Afternoon was wonderful, and we had wonderful shows, but every single one, up to that point, had been a “funny animal” show. They were all different. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m saying they were the same show. They weren’t. But from a visual standpoint, there was a commonality there.

There was a concern that, over time, the audience would just grow tired of it. Not because the shows weren’t good, but simply “funny animal fatigue,” in essence.

So there were a couple of directions we went very consciously. One was into Tex Avery-style cartoons with The Shnookums and Meat Show. And the other was Gargoyles, with a dramatic action show. The thing that gave us confidence that we could do it and the audience would be there for it was, frankly, Batman: The Animated Series. We weren’t trying to emulate Batman, but certainly, that darker, dramatic tone that Batman had let us know that there was an audience for this style of action drama at a high-quality level.

So we set out to make a show that was in this Gummi Bears mode with a rich backstory and great characters. But we wanted it to stand out and get more respect. The word “edge” was really big in the ’90s. So we made two conscious decisions to give a Gummi Bears-like show more edge.

We would put our gargoyles to sleep for 1,000 years, and they would wake up in the present. We thought them being in modern-day Manhattan would be edgier than being back in a soft-focus Medieval Times kind of world. And then the second obvious thing was that instead of being cute, cuddly, multicolored bears, we would make them cute, cuddly, multicolored gargoyles. Which seemed edgier.

We had a whole comedy-adventure development with that version of the show. We started out with the leader of these comedic gargoyles being a character named Dakota – a female lead. But Dakota quickly just seemed boring. She was sort of the straight man to the funny, wacky gargoyles running around. So we decided to switch Dakota to Demona, and we made her the bad guy. The one evil gargoyle. But still, this was comedic villainy.

We had the Xanatos character, but back then he was called Xavier. He was very much in the mode of Duke Igthorn or Captain Hook, but he was Lex Luthor/Bruce Wayne/Tony Stark rich. He was very much like Xanatos in a lot of ways, but he was a comedic villain. He had an assistant named Mr. Owen who, in the first episode, gets hit by a magic spell and turned into an anthropomorphic aardvark. He then spends the rest of the show trying to change back into a human being. Not just that episode – the entire series. So he was an aardvark in a suit for the entire series.

He had an assistant named Mr. Owen who, in the first episode, gets hit by a magic spell and turned into an anthropomorphic aardvark.

And it was fun, and it was great, and I loved that show. But we pitched it to Michael Eisner, and he didn’t like it. He passed on it. But everyone at Disney TV Animation thought there was something to this idea. So Gary Krisel told me to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out another approach.

It was an original property, so it was a slightly harder sell since it wasn’t based on a movie. Or a candy. So I showed the pitch to a handful of people at Disney just to get some feedback. One of the people I showed it to was Tad Stones, the creator of Darkwing Duck. Tad looked at it and said, “You’ve got all these little funny gargoyles. What if, instead of them, you had one big gargoyle?” He had seen an early preview of Beauty and the Beast, and since we already had the female friend to the gargoyles, he thought we could take her and make her “Beauty” and then create a Beast. And this resonated with me since my background wasn’t in comedy but in superheroes. That really clicked for me.


Groundbreaking animated Giving Voice to the Characters

David: When I auditioned for it, they were looking for a Sean Connery type. So I came in with my best Sean Connery. But it was still an audition. So I only had the first speech, which was about what the gargoyles are. As I remember it, it was wonderfully simpatico. It felt like, “OK, the search is over. We found him.” That’s what it felt like to me, at least – “You don’t need to look any further. I got this!” Some actors have a wider range than others, but any actor has one thing he or she can do perfectly. If they can’t do anything else, they can do that. For me, this was one of those.

Frakes: I have no pretense. I always say yes to jobs. I’m an actor! There’s a lot of unemployment in this industry. I must’ve had to audition. I don’t think they give those parts out.

David: By nature, Keith David is a nurturer. And by nature, Goliath is a nurturer. He exists at the core of the greatest things about being a human. He’s not human, but he possesses all the good things that a good human has or should be about. And yet, like a human being, he’s given to any of the things that send that mix to an imbalance. He can get angry. He’s susceptible to falling in love.

A great thing about Gargoyles is that no one was ever killed. You might’ve seen them go off-screen in a heap, but no one ever kills anybody. Goliath never really exacted revenge. One of my favorite moments in the whole series was in the very first episode when he gets duped into going away from his clan. By the time he finds out he needs to go the other way, his clan is destroyed. He really wants to exact revenge, but to what end? Everybody is now frozen.

There’s this wonderful line: “I have lost everything, even my revenge.” The pain of that, he lives with every day. He doesn’t necessarily wear it on his sleeve, but it’s something that is with him all the time.


Groundbreaking animated Charting New Territory

Greg Weisman: Disney hadn’t done a show like this before, so we didn’t necessarily have the right people on staff to produce and story-edit this show. We were having trouble finding someone to be the directing producer and the story editor. We went through a number of people, trying to find the right fit. But in the meantime, the show had deadlines and we needed to move forward. Which meant someone had to make creative decisions, even though we didn’t have any producers on the show yet. So, because it had been my baby and I had been fascinated with gargoyles since high school, I just naturally took on the role of making these creative decisions.

By the time we got Frank Paur to produce the show and Michael Reaves to story-edit it both of whom were fantastic and both of whom were stolen from Batman: The Animated Series I was too involved to walk away. So I went to Gary and Bruce and said that I wanted to produce the show. I wanted to move to the other side of the desk. They looked at me and basically said, “Greg, you’ve never been a producer before.” And I said, “Well, that’s true, but four and a half years ago, I had never been a development executive before, and that worked out all right.” So they talked about it and came back to me and told me I had to keep doing my development job. We only had 13 episodes in the first season, and we had a 10-month sliding schedule to do it in, which wasn’t easy but wasn’t killer.

So they had me do two full-time jobs while paying me for the lesser.

Michael Eisner eventually became one of the show’s biggest boosters. In 1994-ish, I was in a meeting with a bunch of Disney executives, and Michael expressed a desire to buy Marvel Comics. But his own people talked him out of it. They said, “Ah, you don’t want that. The rights are a disaster. Sony has Spider-Man, but another studio thinks they have Spider-Man. Marvel has been selling off rights left and right, not paying attention to any conflicts. You’ll get the company but then find out you can’t make any of the movies you want to make. Don’t do it.” So he then turned to me and said, “OK. Warner Brothers has DC, and I’m being told that Marvel is a no-go. We need to build an action universe for the Disney brand. Can Gargoyles be the foundation of that?”

Credit: Disney That worked for me, because I thought of the Silver Age Flash and how DC built a whole foundation that eventually became the modern DC universe. And how the Fantastic Four became the foundation over which Marvel built their whole universe. It’s not that there weren’t characters and properties that existed before that, but it was a conscious decision to build.

In the second season, we got an order for 52 episodes on the same 10-month schedule we had for the first 13. I moved over full-time to be on Gargoyles, we hired more story editors, and I became supervising story editor to make sure everything was cohesive. We hired a bunch of directors. The whole crew expanded. The whole universe of the show expanded.


Hearing the Music of the Show Groundbreaking animated

Prior to Gargoyles, Carl Johnson worked as part of a team on a number of other animated series, including Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs.

Carl Johnson: Before I got hired on the project, I was working with Rich Stone on Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, and I was one of the teams of people working on that. But when Gargoyles came along, I had to leave that team, which was kind of a tough thing. Rich had been such a mentor to me. In a sense, I was stepping away from my responsibilities at that time. What that meant, though, was that other people were able to come in and fill that position and get the benefit of that experience. But it meant leaving the family to assume my own command. For the most part, once I got started on Gargoyles, I was 100 percent on that.

It was really helpful how some of those shows were run. For example, in Batman: The Animated Series, Shirley Walker made a real point of trying to work with new composers and really mentor them and help them find their feet. So I had the advantage of doing five or six episodes under her supervision. It was really a fantastic thing that she was doing for people coming up at the time. It was kind of a master class. Also, Rich Stone was doing that with Animaniacs.

Between the two of them, I got to watch and see how a supervising composer handles the workload and handles the team, and works with the production company. I think those experiences really helped me when it came time for me to make my own project. I was really eager to get into Gargoyles and work as much as I needed to. That being said, it’s difficult for me to listen to a lot of that stuff, because of the way we had to record it and the state of the technology then. To me, it sounds kind of dated just because of the sorts of sounds I had to use.

The score for Gargoyles was partly computerized and partly performed by a live orchestra.

Johnson: It was a hybrid kind of thing. This was something that some of us were doing in the ’90s. We would write music out on a score page as if it were going to be recorded by an orchestra. But certain parts of the page were going to be with live players, and certain parts were going to be a synth. So what we would do is write all of the electronic synth stuff out, and somebody would record all that into a computer and then come into the recording session with a big multi-computer, multi-traveling case setup. And then play the computers live along with the instrumentalists. It was a very technologically challenging thing to do in the ’90s. It was the best we could do to come up with a big orchestra sound with a small orchestra budget.

It was a budget thing. I think the sound we were looking for was big, epic, and orchestral. There just wasn’t the budget in the division to do that. So what I had to do was pick my battles. Try to use live instruments that were going to be effective mixed in with electronic stuff. We had a brass and woodwind section with some strings thrown in, so it was probably 25 to 30 pieces.

Gargoyles were definitely something that was new for [Disney] and didn’t really fit in their portfolio of shows. Nobody quite knew what to do with it. What appealed to me about it was the concept of these big long story arcs and developing characters and the way the show evolves over the course of a season or multiple seasons. In a lot of respects, it was really way ahead of its time. You see a lot of that now – long story arcs that take seasons to complete – but the way Greg had this thing all set up, it was literally an epic story spread out over many episodes. Also, I had been doing so much “cartoony” stuff for so long that it was nice to do something that wasn’t all dominant 7 chords. Getting kind of dark and action-y in places was fun.


Previously on Gargoyles: Falling Prey to Fate

Greg Weisman: We began writing backdoor pilots into the second season. Ultimately, none of that worked out, because all of the big Gargoyles supporters left the company. Rich Frank, Gary Krisel, Bruce Cranston, Jeffrey Katzenberg. They all left. Eisner didn’t leave right away, but he was getting a lot of criticism from the board about what a micromanager he was. So one of the things he gave up was choosing the animated series we did.

Prior to that, he was like the last of the Hollywood moguls. He would choose the shows. At the time, we didn’t appreciate it because it seemed so arbitrary. But the great thing about that had been if Michael Eisner says we’re making a show, everybody in the company gets on board or gets out of the way. When Michael gave that up, he didn’t give that authority to any one individual. From that point on – right up to this very day, not just at Disney but at every company – those decisions are made by committee. People from multiple different divisions get to weigh in, and if they don’t all agree, often it just doesn’t happen.

The one advantage to a dictatorship is that the trains are on time. So when all these huge supporters of Gargoyles left the company – including Eisner – support for the show just evaporated.

The one advantage to a dictatorship is that the trains are on time.

In season 1, we were a huge hit. In season 2, we were a solid hit – like a single. We weren’t doing badly, but we premiered opposite the first season in America of Power Rangers. And Power Rangers was a blockbuster. That was a grand slam. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this was also the year of the O.J. Simpson trial, and we were constantly getting pre-empted by trial coverage. That was true for Power Rangers, too, but for that show, you could tune in to any episode at any time. We had a sequential arc.

For example, in Season 2, we had these World Tour arcs that were supposed to go about four weeks. But because of pre-emption delays, it wound up lasting six months or something like that. So the audience felt like this World Tour we sent our characters on was never going to end. And it was not designed to feel like that. If they had aired how they were originally meant to air, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

I also made another decision on Season 2 that we would do 30-second “previously on Gargoyles” lead-in segments at the beginning of every episode. That made sense to me. The main reason I did it was not because I thought my audience needed a little leg up to understand the episode. I didn’t think that at all. We were getting animation back from Japan and Korea, and it wasn’t always great. So the ability to cut 30 seconds of bad footage out of the show was a huge editing help to us.

In hindsight, it was a huge mistake. People would see those “previously” segments and think, “Wow, I missed a lot. I’m too late to come on board for this show.” And that wasn’t true. Every episode was designed to stand alone and tell a great story. The hope, of course, was that they’d watch that episode and think, “Wow, I want to see the episodes I missed and what happens next.” But they wouldn’t be confused in the episode.

Those segments hurt us. So, in every show, I’ve done since I never do that. Ever. Even if I’m doing a two-parter. I find a way in Part 2 to explain, as elegantly as possible, to explain what happened in Part 1. You can see that in the Young Justice two-parter pilot. There are no “previously.” I will never do a “previously” ever again.


The Goliath Chronicles: That Which Shall Not Be Named

Greg Weisman: Even after all the troubles of the second season, the property was still viable. When Disney bought ABC, they needed a boys’ action show. So they said, “Let’s do Gargoyles.” But a couple of things happened. By that time, Frank, Bruce, and Gary had gone to DreamWorks, and they offered the show to me for that third ABC season, but it was clear to me they didn’t want me to say yes.

I think the perception was that I was biding my time until the end of post-production, and then I would go to DreamWorks. So they stopped inviting me to meetings because they viewed me as a spy in their ranks. But that wasn’t true. I really wanted to stay at Disney. But when they offered me the third season of Gargoyles, they offered me a demotion from producer to story editor. They weren’t going to let me produce the third season.

They told me they were going to move the show out of Disney TV Animation and give it to DIC. And DIC at the time was doing a much lower quality of a product. They ended up giving it to Nelvana, which still was lower quality than Disney but not nearly as bad as DIC would’ve been.

In November of 1995, they gave me a schedule where the first script was due in October of 1995. I looked at the schedule, looked at them, and said, “Do you guys have a time machine I don’t know about?” They knew the schedule needed to be adjusted, but they had a firm deadline. So we needed to catch up. Which meant I would be starting out under the gun. This was a Thursday or Friday, so I asked for the weekend to think about it. I felt like they were asking me to supervise the demise of the show.

Nevertheless, I came back on Monday thinking I would walk away but still open to talking about it. But when I got into the office, I discovered they had already hired my replacement.

We made a deal for me to write the first episode because they were so under the gun, and I could write it faster than anyone else. They had good people do that third season, but they had no time. I worked in a consulting role, but all of the suggestions I made were ignored. On occasion, when I said, “Oh my god, don’t do that!” they took those suggestions. So I stopped some of the worst notions they had from going forward, but I wasn’t able to do any of the things I thought they needed to do. I was just able to stop them from doing things that really would’ve not worked.


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