Cartoon Commentary! #12, So many editorial wipes…


By Shawn Robare



This week I’m going to tackle the last three episodes of the 1st season of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon before moving on to a new show for a little bit. Today’s episode is titled The Box (a word that the movie Se7en has totally ruined for me as I find myself uncontrollably falling into the character that Brad Pitt plays, endlessly whining the phrase, "What’s in the box?"), which originally aired on November 26th, 1983 and was again written by Jeffrey Scott. It’s funny, though a couple other writers on the series ended up writing scenes where the kids almost get home, the two such scenes that Scott wrote both have the kids making it all the way back to their world, which I find both frustrating and amazingly interesting. In fact even though the series eventually ended with an episode that didn’t even address the plight of getting home, I’m glad the two which Scott wrote that tackled the subject weren’t at the end of the series because that would really have bugged me.

This episode follows the children on a quest to free a friend of Dungeon Master, Zandora, after they stumble upon a mystical box that belongs to her. After they free Zandora, she shows them the way home, though Venger is hot on their heels. Now back on earth, the gang has to make a hard choice about what they should do now that Venger is set to take over their home world as well as the D&D realm.



This episode opens with a very odd bit of background fun as Eric is washing his clothes after being sprayed by a creature with skunk like glands. It’s interesting to see his outfit separated out on the clothesline as you very rarely see cartoon characters out of ‘costume’ unless they have an alter ego or something. I mean when was the last time you saw the Sorceress in anything besides her multi-colored bird outfit? Of course, this is also another chance to see a D&D character in their underwear, which I swear is way too often for a cartoon that only lasted 27 episodes. There’s also a bit of a slight time warp in this scene as one second Eric is half naked and in a pond…



…and then he’s fully dressed and (I guess) aired out as no one brings up his stink again. The bit with the earthquake is kind of convenient, as the chasm that opens up just happens to be where a very mystical box is buried. Once again, I know it’s a cartoon and all, but this type of writing really hurts my head, and honestly it’s not relegated to the world of kid’s shows either. This sort of scripting is what ruined Spiderman 3 for me, as at practically every turn an amazingly coincidental event would occur, to a point where the plot became ludicrous. Anyway, that’s a bit off topic.



The box that is unearthed is called Zandora’s box, which is a play on Pandora’s box



Something odd that caught my eye in this episode are a couple of editing wipes that I hadn’t noticed in others. The first one is an iris wipe (an expanding circle which opens into a new scene) that happens as Eric stand dumfounded after Dungeon Master’s trademarked abrupt disappearance. Immediately after I saw this I couldn’t help but think of the original Star Wars flicks, as George Lucas is a notorious wipe enthusiast. Now that I’m thinking about it, placing a wipe like this in a cartoon is pretty counter-intuitive as wipes (I believe) are generally so stylistic as to draw the audience out of what they’re watching a little on purpose, sort of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to reaffirm that what you’re watching is fiction. In an action cartoon, I’d think that the creators would want you immersed in the world as much as possible, trying to avoid anything that would break a suspension of disbelief.



After the gang sets off on their quest to free Zandora from her box, there’s a fun bit of character development as Eric is fed up with blindly following orders, and he sort of plants his foot, strikes a very heroic pose, and attempts to make his first coup…



As soon as some bullywogs show up though, he’s back to his cowardly self. It was funb to see a moment like this, which reminded me a lot of both Starscream from Transformers, and possibly Destro from G.I. Joe. When the bullywogs show they also bring either a commander or the king of the bullywogs with them as one is obviously in higher-ranking garb.



There’s also a nice moment with Venger in his castle dungeon, where he’s just frozen one of his minions in a block of ice, which is apparently THE villain thing to do in the realm. If I had a dime for every time someone is frozen solid into a block of ice in this series I’d have like $0.40 right now. Anyway, it’s kind of fun to see Venger venting over the disloyalty of a background character just sort of thrown in, instead of him writhing his hands in villainous glee over the next trap he’s laid out for the gang. He’s actually interrupted by Shadow Demon, and then is sort of reminded that he needs to get those kids. Refreshing to say the least.



Another nice bit of subtlety in this episode involves a map that Dungeon Master gave to the gang in order to find their way to the shadow of Skull Mountain (where they are supposed to open the box in order to free Zandora.) The group follows the map to what they think is Skull Mountain (which looks nothing like it did on the map), though it ends up being a trap set by Shadow Demon and Venger. What I find interesting is that later, after the gang finds the real Skull Mountain, it ends up looking exactly like is does on the map. This level of detail is awesome, and is a great example of what is missing from a lot of similar shows.



There’s a weird bit as the kids approach the fake mountain and are pushing the box into its shadow. As the kids get near the shadow, it’s moving very fast as if the planet were spinning much faster than normal, but as soon as the box is within the shadow, it stops. Just an odd bit of physics, which could have been animated in a reverse fashion with the kids moving and the shadow standing still (instead of both moving.)



The location design has been getting pretty weird in the last couple of episodes, branching out into almost Escher-like landscapes…



As the gang descends into box (into a trap) they end up falling through the checkerboard floor of the dimension they entered, which again illustrates and interesting bit of animation. As the gang falls, the animators (and possibly Jeffrey Scott or the production staff) made sure they all of the characters have their legs in position to cover they crotches. Now I may just be reading into this, but I think it could very well be to avoid any further panty shots. I’ll have to see if this continues along with the rest of the episodes. Also in this scene we get a chance to see Hank tolling up his energy bow once again, this time as a sort of grappling hook and rope. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to write such weird uses for a bow and arrow into the show had I been writing for the series. I think by this point I would have opted to have the bow replaced by something more utilitarian or something, but that’s just me…



As the kids find their footing in the weird environment, a giant wasp, yet another mainstay of the tabletop D&D game, very soon attacks them. I thought it was kind of weird that the wasp’s stinger appeared so tentacle-like or soft. I guess the producers wanted to shy away from implying the characters might be run through by a giant stinger at any moment.



After the kids make it out of the box to safety, there’s another fun editing wipe. This time the scene changes from Venger’s (who is angry) point of view to the kids, so there’s a variation on the iris wipe in the form of a burning hole through a map wipe. This time I didn’t care that it took me out of the show a bit as it was such a flamboyant editing decision, which instead of reminding of George Lucas, made me think of old westerns of all things (I’m sure there is a TV show or a commercial or something when there is like a hot branding iron which sets ablaze some piece of paper causing a wipe; actually I might be thinking of the opening to Bravestarr…)



Finally in the revel of how subtly detailed this episode can be, the kids make their way to the real Skull Mountain. Even for this though, the rest of the map doesn’t resemble the area at all (which is now subtly ironic.)



After the kids free Zandora from the box (who by the way looks suspiciously like Dungeon Master, which reinforced my conspiracy theory I’d been working on that all of these quests were just ways that Dungeon Master found to screw with the kids), she promptly shows them the way they can use the box to get back to their home world. This brings up a sad moment where Bobby once again has to face leaving Uni behind, though this time he seems to get over it a lot faster. Heck, maybe Uni was even getting on his nerves by this point…



I really liked the sequence where the kids get back home, as it echoes the opening credit sequence, reintroducing the roller coaster car and the wiggy portal. If and when kids did get home, I would hope that it resembled this moment.



In a very strange twist on the gang getting back home, Venger confronts Zandora, easily bests her, and then flies his nightmare steed right into the box, chasing after the gang (in a strange visual that Tim Burton would similarly use as his headless horsemen enters his weird bloody tree home.) This brings up a little bit of hypocrisy, which we’ll get to in a minute…



As the kids pull to a stop on the coaster, which has brought them back home, there is a slight change in the art style, almost as if another animation studio took over for a bit. The kids look a lot more cartoony and with a lot less detail, not to mention the opening of the D&D ride which looks drastically different than it does in the opening credits (not only that but the little trademark symbol that is on the ride marquee in the opening sequence is left off in this sequence…)





Anyway, back to the hypocrisy. So Venger has enter the gang’s world and he apparently is just as powerful, not suffering at all from leaving the realm (as we’re told in past episodes that this is the case, which is why Uni can’t cross over.) What’s weird though is that the kids are stripped of their powers, which in the end just comes off as a little bit unfair of Scott. In an episode with a good bit of subtlety and nice character moments, it kind of sucks that we also have to deal with such inevitable conventions like these. In fact, it’s these dichotomies that I think lead to wanting more out of cartoons, or any similar media like comic books. Kids grow up, become more aware of what’s possible and then they want to instill this in the media that they love. This is one reason why, I believe, that cartoons and comics have become more and more adult with each passing generation. Kids that don’t want to grow up, bring their arrested development issues into their work. Just a thought…



The kids, of course, forgo their homecoming to lead Venger back to their home world (as they’re afraid if they don’t, Venger will take over Earth). I found this a little weird as the ride ends up talking them right back to the realm (under who’s command?; the ride is closed after hours), and not only that but right back to where they escaped the realm (which is on a rock bridge in a valley.) Again, of course, as soon as both the gang and Venger is out of the box and it’s moved to safety, the rock bridge has to collapse, effectively stranding the kids back in the realm (as that was the only place the box could get the kids home from.)



Zandora does trick Venger back into the box though (by hiding the kids weapons in it and then moving the box), trapping him in another dimension. Another dimension that that just so happens to also contain Tiamat (who apparently dimension hops in her spare not-fighting-Venger time), an ending that was crying out for that silly want-waaaaa music queue…



At the very end of the episode we get another brief appearance by Dungeon Master who is reunited with his long lost friend (who looks so much like him.) I guess seeing them both on screen crushes my conspiracy theory, but it does bring up the idea of a race of small Yoda-like wizards wandering around the realm.



Next time we’ll take a look at the Episode titled The Lost Children in which we’ll get so many Star Wars references you’d think we were watching a really weird episode of Droids or something…

  • Jay

    I thought I saw the last of the underpants sequences! I was wrong! That one panel you showed actually did look like a completely different animation style. I must admit, I liked that style also.

  • Jay

    There’s a ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in N.J called SKULL MOUNTAIN and it doesn’t look too far off from the one in this episode. The ride has atmosphere, but it’s totally tame. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skull_Mountain