Cartoon Commentary! #9, Where does Eric get all those wonderful toys?

By Shawn Robare

So, moving right along, we’re going to take a look at episode #8 of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon today, Servant of Evil. The episode originally aired on November 5th, 1983, and was again written by the most prolific contributor to the series, Jeffrey Scott.

The first half of this episode basically serves as a Bobby solo story as he’s left alone after the rest of the gang is taken prisoner during his birthday party celebration. Dungeon Master gives Bobby an amulet and send him on a quest to free his friends from the Prison of Agony, where he befriends a giant named Karrox and faces off with Venger and his lizard henchmen.

In a fun twist, this episode opens not on the gang, but instead on Venger’s Prison of Agony, in particular on a very disturbing shot of some depressing wraith-like creatures hanging onto some of the prison bars, moaning for freedom. This reminded me a lot of the scene in Beetlejuice when Alec Balwin and Gena Davis stumble upon the lost souls room. For a second I was hoping that these were more zombies, which is a possibility, though these look a little more in control of their senses…

The shot then pulls out to reveal the prison itself, which is pretty darn imposing for Saturday morning cartoon. The prison is suspended above an active volcano, which houses another one of Venger’s castles, up on top, on the edge.

The opening scene continues on, panning over to Venger, who is ruthlessly lording over yet another red haired slave dwarf. This time though, he urges a giant, Korrax, to be the one to throws the dwarf in the prison, as Venger is black mailing him to do his bidding. It’s a very disturbing scene, in which you can really see Venger enjoying his power, one of the rare times you see him with any sort of happy expression on his face.

The show switches gears then, catching up to the gang in the woods surprising Bobby on his birthday. Once again we see Eric with a strange Earthly item, this time a mask, and again it looks like it’s of Asian (Chinese in particular) origin. Where does Eric get all these wonderful things, stranded in this fantasy realm? Ah, unexplained, yet convenient writing to the rescue again.

Though the mask thing is kind of weird, it was pretty cool of Scott to bring in an element like a character’s birthday. The presents the kids dug up or made were pretty interesting as well, though a little on the wacky side, which is certainly an apt description for a good bit of this episode. For instance, Eric’s present to Bobby is a small box full of odd little creatures with two legs, no arms, and what appear to be large shiny olives for helmets…

It’s actually very much like anime in its execution (in particular I’m thinking of the work of Hayao Miyazaki and his penchant for placing weird tiny creatures in his films.) Now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if some of these Asian details I’ve been noticing are because of the animation outsourcing? Like maybe these things were written into the scripts, but weren’t described in detail, so the animators threw in stuff that seemed normal enough to them? Hmm. See this is where my geek flag flies as well, because I’m interested in little details like this, yet I can’t imagine trying to contact Jeffrey Scott to ask such minutely detailed questions about cartoon scripts he wrote 25 years ago. Heck, maybe he’d appreciate it, but another larger part of me believes he’d probably think I was obsessed, like some sort of American version of an Otaku or something. Ahhh, fandom.

Anyway, as Eric’s creepy little olive hated things bound off into the forest with Bobby in tow, a bunch of new creatures, Venger’s awesome lizard men, show up to attack the kids. In fact for some reason these guys remind me a lot of the Snake Men from He-Man, but I’m not sure why exactly as I can’t remember what most of them looked like.

Possibly taking a cue from Steve Gerber, Scott has the gang take on the creatures in a more natural, less weapons as tools, sort of way. Hank even manages to bull’s-eye two of the lizard men with a double shot from his energy bow…

I’m wondering if there is a little bit of footage cut from this segment, in particular the scene with Sheila crouching to let Hank shoot the two lizard men. While I was looking online for D&D cartoon stuff, I came across this Spanish website with season 1 episode annotations, and for this scene the webmaster posted the following: "Cuando Sheila se agacha para que Hank pueda atacar a los hombres-lagarto vuelve a enseñar su ropa interior (esta vez es rosa)…", which roughly translates (via Bablefish) to: "When Sheila crouches itself so that Hank can attack the man-lizard returns to teach his underclothes (this time is pink)…" Granted, it’s a really rough translation, but it looks a lot like the site is claiming that either Hank or Sheila’s underpants were showing in the scene, and they were pink. Now I’m going to take an educated guess here and go with Sheila, and not just because the undergarments in question were pink, but because other than Presto, the only underwear we get to see in the series is Sheila’s from episode one, which were white, so I’m actually playing off of the "…(this time is pink)…" part. By the way, now I think I’m a crazy American Otaku, and I want to smack myself. Anyway, the rest of the notations the person made on their site, even translated horribly, seem to be spot on, so I’m wondering if there is maybe a different edit of the show in Europe (as it was released over there years ago, way before it saw a release here), or if they’re working off of memories from when the show originally aired in the 80s. I did notice that it was very hard to get a screen shot of the bolts connecting with the lizard men as it lasts for only a fraction of a second, which possibly speaks to the footage getting cut back a little, perhaps to cut out some rogue pink panties. Now I’m going to go hit my head against the wall until I stop writing dissertations on cartoon characters underpants.

As I mentioned before, this episode is full of super wackiness, including Looney Tunes-esque physical/sight-gags like the following…

I have to assume this was Presto’s present to Bobby, a present that apparently would have scared him right off his feet. Once again, I’m curious where this sort of gag comes from, the writer, the storyboards or the animators? Only Jeffrey Scott can answer that question and I’m not going to bother him with it, so it shall remain a mystery. Actually that’s not true, I’m sure a lot of people can answer it, but they’d all be bothered or think I was crazy.

As I stated above, this episode is sort of a solo Bobby adventure (at least in spirit), so when Dungeon Master finally makes an appearance, it’s to him alone (in fact he only appears to Bobby in the entire episode for once.) DM also gives Bobby a little bit of special consideration, I would assume because he’s the youngest of the group, in presenting him with an amulet that will protect him from Venger. The amulet also serves as a stand in for future DM appearances as he talks to Bobby through it, much the same as Ben Kenobi talks to Luke in the first Star Wars flick after Vader slices him into an empty crumpled cloak on the Death Star.

Another interesting thing I noticed in this episode is a tendency for the main characters to get angry when faced with danger or problems. Typically characters seem to express emotions like surprise, astonishment, determination, or fear (or honestly they just keep a straight face) but there seem to be more and more times (like when Bobby was frozen and had to watch Uni have her horn removed) when characters just get downright pissed. It’s odd to see heroic characters showing anger, at least it seems out of place to me, in terms of what seems appropriate (not by my standards, but by those imposed on children’s programming.) I think that’s why I love movies like the Goonies, where characters (and the actors playing them) seem to be freer to be honest, and when they get pissed, they get pissed. I think this is why I like the worlds Steven Spielberg helps to bring to life, because they seem so damn honest, whereas other flicks, and especially cartoons try to either sugarcoat things or force characters to react in non threatening ways that seem off.

For all of you who ever wondered what Sheila would look like with jet-black hair, there is an animation error as the gang is lead into the Prison of Agony by Karrox…

Also, at first I thought that this following gate lock on the prison was going to have to serve as the obligatory dragon for this episode, but luckily there is an appearance later on in the episode of a more or less real dragon. It’s still a really nifty lock though.

Here’s a shot of what Venger’s castle (version 3) looks like. I really dig the idea of having it balanced on the precipice of an active volcano, it’s really dramatic and seeming the perfect place to go about planning cruel deeds to play out on a bunch of hapless kids from another world…

There’s another odd moment in this episode, which features Eric with a real world item that isn’t explained. This time it’s a Spiderman comic book, which is actually sort of an in joke as the show was one of the Marvel Productions cartoons, and thus was probably free to reference some of the marvel properties (sort of like Man-Thing’s appearance in the last episode.) Where does Eric get this stuff? I can’t even attribute Presto as the source as Venger confiscated his cap before they were tossed in the prison. Just sort of weird.

There’s also another bit of subtle character development in the prison segment, where we catch Hank and Diana sharing a moment. I wonder is this was improvised or specified?

This episode also introduces us to another hero of the realm (in addition to Karrox that is), Strongheart, who once again had an action figure in the D&D line of toys produced by LJN. This was another figure that I owned as a kid, though I didn’t care for him all that much, probably because he wasn’t as cool as the Warduke figure (and I have to admit that I think I had a soft spot for all of my villain action figures because they always looked cooler.) I’m not sure if Strongheart is a character in the table top game, but his action figure comes with different accessories than what he ends up with in the show, so I’m betting that this is another reason why the line of toys was separate from the cartoon.

There’s a weird bit of background detail on a barrel in the prison that’s marked "Santory 1855". I’m not sure if this is supposed to be something reflected from our world, or if this is a date marker for the realm. I did a Google search, but I couldn’t come up with anything. I was thinking in might be a type of wine or something.

There’s an interesting four-armed monster that the lizard men set on the kids during an escape attempt. He sort of reminds me of Ray Harryhausen’s design of the Kraken from Clash of the Titans…

Getting back to the wacky, there’s a weird little bit as Bobby is crossing a small lake on a raft when he’s sighted by one of Venger’s lizard men. There’s this really out of place spring sound effect (think like a goofy "boing" noise) when the lizard man has a glint in his eye. The thing that kills me about this is that this must have been done by the American crew, as they would likely be in charge of the sound design in the cartoon. Actually this isn’t the only out of place sound effect in this sequence. When Bobby first gets on the raft there is a moment when he’s running where you can hear a sort of Scooby Doo scramble (you know that noise when the characters start to run and their legs are just going at like a hundred miles an hour.)

When Bobby frees his friends and Strongheart, we find out that he has a magical weapon too, a golden hammer. Unfortunately, we never get to learn what its power is, though I’m willing to bet it’s up the alley of Bobby’s club. In this scene we also get to see the character’s trademarked feathery helmet (well I say that, but I’m totally going off of the figure here.)

In one of the coolest segments of the episode, Venger has his lizard men take the children’s weapons to use against them. It’s interesting that they can use them (not to mention a while heck of a lot better) than the kids…

Okay, here’s the obligatory dragon, a two-headed lava dragon summoned by Venger after the kids more or less get into an equal stand off with the lizard men…

This episode once again jumps into wacky territory, though now it’s sort of super wacky as we get a very anime influenced expression of fear from Presto, and then a crazy Looney Tunes/Hanna Barbera floating eye gag. I’m really curious to know how this episode received such an insane comic twist, especially when you consider the overall theme of this particular episode is very dark and depressing.

It does revert back into a more or less serious tone when Karrox steps up to put a hurtin’ on Venger. First they get into a struggle in which Venger teleports them outside of his castle, and then in a very common sequence for this series, he tosses some magic at the giant only to have it bounce directly back at him (via the amulet that Dungeon Master gav to Bobby, which he then gave to Karrox.) This causes him to fall off of a cliff into the molten lava below, though he oddly teleports at the last second averting a certain doom.

Even though he appeared to teleport away at the last second, there is yet another crazy scene as Venger turns into a giant spire of smoke, though again, it’s very cool and well animated. This is one convention of the series that I am full force behind because it’s so pretty…

This sequence again illustrates the very anime influenced quality of the animation, something that shows like this and G.I. Joe (which was also animated overseas I believe) could certainly have stood for more of.

All in all this is another example of some really decent writing on the part of Scott, and one of the more interesting episodes of the series.

  • Jay

    Ahh Shawn, your dissertation on the pink underpants was classic. And I’m pretty sure you just coined the scooby doo scramble.

  • Jay

    As a joke I’m going to ask my girlfriend for a bottle of vintage Santory 1855 !

  • Cal

    I think Santory might be a play on Suntory, the Japanese Whiskey. Maybe someone in the crew had a fondness for it. :)

  • Zentron

    Well, you are certainly right about the moment where her undies are clearly visible… quite nice they are too lol

  • Another S.

    It’s definitely meant to be the Japanese brand Suntory. They make all kinds of alcohol, wine, beer, etc. The name is not a native Japanese word, and it’s written as ????? in katakana, which is “”santori~”” if strictly transliterated. Spelling errors and variations happen both intentionally and unintentionally when Japanese studios render foreign words using the roman alphabet.