Hey, Look, a Dungeons and Dragons Ride!
What a swell rollercoaster/portal to a painful hell world.
The cartoons of the 1980s are well known for being nothing more than animated advertisements for various products. GI Joe and Transformers stand out as examples of cartoons that were entertaining and tolerable while trying to sell toys to the children watching. I remember that thrill I would feel when I would see a rerun and one of my favorite toys cropped up for a cameo. Their formula for those shows was basically:
Executive A: Hey, the new Blitzwing toy just came out. Let's be sure to include a shot of him turning into a jet, then fighting Optimus Prime, then turning into a tank and shooting someone else cool like Soundwave or something.
Executive B: That doesn't even make any sense.
Executive A: That's the beauty of it! It doesn't have to make sense, because we'll never ever show Blitzwing again!
Transformers and GI Joe had better than average toys and characters to bank on, other shows were less fortunate, but they were always selling something. That is, unless you consider the case of "Dungeons and Dragons". You might think the point of the cartoon "Dungeons and Dragons" was to market the roleplaying game of the same name to kids, but if that's the case you would be completely wrong. To the best of my knowledge the Dungeons and Dragons game was never about a rollercoaster that opens a portal to a magical land where a Yoda-like Dungeon Master manipulates kids into mediating a paternity dispute between a five-headed dragon and a vampire with a foam kidney on his head.
For those of you who prefer your summaries to be less summary-like, I have decided to review the first episode of the "Dungeons and Dragons" cartoon. It's a real potboiler entitled "The Night of No Tomorrow". Before we get to the story though, let me bring you up to speed on the wonderful world and characters of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. As I mentioned the setting is an alternate dimension that is only accessible by experiencing some sort of bizarre accident while riding the Dungeons and Dragons rollercoaster. A brother and sister and their three friends are hurled through a portal where a tiny old man transforms each of them into a really crappy archetypical hero. Then he gives them a mewling and hideous baby unicorn to provide comic relief and constant annoyance. These heroes are constantly menaced by the ever-present super dragon Tiamat and Tiamat's arch nemesis and scheming mastermind Venger.
Hank the Ranger - Hank looks like Bo Duke from "The Dukes of Hazzard" if he underwent some sort of Aryan eugenics program to make him even more blond and blue-eyed. Hank is the sole stud of the group and he wields a phallic magical bow that makes him a walking symbol of masculine virility. It should come as no surprise that he's a big hit with the ladies, although he shuns the racially inferior Diana to make time for red-headed Shiela.
The Dungeon Master is either a helpful guide or the biggest asshole ever. Okay, I'm just kidding, he's definitely the biggest asshole ever.
Eric the Cavalier - If there is a decent analog to the D&D roleplaying game in the cartoon it's Eric the Cavalier. He's the character that someone who didn't really want to play was making when he got distracted and went over to the couch and started playing Grand Theft Auto. All Eric does is complain and the sum total of his equipment is a shield. He's cowardly, his traveling companions hate him, and seeing as his only weapon is a shield he fights all opponents by blocking and/or cowering. He won't even pick up a tree branch or a rock.
Sheila the Thief - Sheila is the only character among the heroes who the Dungeon Master has given anything worth a damn. She has a cloak that makes her invisible, concealing her fiery Irish hotness although not always adequately covering her panties. Unfortunately, Sheila is pretty unimaginative, and her cloak is almost always used to cover her escape after she lures monsters away from everyone else. She is romantically involved with Hank. The degree of their involvement is dependent on your abilities as an erotic fan fiction writer.
Presto the Magician - The Harry Potter youth group magician, Presto relies on his magical hat to grant him his powers as a wizard. Occasionally he actually casts some sort of magical spell, but it's pretty much 90% hat, which means anyone else in the group could pull a double shift if they had his hat. Presto also rarely gets the hat to do what he wants, and the whole concept of his magical hat (which he reaches into and pulls stuff out of) is more "little kid's birthday party" than Dungeons and Dragons.
Diana the Acrobat - Diana is a black woman in a fur bikini with a glowing green pole. That explains why she's so sassy. She spends most of each episode either silent or off screen, only sticking her head in from time to time to make a witty comment about what a big suck Eric the Cavalier is. There is usually some point where she has to do something with her stupid green pole too, like jumping over a moat or jumping over a bush. Possibly jumping over a minotaur. Rumor has it that when she learns the secrets of being an acrobat she may even be able to jump over a single-story house.
Bobby the Barbarian - Bobby is Sheila's little brother, although I would be willing to accept theories that he is the bastard child of a forbidden romance between Sheila and Hank. After all, he looks EXACTLY LIKE HANK. Bobby is just a rambunctious little kid, but "ha ha", he's by far the strongest member of the group thanks to the magical lump of wood the Dungeon Master gave him. Bobby is also the guardian of the intolerable Uni the unicorn.
Uni the Unicorn - Uni is a bleating and "adorable" comic relief character that more closely resembles a "My Little Pony" toy with Down's Syndrome than a mythological unicorn. Uni's antics are enough to drive a good man to drink and a bad man to kill and I am sure he/she/it has done plenty of both.
The Dungeon Master - The Dungeon Master is Yoda minus any shred of wisdom and with slightly better skin. It is implied that he is a sort of mischievous guide for the group, although it also seems that he caused the tragic rollercoaster accident that brought them to his dimension. I guess the realm desperately needed heroes to constantly run away from Tiamat.
Venger - I'm not sure what exactly Venger is supposed to be, possibly a vampire or a demon. He looks like Nosferatu in a cassock with some sort of far out hat from the 60s strapped to his head. Venger basically represents the scheming evil force that plagues the group, and most of the time he is behind whatever drama they are dealing with. Venger's one weakness is an intense fear of Tiamat. As far as villainy goes, his schemes are sometimes clever by the standards of 1980s cartoon logic, but his power is limited to shooting blue beams inaccurately out of his hands and shape shifting.
Tiamat - The five headed and indestructible dragon Tiamat appears in nearly every episode. It pretty much hangs around in caves and buildings so that it can walk out and yell at the group of heroes whenever they get near. Its main purpose on the show is to provide a convenient deterrent for Venger and it seems more pathetic than menacing.
That should bring you up to speed with everything you learn from the opening credits.
Mr. Frodo, I'm glad to be here by your side at the end of no tomorrow!
"Night of No Tomorrow" begins with the group of conscripted adventurers scaling a mountain to see if it affords them a view of the way home. When they reach the top Bobby detects an echo and he and Uni goof off screaming and bleating until Tiamat emerges from a nearby cave. Understandably upset, Tiamat is tricked into chasing Shiela back into its cave and then is trapped inside by a rockslide that Bobby causes with his magic club. The Dungeon Master appears seconds later and uses a crystal ball to entice the group into traveling to the town of Helix. He explains that Helix was once overrun by dragons but the amazing wizard Merlin scared them off with his sorcery. He also warns that Venger is the face of all evil, but he can be identified by his white hair.
The group decides that Merlin might be able to help them get back home so they agree to head to Helix. Along the way they get hungry and turn to Presto for assistance. He promises them hamburgers and instead pulls a live cow out of his magical hat. Luckily the group finds Merlin's magical cloud castle before they collapse from starvation. They ascend a glowing golden ladder and Diana gets to be useful for once and leap over a cloud moat to lower the drawbridge into the castle.
Believe me, you do not want Merlin's gas bill.
Inside the castle they are greeted by a suspiciously white-haired and crazy eyed Merlin, who leers at them and strokes a rabbit. When Sheila whispers that he has white hair Merlin reveals that it's actually white hair stuck to his hat and he's bald?!?!?! I don't know either, but you can bet that subterfuge is in the cards! Merlin explains that he knows the group is looking for a way home and entices them in to his spooky magic chamber to watch TV on his cauldron. It turns out the cauldron only gets the History channel, which happens to be showing a silent documentary on Merlin which Merlin helpfully narrates. Merlin explains, in third person, that Merlin saved the village of Helix from the dragons using his good magic and that the town celebrates the de-dragoning every year with a festival.
Eric gets bored with Merlin's slow pace and declares his intentions to leave. Just as he approaches the immense door to the magic chamber it bursts open and in walks Tiamat. Luckily for Tiamat, Merlin's castle was designed by the same people who used to make Duke Nuke 'Em 3D maps of their house where their bed is the size of a semi truck and counter tops extend well beyond an average person's head. All of the gigantic retard-scale doors and furniture can perfectly accommodate a hundred foot tall dragon. Tiamat chases the group and the shockingly impotent Merlin through the castle. When they reach a dead end, Hank opens a trap door and has Presto put a rug over it, sealing Tiamat in the basement.
No thanks guys, I think I will stay here and live the rest of my life with this crazy-eyed mean old man I just met. His offer of being his slave is too good to refuse!
Following the Tiamat lockdown Merlin declares that he needs a pupil to show the ways of magic and invites Presto to join him. The only downside to the deal is that to become Merlin's pupil you have to agree to live with Merlin forever. The rest of the group leaves for Helix, but Presto stays behind, apparently thinking that spending eternity with a creepy old man he just met five minutes earlier sounds like an awesome idea. Merlin instructs Presto to stir a cauldron. Presto manages to stay on task for all of two seconds before wandering over to a giant book of magic and deciphering a spell to return home with his friends. Presto collects the ingredients for the spell and casts it, but instead of teleporting him back home it makes a bunch of dragons shoot out of the cauldron!
Presto flees screaming for help and finds Merlin sitting by the fire stroking his white rabbit meaningfully. Get it, "white hare"? HA HA, INTERNET! Presto spazzes out about unleashing hell on earth but Merlin just calmly walks him out onto the balcony. Merlin then explains that he changed the spells so that Presto would think he was returning home when instead he was breaking Merlin's anti-dragon sorcery. Merlin, of course, then reveals himself to be the nefarious Venger. Venger grabs Presto's magical hat and acts pretty happy about it because, hey, free hat.
Back in Helix, Hank and the rest of the gang are enjoying a rousing good time talking to horribly animated fortune tellers and generally exploring the town that skilled inking and coloring forgot. Hank talks to the mayor about meeting Merlin and the mayor informs him that Merlin died over a thousand years ago. Dun, dun, DUNNNNN! Just then the dragons attack, spitting fire on huge stone towers and burning them to the ground. The mayor loans horses to the group to return to Merlin's castle and attempt to stop the dragon attack. Hank rides out first, scooping up Sheila in a move that reveals some of her costume deficiencies.
The group arrives at the castle and quickly rescues Presto but they are attacked by Venger. He stalks around shooting blue laser beams out of his hand and making a speech about how they cannot escape while they do a pretty good job of escaping. Hank and Presto head to the magic chamber to re-cast Merlin's dragonbuster spell while the rest of the unit splits off to unleash Tiamat. Just as Presto is about to finish casting the spell Venger enters and interrupts the proceedings. He speechifies some more about how awesome he is and how dead Presto and Hank are and then Tiamat busts in through the wall screeching and angry. This puts a kibosh on Venger's dreams of a Helixless world and he flees with Tiamat hot on his heels. Presto finishes casting the spell and the dragons are swept from the skies above Helix.
The following day the group is traveling through a desert listening to Presto bitch about losing his magic hat to Venger. They stop for a break and the Dungeon Master appears waving Presto's hat around like a perfumed handkerchief. I can't overstate how homoerotic this scene is. It's the most literally gay thing in a 1980s cartoon up until the infamous 1987 "lost episode" of "Turbo Teen" where Dr. Chase had to jack off Alex for three straight minutes to get him to turn into a car. Presto dons his soiled hat and announces his triumphant return to the magic business. Eric petitions Presto to conjure him a horse out of the hat, but Eric gets stuck riding the cow from earlier. Ha ha, get it?! What a jerk! A laugh is had by all and the group rides off into the static blue background matte, leaving Eric behind to contend sassily with his bovine mount.
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