Pixel to Cel: “The Legend of Zelda” Cartoon Series, 1989
It is hard to imagine gaming without The Legend of Zelda. Made up almost exclusively of hits and only a few misses (thank you CD-i), from its 1986 NES debut to last years’ Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (2020), the Zelda franchise has been as sound as the pound for three and a half decades, with hordes of fans new and old alike.
Going back three and a half decades to the period of after-school and Saturday morning children’s programming, anything that had parents buying more cartridges for their kid’s game console could also have them buying additional merch if it were related to a trendy video game. If not to move units of said novelty crap, the tie-in could be a ratings booster to help sell commercial time at a higher dollar amount – that would be good too! Regardless of the reason, a cartoon series was the order of the day to sit asses down in front of television sets.
Capitalism being the beautiful thing that it is, The Legend of Zelda cartoon series arrived in 1989 as part of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (Thanks Bob Forward). Dic Entertainment produced only one season of 13 episodes, each with around a 15-minute run time. The series drew from the first two Nintendo games out at the time—1986’s The Legend of Zelda, and 1987’s sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The cartoon has the Zelda theme song we all know and love, and the sound effects from the game are used in the show, too.
The premise is a simple one.
The Kingdom of Hyrule possesses the Triforce of Wisdom, and the evil wizard Ganon (in all his pig-like glory) possesses the Triforce of Power. Princess Zelda warns Link, our hero, that whoever has both Triforces will rule the land forever. Each episode focuses on Ganon hatching some plot to try and get the Triforce of Wisdom, usually with a monster of the week pulled from the games. Throw in animation comparable enough for the time, the whole presentation isn’t bad for a show targeted towards kids, but it is very camp, and very repetitive!
The characters are not portrayed in ways one might have hoped, either. Link (Jonathan Potts – Mr. Gitten, Ginny & Georgia, 2021), is an overconfident hero, and a bit of a goof that may be a little too thirsty for Princess Zelda (Cynthia Preston – producer for 2018’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan), though Zelda does tend to use his infatuation to manipulate him. Zelda’s father, King Harkinian (Colin Fox – Fritz, Nick Jr’s Rupert, anyone?) is as side character as one might expect, throwing in a word from time to time when the Triforce of Wisdom (Elizabeth Hanna – Hen, Little Bear 2000-2001) isn’t rhyming some sort of platitude. The prolific Tabitha St. Germain (Rarity from every recent My Little Pony) voices Spryte, a fairy that might have a thing for Link, but the show stealer (or is it squealer?) is the late Canadian thespian Len Carlson (Hugo – Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike – Fight for the Future, 1999).
The vocal performance on Ganon is a work of art, Len going through snorts, and squeals, as well as high and low pitches while delivering over the top villainous dialogue with such a smooth flow that it’s a marvel to listen to. Honestly, his performance is a major reason to watch an otherwise mediocre cartoon!
The Legend of Zelda is a short-lived piece of media that is either nostalgically endearing, or infamous and hated depending on who you’re asking. All parties can at least agree it wasn’t very legendary. The Legend of Zelda doesn’t offer any deep meanings, instead proffering simple life messages to kids from episode to episode (as was common back then). While it was mostly shallow and harmless entertainment, the show sticks to one of the most enjoyable conventions of all, be it tired by today’s somewhat more nihilistic views, preachy political scripts, and ‘subversion of expectations’ standards.
That convention is ‘Good triumphs over Evil’. Period. We also get the strangely memorable “Well, excuse me, princess!” line spoken by an exasperated Link in reply to an often demanding Zelda.
That’s enough for me to pop in every once in a while to watch, and that’s enough for me this time around, too!
Next up on Pixel to Cel?
You all know who Akira Yuki is, right?