Judge Mike Rubino is hoping for the remake, Friday Night Lights of the Roundtable.
"I am King Arthur…and we are the Knights of Justice. We pledge fairness to all, to protect the weak and vanquish the evil!"
When the opening credits rolled in the first episode, and that roaring theme song started, I was hoping to be transformed, similar to Arthur King and his offensive line, into a kid again, reliving the glorious weekend mornings I spent watching this show about knights with rocket-launching javelins.
Sorry, Merlin, but your magic's no good here.
Facts of the Case
King Arthur and his knights from Camelot have been captured and frozen by the evil Queen Morgana. In order to restore order to the land, Merlin uses his magic time traveling skills (he has those) to find some replacement heroes. Naturally, the best choice is the New England Knights high school football team, led by the aptly named Arthur King (voiced by Andrew Kavadas, otherwise known as Simon Belmont from Captain N: The Game Master).
Armed with color-coded outfits, magic-imbued weapons, and more football references than John Madden, King Arthur and his Knights of Justice set out each episode to thwart the plans of Morgana, Lord Viper, Blackwing, and various other stone-blooded warlords.
The show ran in syndication for just two 13-episode seasons. King Arthur and the Knights of Justice: The Complete Animated Series collects all 26 episodes across three discs.
There's something about this show that was extremely appealing to a kid growing up in the early '90s. It had a colorful assortment of heroes, all with great action figure potential; the bad guys had villainous names like "Lord Viper" and "Blackwing;" and its complete lack of educational value made it the perfect pairing choice for a bowl of Froot Loops.
Now that I have the Keys of Truth that come with growing up, I can safely say this is a series better left stranded in the past.
The show kicks off (pun) with an engaging pilot episode in which Merlin fills us in on the situation and then goes out and drafts his Arthurian replacements (who are kidnapped mid-football game!) In subsequent installments, King Arthur follows a predictable formula: the knights are hanging out, Lord Viper causes some trouble, the knights go through a lengthy transformation process, a skirmish ensues, repeat ad nauseam. Sometimes this entire cycle will occur two or three times an episode, which becomes especially grating when you have to sit through the knights' monotonous transmogrification each time—think Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
There is something to be said for a show that gleefully hops from one fight scene to the next. King Arthur, especially in the first season, isn't trying to teach you anything. It's trying to sell sweet toys that shoot missiles. The second season tosses in a pathetic attempt at public service announcements, but even those feel like an afterthought—and make G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero's look like Dr. Phil episodes. The tremendous amount of action in this show would rest soundly in the "positive" column, if the animation wasn't so cheap. This syndicated cartoon is fairly low budget to begin with (they must have sunk all their money into that awesome theme song), but the battle scenes amount to little more than a slide show of clinging swords and tumbling bodies.
Making matters worse is the character design. The heroes are a lumpy, ever-shifting mess of cultural stereotypes spiced up by voice acting with every accent imaginable. It's as if these guys played football for the United Nations International School in The Critic: Sir Tone sounds like Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Sir Zeke is like a Polynesian Woody Allen. The villains fare a bit better, with some cooler costumes and weapons (isn't that always the case?); I didn't even mind that their daily plan to attack the castle is quickly and predictably foiled each episode.
If there's one area of the show's setup that's actually enjoyable, it's the variety of fantasy worlds our heroes visit. The show borrows a heck of a lot from Dungeons and Dragons (which aired a decade prior, and also featured a group of relatable, modern children warped to a fantasy world), and it's most successful at imitating that show's reliance on fantasy elements. King Arthur, Lancelot, Breeze and the rest will venture into caverns, forests, alternate dimensions, and even stop home. In the episode "The Way Back," Sir Tone conjures up a portal home in order to revive his mother in the hospital…then they return to Camelot? The series also leans on a vague subplot involving the "13 Keys of Truth," and how they're the only things that will free the real King Arthur and return the football players to New England.
No amount of fantasy storytelling with keys and portals home will matter to these good knights, of course, because the second season ends without closure. It's odd enough that the second season has different, cheaper, opening credits and slightly different animation, but the fact that the show just sort of stops after 26 episodes is a big letdown. When I was a kid, I just moved on to whatever was next (probably The Incredible Crash Dummies). Now that I see this show again, I realize it's just a cash-in on Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Dungeons & Dragons, and the generic five-and-a-half-inch action figure model found in Toys R' Us.
The 26 episodes are presented on three discs with little fanfare. The video quality is decent, but retains that '90s video feel. The Dolby mono is a letdown, with a quiet soundtrack behind the dialogue and no other language or subtitle options. Sadly, there's no supplements either—sorry, no cheat codes for that Super Nintendo adaptation.
King Arthur and the Knights of Justice isn't an awful show by early '90s standards. It's just a bland, low budget trek into Arthurian legend that squandered a lot of awesome potential. They had missiles and armored chariots, how did they screw that up?
For die hard fans of the show, or just curious nostalgics, this is worth a cautious look. Parents looking to get their kids into a simple action cartoon, without having to worry about providing tie-in toys to back it up, may feel safe latching on to this thing.
I, for one, have ventured back in time to a land of 'tude and football puns, and I do not wish to return.
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