Animation Block: The Legend of Prince Valiant

As said elsewhere, the 1990’s was a strange time for Western Animation. While most critics of the time and even today argue that animation is best suited for children, there was a serious effort to make animated fare for the entire family.

One such example is The Legend of Prince Valiant. Loosely based on the long running comic strip created by Hal Foster, the animated adventures of the young prince premiered on the Family Channel back in 1991. Sharing a bond with future shows such as Exo-Squad, Prince Valiant was a 65 episode epic, with each season having an overarching story, character growth, and an actual conclusion.

Taking place in the days of King Arthur (and a sort of vague 13th Century England), Prince Valiant of Thule dreams of a place called Camelot. Driven from his home by invaders, he leaves his family in search of place were might doesn’t make right. Along the way he meets a peasant named Arn and a progressive (for the time) woman named Rowanne, both who dream of becoming knights.

The first season would see the trio seeking out Camelot and undergoing many trials to join King Arthur. Plots are revealed and characters change. One notable example of this is the arc of Sir Mordred, who is changed from Arthur’s illegitimate son to a co-founder of Camelot. When we are first introduced to him, he is a proud defender of the realm. The show’s theme of change is striking, and we begin to see Mordred’s idealism rot. He goes from Arthur’s defender to founding a rival group dubbed the New Dawn and tries to destroy Camelot. This arc takes up the second season and we see characters switch sides, argue politics, and on a few occasions die.  

Other characters changed as well. A minor villain named Duncan was introduced early in the series as a petty baron who ruled his people with an iron fist. Deposed by Valiant at the episode’s end, Duncan would never have been seen again in most shows, but he returns later in the series, first as a villain, but later as he begins to think about Arthur’s teachings, he reforms and becomes an ally.

There were also “very special message” episodes but the morals were never too heavy-handed. The show also took some liberties with both the source material and Arthurian myths (some characters were merged to create new ones; magic is omitted entirely, etc.). The show did try to be one for the whole family. Violence was handled realistically but not gratuitously.

With all that, the show was rather decent and has been recently released onto DVD. It had a brief run on the Family Channel, but it really does deserve more attention. The voice work was amazing. Only a handful of shows can boast as talented a cast as Tim Curry, Ron Perlman, Wil Wheaton, Patty Duke, and Robby Benson. It is worth a rental if nothing else.