Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Legend of Zelda

In which Cheshire goes as long as she possibly can without making a “Well, excuuuuuuuuse me, Princess!” joke.

The Legend of Zelda franchise consists of 17 games for Nintendo consoles and handheld systems, two games for the short-lived Phillips CD-i video game system, various comics and manga, five novels, one cartoon adaptation, and one giant, whiny fandom.

It certainly isn’t the worst fandom out there, (it’s not even the worst in the video game community, to be honest,) but The Legend of Zelda fandom really bothers me. Any group of people who would look at a series of mostly fun, well-designed games and complain with every single release, scaring developers away from taking any risks with the series, just defies all logic for me. You see, the fandom views the most critically acclaimed game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as absolute perfection, and then complain that each new release in the series is awful because it isn’t the same as Ocarina.

The majority of the Zelda fandom absolutely abhors the cartoon spin-off of the series, simply titled The Legend of Zelda. They claim that it’s not canon, that it “ruins” Link and Zelda as characters, and that the franchise that brought us THE MOST PERFECT VIDEO GAME EVER MADE deserved better than this. I don’t think it would be fair to say that there’s absolutely no validity in those claims. The real problem here isn’t that people are frustrated by the series, but that they aren’t bothering to put it in context.

The Legend of Zelda cartoon was released in 1989 as a feature on the Friday morning edition of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. That fact alone shatters the first misconception many people have about the show. This is not the same Hyrule from Ocarina of Time, which would come a full nine years after the show’s demise. The only games in the series that had been released in 1989 were The Legend of Zelda (1986) and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1988). Many, many people complain about the brown-haired, occasional miniskirt-wearing version of Link that appears in the show. Let’s think about what the show’s crew had to work with. This helpful timeline shows the various versions of Link that have appeared in the games. To make it even more helpful for our purposes, I’ve circled the versions of Link that were in existence at the time of this show:

That is all the show’s animators had to work with when they came up with the design for Link in the cartoon. With this in mind, is the design they went with really that far-fetched?

I don’t want to sound like I’m really defending the animated Link, though. He’s easily the worst part of the show. The biggest problem with this early incarnation of Link is that the show’s writers tried too hard to make him relatable to young viewers, and as a result this adult “hero” acts like a whiny ten-year-old. His constant pursuit of Zelda is disconcerting at times and mostly annoying. He ends up seeming more like an immature frat boy than a legendary hero.

Does this portrayal ruin the character, as many claim? The fact is, there’s no character to ruin. Link has always been less a protagonist than a stand-in for the player. He doesn’t even necessarily have to be named Link: the games don’t give you a default name for the character when you start a new save file, so you can name Link whatever you want. The closest that Link ever comes to being characterized is in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, when we discover that Link’s “spirit animal” is a fluffy pink bunny, but I think that’s not as much canon as it is a joke on the part of the game designers. The fact that video game Link is supposed to represent the player does create some other issues for animated Link, though. Because players are supposed to identify themselves with Link, they tend to project positive attributes onto him. Nobody pictures Link as the colossal jerk that we see on the show. It’s more accurate to say that the show’s fault is attempting to characterize Link in the first place. There was no way this show’s version of Link could possibly compete with players’ idealized versions of themselves.

Besides Link, I actually enjoy the show’s other main characters. In fact, this is my favorite interpretation of Zelda in the entire franchise. In most of the games, Zelda is your typical damsel in distress, but in the show, she holds her own and fights alongside Link using a magical bow and arrow. She also has enough presence of mind to refuse Link’s advances because he is, as I’ve said before, a complete idiot, no matter how many times he’s helped her out of a difficult situation. I often found myself wishing that Zelda was the show’s hero, instead of Link.

There’s not much to say about the show’s interpretation of the Legend of Zelda franchise villain, Ganon. He’s a mixed bag. I love his character design, which most closely resembles a boar. The voice acting for Ganon is just terrible, though. He sounds almost as bad as Link, hissing his dialogue more than he speaks it. His plans are about as ill fated as they are in the games, but they aren’t completely idiotic.

The only way I can really describe this series is “average.” Everything about it is average for the time. The writing is average for a 1980s children’s cartoon, filled with either bad or mildly funny jokes and predictable conflicts. The animation is average to decent. Though it’s certainly a far cry from the pristine cel-shaded animation that we’re used to seeing from modern cartoons, it really isn’t that bad for the time. The characters themselves are pretty average, though Link is just terrible.

This isn’t a good cartoon, by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t terrible, either. It certainly isn’t as bad as most Zelda fans would have you believe. I actually enjoyed it, (albeit in the same ironic way that I enjoy Tommy Wisseau’s The Room,) which is more than I can say for many other licensed cartoons from the 80s. Even from the perspective of someone who likes the games, it’s not awful. I appreciated the fact that most of the monsters and sound effects from the original game appear in the series, and it was nice to see Zelda actually defending her kingdom for a change.

Overall, I found this series mildly amusing, but wouldn’t recommend it. There are better ways to spend your time. Do watch it if you’re very curious to see what all the fuss is about, though. You’ll probably enjoy it more than you expected.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

4 Comments:

  1. Dude. DUDE, frat boy kind of dumb Link was my reaction when I first had a glimpse of this show beyond the overused "WELL EXCUUUUUUSE ME PRINCESS" line.

    But… No matter how terrible it was, it DOES come with a few good laughs in the end. Also, I kind of enjoyed Link being dumb and not all that heroic, especially in the face of most other 80s cartoons geared towards young boys with those epic-beyond-belief kind of main stars "P

    • I just think it's not as terrible as the fandom makes it out to be. Honestly, I've seen waaay worse. At least this was funny and had decent character designs with okay animation.

      Also, I couldn't stop laughing about how Link's pet fairy wanted his bod. I wish I'd found a way to fit that into the review.

      • TRUE THAT. :U I mean honestly how can you make a "proper" Link? He kind of represents an idea — he IS your silent guide into Hyrule to let you interact with the other characters. The idealized hero and the silent narrator, doesn't give much to work with, except whatever personality you WANT to slap on him

        And his derpy charm is well, his charm

        Dude what is up with fairies wanting some of that? :B Are there no hot guy fairies or something or does every cute fairy sidekick need the Tinkerbell complex?

  2. DiC totally destroyed The Legend of Zelda When I first heard of the series I thought wow this might be cool series. But I was fooled by the crappy animation,Crappy plot (it was more loosely based on the hit tv series Moonlighting) Princess Zelda acted like a Class One BItch (in my opinion) to Link instead of a wise peaceful warrior Princess. And the one Fairy who hangs around with Link acts like a total dippy dingy ditz! And the way Link used (or Overused) the "WELL EXCUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSE ME PRINCESS" line I thought that Steve Martin was going to sue the pants off of DiC for "stealing" his trademark "WELL EXCUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSE ME" Catchphrase! No wonder when Dic Dropped "The Legend of Zelda" from "The Super Mario Bros Super Show" Link (Who according to Wikipedia was much older and mature) & Princess Zelda joined "Captain N The Game Master" on NBC.

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