What happens when it’s 1992 and you want to make a kid-friendly cartoon about King Arthur? Add football!
Jean Chalopin was the founder of DiC entertainment, which was responsible for plenty of popular children’s cartoons in the 1980s and early 1990s, including Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff, and the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Chalopin eventally left DiC in the mid-1980s (or was forced out? That story isn’t totally clear to me), but he wasn’t quite done making cartoons for kids. In 1987, he founded C&D (Créativité et Développement), and worked on a handful of other cartoons, many of which were distributed by Saban Entertainment, and/or ended up on the nascent Fox Kids network. Many went straight into syndication, being picked up by whatever networks would carry the show.
One cartoon that ended up as a syndicated program was King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, and this show’s existence continues to baffle me to this day. The story goes, Queen Morgana and her golem-like warlords, lead by the sinister Lord Viper, have captured King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Desperate to not let Camelot fall into her evil clutches, Merlin travels through time to find suitable replacements.
This brings him to 1992, where he finds the football team appropriately named The Knights. And their quarterback is named, I kid you not, Arthur King. After a grueling gridiron victory, Merlin transports The Knights back in time to Camelot, where he asks them to take up after the Knights of the Round Table. After much convincing in the pilot episode the team eventually agrees, and use their unique blend of teamwork and football skills to overtake Morgana’s forces, and save Camelot. Only by freeing the original Round Table Knights can the football heroes return home. Unfortunately, they were unable to complete this mission by the end of the show’s second season.
The show itself is pretty standard fare for early-1990s boys’ action cartoons. Each episode highlights one of the knights having a personal issue that somehow ties in to Morgana’s plot, and everybody learns a valuable lesson about friendship or trust or teamwork by the end of each 22 minutes. While most episodes follow the above formula, occasional episodes are a bit more plot-centric, as they eventually introduce The Keys of Truth, which, when they are all obtained, can free the real Arthur and his allies.
Every episode has an extended transformation sequence, showing the knights go from their causal medival garb into heavily-armored heroes by reciting a magical oath, transformed by The Lady of the Table (who I suspect is based on the Lady of the Lake from actual Arthurian Legend). Arthur King himself can call upon the legendary sword Excalibur by holding out his hand and proclaiming, “Excalibur, be my strength!” The emblem on his chest armor glows, and transforms into the sword. In a nice little detail, the chest armor typically has a silver sword detail, but when Arthur is holding the weapon, the chest armor detail turns gold to indicate that it’s in use. The other Knights all have similar such weaponry hidden in their armor. My favorite is lineman Sir Brick, who has a magical brick wall.
But there are SOME things that you just have to gloss over. For example, Merlin doesn’t want to arouse suspicion, so he asks the football players to not reveal that they’re from hundreds of years in the future. This is complicated when you realize that King Arthur is married to Guinevere, and quarterback Arthur King is expected to keep up this ruse without revealing that he’s not, you know, her husband. Also, while the original knights are never seen outside of their armor, I kind of have trouble believing that ALL of the 1992 transplants look exactly like their medieval English counterparts. But I guess it’s possible!
The second season introduces the Purple Horde, a reoccurring tribe of violet-armored Samurai. While the Horde are typically in alliance with Morgana’s warlords, they hold to a strict code of honor (of course the Asian characters display honor), which sometimes puts them on the side of the Knights. At least it’s a set of new characters to put in the middle of some adventures.
Character designs are decent to great — the Knights each have two main colors, giving each character a very pro sports team feel. Unfortunately, they each all have two DIFFERENT primary colors, so none of them look like they’re on the same pro sports team. The Warlords, though, all have awesome designs, and NONE of them would be out of place in any Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The rest of the world world is pretty well realized, as the residents of Camelot, Merlin, Morgana, and any random one-off villagers all have outfits with the same basic style and designs, though unique enough to be easily distinguishable from each other.
The animation is decent enough. This show was produced pre-Batman: The Animated Series, so much like G.I. Joe or The Real Ghostbusters, each character is highly detailed and all those lines means they’re harder to animate. But the action sequences are all pretty cool, even if they’re riddled with football puns.
Voice acting was supplied by the best Canadian voice actors that weren’t from the X-Men animated series. Scott McNeil, Garry Chalk, Michael Donovan, Jim Byrnes, Kathleen Barr, Venus Terzo — All known for their work on shows such as Transformers: Beast Wars and the English dub of Ranma 1/2. As far as I can tell, everybody voices multiple characters, though they do a good job of keeping each voice fairly distinct, so whenever an actor is playing against themselves, you can’t really tell it’s the same person.
The theme song was written by Shuki Levy, and it’s pretty rockin’.
To support the show, there was a toy line that saw a handful of figures and vehicles (and horses) released by Mattel, as well as a three-issue comic series from Marvel Comics. Additionally, there was a role playing game released by Enix for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I haven’t played it, but the ending of the game apparently sends the football team back home to the 1990s. Hey, even if the show never got around to it, at least there IS a version of the end of the story!
King Arthur and the Knights of Justice is a bizarre piece of animation history that continues to fascinate and baffle me. The entire series has been released on DVD in a few different countries (included the United States), and is sometimes available for purchase on Amazon. At the time of this writing, the first season is available to watch for free on TubiTV.com, and is also available on a streaming service Watch It, Kid!, but that requires an account. But check your favorite streaming services, because I’ve definitely seen it pop up on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the past.
I enjoy this weird-ass show, but don’t know that it’s necessary for anybody to watch all 26 episodes. But I think the first one is kind of a fun romp. Check that one out, see how you feel, pledge fairness to all, protect the weak, and vanquish the evil.