The Legend of Zelda: The Animated Series

Mmm. Smell that sexual tension. Oh, and yeah — Link has strapped Zelda to himself. As you do.

I figure literally everyone reading this will have heard of Nintendo’s long-running and staggeringly profitable Legend of Zelda series of video games. I’m even willing to bet most of you have played one at least once. Many of you will have lost days, weeks, even months of your lives trying to rescue various versions of the Kingdom of Hyrule from Evil, which always shows up under the name of Ganon for some damnfool reason.

But for those of you not in the know: Hyrule is a fantasy kingdom which is nominally due to be passed on to one Princess Zelda, a young blonde lass who may or may not have magic powers of some sort. Zelda’s passage to power is inevitably interrupted by Ganon, a Villain (and for some reason, throughout 19 — soon to be 20 — games over 37 years, the idiots who run Hyrule have never actually noticed that it’s always the same asshole who power-shits all over their bucolic medieval paradise).

With Zelda imprisoned or otherwise detained, the entire kingdom of Hyrule with all its varied cultures and peoples is inexplicably helpless. It falls to a young lad named Link — supposedly some kind of personal knight to Zelda — to sort matters out. Link (your onscreen avatar) does this by running about the place, smashing pottery, shooting stuff, climbing shit, and using a remarkable array of arcane gadgetry and weird powers to solve a truly staggering number of puzzles of varying degrees of tedium.

(Go ahead. Ask me how many flurken times Link has fallen into the damn lava while I’ve been playing. And why is there lava anyway? Hyrule seems to have the same OSHA standards as the Empire in Star Wars. Have you idiots NEVER HEARD OF A HANDRAIL?)

Whatever. It’s massively popular, so naturally you’d expect someone would have turned it into a cartoon by now… and yes, they did.

In 1989.

Now if that little phrase doesn’t make your blood run cold, you really don’t know the history of cartoons and animation. Animation predates movies, by the way. People were drawing little flip-animation books and making toys that animated images by virtue of persistence of vision (look it up) as far back as the middle ages. There’s even a theory that the remarkable cave drawings of Lascaux are an early, super-primitive form of animation in that the marvelously depicted images on the cave walls seem to move and flicker with life when viewed by the light of a dancing fire, or a flaming torch.

But animation really came forward once movies and cinema technology got underway. And it took off like a rocket. Walt Disney brought it to mainstream attention and gave it some artistic cred, but you really can’t go past the surreal weirdness of things like Felix the Cat, or the sheer anarchy of Bugs Bunny, the mayhem of Tom and Jerry… animation up to WWII was frickin’ awesome.

With the advent of TV, though, things went a bit sideways. TV was like radio before it: mass entertainment, a voracious maw perpetually demanding more content, faster, sooner. Meanwhile, the Brits were in the post-war doldrums, and the Americans were suffering from the 1950s. Also, animation was seen largely as kiddie stuff. (But not in Japan. Thank you, Japan! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.)

As a result, cartoons for TV by the 60s had by and large become cheap, shitty (thanks Hanna-Barbera, for those endless scenes of Yogi and Boo-Boo running stiff-armed and expressionless across a perpetually repeating series of backdrops. You cheap, lazy bastards!) and monstrously formulaic.

What do I mean by formulaic? Well, shit. The Simpsons is basically just The Flintstones in suburbia with a side-order of family dysfunction and increasingly weary social commentary. And the Flintstones kicked off in 19-funking-60. Now, I haven’t been even vaguely interested in Homer, Marge, Bart and the others since the early 90s, but unless I miss my guess they’re still grinding out more episodes. So effectively, the Flintstones model is still rolling along sixty-something years down the track.

The Flintstones weren’t the only formula, mind you. Don’t forget the Scooby-Doo stuff, where plucky animated characters solved a mystery every episode. And there were oddballs and outliers back in the day, for sure. Kudos to Robert Crumb and Fritz the Cat. Credit to Ralph Bakshi, who did some subversive stuff in his time. (Have we reviewed Wizards yet? Surely we’ve reviewed Wizards, right?)

A tip of the hat to Rocky and Bullwinkle, Roger Ramjet, Batfink, and sundry others. But the point is that America had become the powerhouse of pop culture, and the people in charge felt that cartoons were for kids. And the Americans were pretty damned uptight about pop culture for kids for quite a while there… (Look up the Comics Code Authority sometime. You’ll find out why MAD Magazine was a magazine, and not a comic…)

…and so we come to the Great Wasteland of the 1980s. The simple joy of things like The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo had long since worn off. The makers of breakfast cereals and complicated plastic toys needed new content, new images, new stories. Preferably, these were to be images and stories that promoted their products, or conversely the images and stories needed to be simplistic enough that the toymakers could make gigabucks by turning out plastic figurines and accessories for beleagured parents to stand on in the middle of the night.

Yes, it was the Era of the Tie-In. We got shitty He-Man stories. We got dumbed-down Ninja Turtles stories. We got… well, it was an endless stream of utterly vapid crap designed to keep children from annoying parents who might be trying to score a little Saturday morning rumpy-pumpy, and offer a plethora of must-have purchases for the sad swine of the Divorce Generation to fail to buy their kids’ affections with.

Really, I cannot overstate how utterly pants this period was. It’s actually impossible to convey. You had to live through it, the way soldiers lived through the Vietnam War. It was horrific. Not until efforts like Ren and Stimpy or Pinky and the Brain clawed their way onto the screens in the early ’90s did anyone acknowledge that a) some children might actually be smart enough to think He-Man and the Plastic Bastard Universe was crap, and b) some kids who’d grown up on cartoons were now adults that might like to see something more challenging.

Oh — and if you suspect times are so much better now, let say just one word: Pokémon.

Now: back to our main topic. 1989, and the Animated Adventures of Zelda. I only heard about this by chance because someone here at Chez Flinthart was playing Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild on the Nintendo Switch for the very first time, and we began wondering why there wasn’t a Zelda cartoon.

I poked around the Internet for all of five minutes, and sure enough: there it was. I swore then and there that I’d find it and watch it, and my daughter looked upon me with horror for she has come to fear my Mutant Reviewer powers of late — and well she might.

The Legend of Zelda: The Animated Series ran for all of one season (13 episodes) and you can find it all on YouTube. Right here:

Now, if you’re already familiar with the Great Eighties Wasteland, do not venture here. You are sadder and wiser already. You have put the horrors of the past behind you, and need not delve into them again unless you’re tormenting your children, or looking for an excuse to kill yourself. But for those of you who have never seen it…


…it’s frickin’ atrocious. Excruciating. It is the very avatar of all the worst elements of The Great Eighties Wasteland. Look upon its grotesque, monstrous form and know true despair.

First of all, it was part of some kind of Mario Bros show. The intro and the outro have to be seen to be believed. It opens with a cartoon Mario head calling everyone “paisanos,” without even a trace of an Italian accent. And maybe you think they used the legendary Voice of Mario? Ha! This version of ‘Mario’ sounds like the producers drove out on the streets of Chicago by night, grabbed the first homeless, alcoholic war-veteran they could stuff in the trunk of the limo, promised him all the methylated spirits he could guzzle and recorded the whole thing in one take on a Sony Walkman held between somebody’s flabby butt-cheeks..

Then there’s the bit where “Mario” and “Luigi” (two more shattered, hopeless, PTSD-broken addicts dragged off the streets and shoved into cheap cosplay suits) shuffle aimlessly back and forth in front of the credits. Oh, the humanity! Did nobody think to put them out of their misery?

And let’s not even venture to the end credits, where the fat homeless bastard in his shabby Mario outfit has to rap (yes! I’m not making this shit up, okay?) about ‘doing the Mario’. Apparently it’s meant to be some kind of dance, but it looks like what might happen if Frankenstein’s monster ran out of voltage and they juiced him up with cocaine and weedkiller instead.

You notice I haven’t even got to talking about Link and Zelda yet? After the Mario shit, they’re positively anticlimactic. The Adventures of Zelda are so pitilessly generic that they practically vanish up their own arseholes. But believe me: they’re still something to behold.

How so?

Well, in this Kingdom of Hyrule, every week the Evil Wizard Ganon (or more usually, his inevitably-bumbling stooges) make yet another effort to heist The Triforce of Wisdom. Apparently, if Ganon (who looks like a pig-faced man in poorly fitted robes) can score this amazing object, he’ll pair it up with the Triforce of Power that he keeps in his lounge room, and thus rule… uhh… all of Hyrule.

We know this because yes, he tells us this every single time. Every! Frocking! Time! Because why write dialogue when you can just have the villain restate his sole objective several times every week in a high-pitched, grating voice? The kids won’t care, right? They’re kids! They’re terminally stupid and they just love this shit. Anyway, what else would they do with their lives?

Like I said: It was the ’80s. Cartoon villains were idiotic, ineffectual morons and bumblers. They existed so the heroes could righteously thwart their wacky schemes, and show all the kiddies that Evil Never Prospers (unless, you know, it owns the banks and the stock markets, in which case naturally it’s NOT EVIL, right? Shut up and watch your freaking cartoon, kid. And don’t forget to buy the floggin’ toys.)

Ganon never even gets off the page as a character. He’s not even evil, to be honest. The worst thing he does is steal the Triforce of Wisdom and order his idiot henchmen around. You want to see Evil, you should look at Link… but I’m getting ahead of myself there. Screw Ganon. He’s a plot device, and a repetitive, boring plot device at that.

Meanwhile, blonde, vapidly pretty Zelda is the people’s princess with the perpetual cameltoe going on. But she’s no helpless babe. Oh no. She’s a sassy, liberated woman who… no, shit, I can’t write this.

Zelda is genuinely pathetic. Tragic, even. Sure, she gets in on the action when she and Link go to save the Triforce of Wisdom from Ganon every week — but when she’s not shooting her magic bow or whatever, she’s organizing the spring cleaning of the castle, or handling an endless stream of straight-up sexual harassment from Link — and loving it, because ’80s women, though they’d been ‘liberated,’ secretly loved the abusive bad-boy routines of all those ’80s lads with the hairsprayed mullets and the padded jackets, right? Because their entire worth, their total value as human beings lay in their ability to sexually attract those mouth-breathing morons. Without the bad-boys to leer and lech at them, those young, liberated ’80s women were… nothing. They were… (gasp)… unpopular!

Zelda’s a depressing cipher, a hideous, Stockholm-syndrome-lost victim of the rampant abuse, suppression, and objectification of women so glorified by the 1980s in an endless stream of crap action films and smirking, bosoms-out, frat-boy comedies. You just know that after this series crashed and burned, Zelda wound up doing softcore porn toons under an assumed name, fell into a cocaine addiction, and eventually drove her sports-car into the side of a train after being tossed out of the Betty Ford Clinic for huffing drain-cleaner in the kitchens.

Link is even worse. Being a young male character of the 1980s, he’s meant to be a lovable horndog with a line in snarky banter. But the budget didn’t really extend to writers, so mostly Link makes skeevy, heavy-handed efforts to get next to Zelda, and sneers when it doesn’t work out. They even have him pull out the famous Steve Martin ‘well exc-u-uuu-uuuuse me!’ routine as some sort of catchphrase. It’s skin-crawlingly ugly.

And Link’s role? Well, nominally he guards the all-important Triforce of Wisdom (which lives in his bedroom, for some reason) but mostly he has to go chasing after Ganon when the Triforce is yet again stolen after Link abandons his duties to rush off and flex his genitals in Zelda’s direction. And it’s lucky for him that Ganon does this so predictably, because it allows Link leap to about the place with his magic sword that shoots pink rays (yeah, the laughably Freudian phallic symbol actually ‘shoots off,’ displaying Link’s heroic manhood for all to see) to defeat villainous sorts (no blood or death or, you know, actual harm of any kind in an ’80s ‘toon!) thus elevating him to the role of ‘hero.’

Link is vile. He is ‘toxic masculinity’ (a poisonous, divisive, destructive term I use only when all else fails) in faux-medieval garb. He’s the poster-boy for gaslighting and manipulation and gratuitously sleazy grabbing and groping. Oh, sure, it’s meant to be some kind of ‘consensual banter’ between hm and Zelda, some sort of nascent sexual tension (in a cartoon aimed at kids, yeah) but when you see it, you just wanna reach into the screen and punch Link into next week.

Or better yet, round up a couple of trustworthy friends, pop a bag over Link’s head and bury him somewhere in the sand outside Las Vegas never to be found again, because he is clearly a narcissistic sociopath destined to end up either as a televangelist or the kind of Republican-party senator who perpetually pushes for tighter laws on homosexuality and then gets photographed in flagrante delicto with a troupe of underage cross-dressers in Manila.

Oh, hell. Even writing this is giving me the shits. I sat through three fifteen-minute episodes with my jaw flapping in the breeze, utterly amazed and appalled by what I was seeing. It was… fun, in the way that picking a scab and seeing the pus run can be fun. I guess. And I do kind of have some small urge to see more — purely because I almost want to know if it can get any worse. Is that possible? Can they go deeper into the cesspit? Are there sinkholes I haven’t imagined?

Look — you’ve been warned. Watch this at your peril. Oh, and if you’re any kind of fan of the games and the characters, if they have some kind of childhood glow for you — don’t go here. You’ll only find yourself pricing assault rifles and stalking the Internet to see if you can track down the producers of this stuff.

But if despite all my warnings you decide to forge ahead: Take the lesson on board. There’s a reason counterculture really, really took off in the ’80s, because the stuff they were trying to sell us as ‘pop culture’ included the filthiest, ugliest forms of social conditioning and reification this side of Big Brother Room 101.

Indeed, the whole reason that things like the Mutant Reviewers exist is because we’re used to trolling through the refuse, the rejects, the forgotten dregs in search of genuine laughter and real connection, rather than the slickly-manufactured, ultimately meaningless experiences that have taken over every screen on the planet. Curse you, Walt! Curse you forever!


  • Nope. There is no ‘Intermission’. Every second of this that isn’t downright degrading and insulting is inexcusably generic, clumsy, and forgettable. Look, I love a trashy failure as much as anyone — but this, THIS is the cynical commodification of childhood joy taken to the limits. There’s no joy in this, no vision splendid that simply didn’t quite make it to the screen as the creators intended. This is an ugly, nasty cash grab that seizes on the very worst mechanisms of ’80s pop culture and uses those elements to grind every single mote or iota of life out of Zelda, Link, and Hyrule.
  • If this was your Saturday morning childhood — I’m truly sorry. Get therapy. Now.

One comment

  1. Obligatory MST3K Connection: Cynthia Preston, who voices Zelda, portrayed Janet in The Brain which was screened as part of the 30th Anniversary Tour.

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