“And then from the field of the future, a new king will come… to save the world of the past!”
One of the best memories I have growing up was that every morning before school, I’d turn on Channel 9 here in NY, and watch cartoons before school. Yes, they played cartoons before school, on a weekday, once upon a time. Can you believe it? Anyway, one of my favorite daily series was 1992’s King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, a rollicking action fantasy that remains one of the finest examples of 90s animation to this day.
Surely, the idea of modern teens being transported to medieval times wasn’t a new concept (see Dungeons and Dragons), but the idea of Arthurian legends being told with a modern twist rocked. And, if you can believe it, the series actually sparked an interest in Arthurian legend and the history of the knights that is as strong as ever in adulthood. Cartoons had that effect on kids, once upon a time… but I digress.
Created by Diane Eskenazi and Avi Arad of Marvel Studios, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice was a twist on Mark Twain’s novel, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” This time around, the enchantress Queen Morgana trapped King Arthur and his knights of justice in a cave of glass. Incapable of freeing them, and with Queen Morgana and her evil Lord Viper advancing on Camelot, Merlin scours time and space to find a new band of knights, eventually coming upon Arthur King; the leader and quarterback for the New York Knights Football team. Knight soon finds himself and his group of loyal football players whisked back in time to battle the forces of Queen Morgana… good thing Merlin didn’t come across Arthur King of the New York chess team.
In either case, Arthur King and his football team are at first shocked to find themselves in Arthurian times, but soon find a common ground when they vow to fight Morgana and free the true King Arthur. While the time shifting premise wasn’t a new formula, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice worked because of the slick animation and wonderful storyline that took an already dynamic and rich mythos and amped it up to eleven.
Not only did Arthur King and his knights become Knights of the Round Table, but their suits of armor hosted various emblems on their chest. Said emblems could manifest a magical power that could help them in combat. For example, Sir Trunk had a battering ram; Sir Brick can build a huge impenetrable wall from his brick emblem, while Sir Lancelot’s emblem garnered him a magical lance that could fire sharp tips at will. They all also had animal spirits that granted them extra strength, which was pretty cool. Arthur’s emblem in particular was for Excalibur with a shield that summoned a large yellow dragon.
Much of the series was based around self-contained adventures that usually involved Arthur and his knights trying to outwit Queen Morgana, her right hand man Lord Viper, and their various henchmen. Sadly, Arthur and his Knights never seemed to free King Arthur, as the series ended after two seasons with twenty six episodes total. The finale focuses on Tone building a catapult under Morgana’s mind control to bring down Camelot, and there’s never really closure.
That said, the series was occasionally shown on TV after its cancellation, and became very rare for a long time. During its run, it spawned a line of (now) pretty valuable action figures, as well as a three part comic book miniseries from Marvel. There was also a pretty fun video game for the SNES that liberally borrowed from Legend of Zelda. It excels mainly because it provided closure for the series, showing Arthur and his friends returning back home after defeating Queen Morgana.
The series still packs a wallop of excitement and entertainment value, offering a diverse array of characters with valuable abilities that help the theme of team work and unity within the series. Among some of the more shamefully forgotten 90s animated relics, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice holds up and still has potential for a great reboot that can offer closure and add more mythos to the original series. I still have a blast watching it over twenty years later. The series is available online on DVD for purchase in its complete form.