The Legend of Zelda cartoon is a charming, quirky gem in the annals of Zelda history, and Polygon recently spoke to the creative forces behind the show to learn more about how this unique contribution to our beloved series came to be. These interviews revealed that Nintendo loved the artists’ depiction of Zelda wearing pants rather than a typical princess dress, Link’s “Excuuuuse me, Princess” line was a play on one of comedian Steve Martin’s catchphrases, the relationship between the main characters on the 1980’s show Moonlighting inspired the dynamic between Princess Zelda and Link, and the team operated with little oversight from Nintendo — working off of a franchise bible (which outlined the basic characters and types of stories the show was looking for), a Japanese copy of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and a taped VHS playthrough of the original The Legend of Zelda game.

The Writing Process

Writer Phil Harnage discussed the team’s reference to Moonlighting, noting that it was the playfully-rude tension between Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis’ characters Maddie and David that they attempted to capture in a kid-friendly way. He also felt the team could have come up with many more episode ideas and expressed the sentiment (which many fans, including myself, likely echo) that it was a shame they were only able to make one season. 

The talking Triforce pieces in the show came out of Harnage’s dissatisfaction with the explanation of the power of the Triforce presented by the games at that time, so instead the team used them to explain the magic at play and provide exposition while setting control of the land of Hyrule as the more central motivation for the characters. 

The lack of sword fighting and the regeneration of enemies was motivated by standards and practices at the time limiting the amount of violence that could be depicted in kids’ shows (though, considering the constraints, the team did a wonderful job incorporating game-related combat elements into the show).

Writer Eve Forward, sister of story editor and writer Bob Forward, noted that the franchise bible characterized Zelda as “tough girl” and Link as “charming scamp.” Her episodes were inspired by elements of Dungeons & Dragons — particularly much of Link’s “swashbuckling” as she considered him more a rogue than a fighter and the plotline in the episode “Doppelganger” which was inspired by a cursed mirror from Dungeons & Dragons. Marsha Forward, Bob and Eve’s mother, even pitched an episode which ultimately became “Fairies in the Spring.”

Developing Link and Zelda

Speaking of the charming scamp, Link’s voice actor Jonathan Potts said he thought of Link as “the ultimate teenage boy,” dramatic and like a puppy “running around, peeing on the carpet, and overreacting…” This goofy energy certainly came through in his voice performance. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Princess Zelda — her voice actor, Cynthia Preston, saw Zelda as a young, independent woman. She states that the show was ahead of its time because Zelda really didn’t need a hero to save her. Harnage concurred, saying they wrote Zelda as an action hero in her own right, a confident character who did what she wanted but was very responsible. Harnage recognizes, however, that Link’s character was rather irresponsible in his constant pursuit of a kiss from the Princess. 

Link wasn’t the only one engaging in teenage antics. Preston recalls once being asked by the Director to laugh more as Zelda in a recording session, which she felt was harder than crying to do naturally until he mooned her! Preston fell over laughing, so that one was definitely natural.

Another fun tidbit unearthed by the interviews is that one of the angels from Charlie’s Angels (Tanya Roberts, Bob Forward suggested) is the person whose The Legend of Zelda playthrough was taped for the VHS that the Zelda cartoon team referenced while making the show. 

A Lasting Legacy

Story editor and writer Reed Shelly notes that the environment in which the team made the show was “an incredible creative playground” and “an amazing production circus to be a part of.” Eve Forward notes that while they weren’t trying to make Citizen Kane, she felt the Zelda cartoon was the best part of the Super Mario Bros. Power Hour

Potts said he gets letters from all over the world about the show because of his voice work as Link and leaves students in his voice classes starstruck when they find out he was the voice of Link. Preston has had the same reaction for her voice work as Zelda, stunning Zelda fans she comes across and professionals at pitch sessions alike. 

The show ultimately came to an end along with the Super Mario Bros. Power Hour. Fans are left to wonder if the show might have gone on longer had it been made as a standalone, rather than a segment of that larger show. Shelly also revealed that while Mario and Zelda shows were the only ones produced, concept art was made for adaptations of Metroid, Castlevania, Double Dragon, and California Games. The episodes of the Zelda cartoon remain on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video for all to enjoy, but oh, what might have been.

You can read Polygon’s entire Zelda cartoon oral history right here.

What do you think of this peek behind the curtain at the making of The Legend of Zelda cartoon? Do you have an affinity for the cartoon, or do you find it a strange blast from the past? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Source: Polygon

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