The Mysterious Cities of Gold
By Hervé St-Louis
June 16, 2009 - 23:45
Back in the early 1980s French animation producer Jean Chalopin, the same man who gave the world Inspector Gadget
, met with animators from Japanese animation Studio Pierrot which had collaborated with them earlier on a cult series Ulysses 31
. The Japanese were about to embark on a new animation series based on American author Scott O'Dell’s The King’s Fifth
. The novel was about the adventure of Spanish young man called Esteban who travelled the South American continent in search for gold with various companions. The Japanese wanted to adapt the novel into fantastic tale much like Indiana Jones
where our young hero would find the mysterious cities of gold – the Eldorado's hidden on the South American continent. The French producers were so enthralled about the idea, that they offered their help to the new co-production.
The 39 episode series follows the adventures of twelve-year-old Esteban, his Inca friend Zia, and Tao, the last descendant of the empire of Mu who along with their adult allies, Mendoza, Pedro and Sancho cross the Atlantic ocean during the 16th century and explore the “new world” until they can find the first city of gold, Esteban’s father, and Zia’s father. This cartoon series aired in the 1980s in various countries, such a France, Japan, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The French producers headed by famous animation director Bernard Deyriès requested many changes to the story and the animation produced by the Japanese animators which led to several differences between the two variant series. The version broadcasted in much of the Western world is based on the French version, titled Les Mystérieuses citées d’or
which featured an extensive and distinctive soundtrack by future Saban animation founders Haim Saban and Shuki Lévy
. Each episode was followed with a short historical and cultural exposé related to the themes of the episode.
This is the type of cartoons I used to watch as a kid. Just like the Transformers
, this solid series changed my views of animation and somehow probably influenced my career choice later in life. Early in my animation career I worked on a series by Deyriès which although unremarkable and frankly poor, still had the insight of the great animation master. I met the director a few times too. He’s fully aware of the legacy he has left in kids from the 1980s. This series as kid made me want to go to South America and find those cities of gold. I became obsessed with them. The magic of this series was that it mixed science fiction elements, history, drama and strong character development in a narrative that did not talk down to kids. Watching the French Canadian DVD release of this series, I was amazed by how it had not aged one day and did not feel fated at all. This is the type of series successive generations of kids can watch and be amazed.
For much of the cartoon, the quality of the animation is superior to anything done in The Transformers
or even G.I.Joes
of the 1980s. There are extensive background designs inspired by real architectural and archaeological sites in Peru, Guatemala and many other locales in South America. The special effects are particularly effective and greater than life, mostly. Structures and buildings have a tendency to erupt and fold on themselves at the end of episodes, leading the characters to wild races to avoid being crashed under boulders. Some of the cycled explosion effects looking at them with an adult eye seem ineffective yet, this was 2D animation without any 3D enhancements.
The characters also stay in character. Mendosa, the kid’s guardian and protector is continuously playing difficult game, caught between his passion for gold and his love for the kids which he protects against various villains and other gold seekers. Esteban, remains the typical boy hero, pure at heart but with a fault. He conquers throughout the series, his fear of heights. Zia, the Inca girl, remains the mature representative of her people whose goal is to stop the Spaniards from ever finding the secret location of the cities of gold. Tao, the young whizz is the aloof, critical of Esteban, yet courageous in his own right and proud of the heritage of Mu he represents.
The villains, such as the evil conquistador Gomez and Gaspar provide both threat and sometimes comedy relief. Their ability to escape death is as impressive as the typical comic book villain!
Several versions of this cartoon series exist in France as collected DVDs. Even music records of the soundtrack have been released. Of course the series is available in Japan, although the captivating music and the cut will have several differences. In English, British viewers were recently treated to a new DVD PAL series that can easily be bought from large online retailers. At this writing, it’s not clear as to whether a Standard English cut exist for the North American market. The French Canadian NTSC release features the exact soundtrack and voiceover work from France. Depending on the version bought, there may or may not be extras and the number of DVDs of the collection may vary.
Virgil Film Entertainment released on April 9 2009, a North American English version (NTSC) featuring all episodes, a 32-page booklet, a 12-page historical facts booklet, 6 exclusive postcards and a double-sided fold out poster. This version is $79. The regular version is $49.95
Rating: 9.5 /10
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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