Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders (PGJR, also known outside of North America as Starla & the Jewel Riders, and sometimes misspelled as "Princess Guinevere") is a 1995 American comic fantasy-themed animated children's television series produced by Bohbot Productions and Hasbro in association with Hong Ying Animation. It was internationally syndicated by Bohbot Entertainment in the version where the title character renamed to Starla. The series was primarily aimed for girls and had two seasons of thirteen episodes each in 1995–1996; a third season was reportedly planned in fall 1998, but then it was apparently cancelled.
The plot follows the quest of a young princess of Avalon, Gwenevere (Starla), and her friends, Fallon and Tamara, to find and secure the scattered enchanted jewels to stop the evil sorceress Lady Kale from taking over the kingdom, restore harmony in magic, and bring the banished Merlin home. In the second season, the Jewel Riders receive more powers and new costumes to battle the returning Kale and the mighty Morgana for more magical jewels that also need to be kept out the grasp of dark forces.
Jewel Riders is in many ways similar to The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers and both series had the same creator and director, Robert Mandell, as well as some of its writers, notably Christopher Rowley. The series was initially planned as an adaptation of Dragonriders of Pern, came in the wake of Bohbot's earlier take on the Arthurian legend, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, and shares similarities with the magical girl subgenre of anime and to some American cartoons. Althrough writers were divided on the show, it was a hit in France and later became the basis for the novel series and upcoming film Avalon: Web of Magic.
The show's action is set in the legendary island of Avalon, here portrayed as a fairy tale style utopia that keeps its magic in check by the seven Crown Jewels of the Kingdom, each representing an area of the realm. The series takes place after a thousand years passed since the good wizard Merlin's initial victory over the witch queen Morgana. In the original version of the show, the title character has her name similar with Arthur's wife, Guinevere; other Arthurian characters include Merlin and Lady of the Lake. Mentored by the ageless Merlin, the Jewel Riders are the young female champions of goodness and magical guardians of New Camelot, who uphold the laws of the peaceful land and defend its people for generations. But when evil threatens Avalon and with their teacher Merlin suddenly gone, the trio of Jewel Riders, the kingdom's traditional teen defenders, aided by their animal friends, are tasked with recovering the mystical Enchanted Jewels that are essential for controlling the dangerous Wild Magic.
Avalon's fate rests with the Jewel Riders: the latest incarnation consists of the 16-year-old Princess Gwenevere (Gwen) and her friends, Fallon and Tamara. Their jewels, besides their unique powers, are allowing them to "ride" safely the tunnels through the alternate dimension of the Wild Magic, as well as to communicate with their Special Friends ― the magic animals who each share a similar gemstone in their neck collars. The girls are often assisted by the Pack, a teenage male trio of wolf-riding Knights of Avalon wielding the Forest Stones. The protagonists contend with the ruthless Lady Kale, a former princess of Avalon who has vowed to command all the magic and rule the kingdom no matter the consequences. An emphasis is set on the "power of friendship", which enables the Jewel Riders to overcome evil. In the second season, the threat to Avalon is not over yet, and gets worse with an introduction of an even more dangerous adversary for the Jewel Riders to thwart. Instead of Crown Jewels, Gwen and her friends seek out another cache of magical gems while still struggling to fight off the forces of darkness and to contain the growing chaos in the magic.
First season Edit
The story is set up during the two-part pilot episode "Jewel Quest." Princess Gwenevere, the young daughter of the rulers of Avalon, Queen Anya and King Jared, is being prepared by Merlin for the day when she will meet a bonded animal friend to share their own themed Enchanted Jewels with. Gwen is yet to be given the magic of the royal Sun Stone, while her best friends Tamara and Fallon already wield the magic of the Moon Stone and the Heart Stone. Gwen needs to search for such an animal and become the new leader of the Jewel Riders. Suddenly, disaster strikes when the outlaw Princess Kale, a hateful and power-hungry sister of Anya, gets hold of the formidable magic of the Dark Stone and uses it to overpower Merlin, sending him into the perilous dimension of Wild Magic. The sorceress steals the Crown Jewels and plans to use their magic to take over Avalon and reign forever, but Merlin foils her by breaking their setting and sending them back to the lands from where they had come, scattering them wide across the kingdom and beyond. Gwen succeeds in getting her Special Friend, a winged unicorn named Sunstar. Unfortunately, once the Crown Jewels' bond is broken, magic is no longer stable and flows out of control, causing dangerous outbreaks until they are brought back together. Retrieving them is the only way the Riders can free Merlin from being lost in the limbo of Wild Magic and so their titular quest begins. Using the magic of the Enchanted Jewels and their friendship, the Jewel Riders must prevent Kale from gaining more power, reclaim the Crown Jewels, and save Merlin and all of Avalon.
For most of the episodes, the primary storyline tells of the Jewel Riders' efforts to locate and secure each of the Crown Jewels before Lady Kale can get her hands on them or to win them back if she does. The seven Crown Jewels consist of the Jewel of the North Woods (in "Travel Trees Can't Dance"), the Rainbow Jewel found inside the Rainbow Falls (in "Song of the Rainbow"), the Jewel of the Burning Ice found in the Hall of Wizards at the Wizard's Peak in the snow-covered mountains (in "Wizard's Peak"), the Misty Rose Jewel found in the Misty Moors (in "For Whom the Bell Trolls"), the Desert Star Jewel of the Great Desert found in the magical realm of Faeryland (in "The Faery Princess"), the Jewel of the Dreamfields (in "Dreamfields"), and the Jewel of the Jungle found in the hidden lair of the legendary wizard Morgana (in "Revenge of the Dark Stone").
During the two-part dramatic finale of the first season (in "Revenge of the Dark Stone" and "Full Circle"), Lady Kale succeeds in seizing control of the Jewel Keep at the Crystal Palace. Becoming seemingly invincible, she overthrows Anya, unleashes the dark magic onto Avalon, strips the Jewel Riders of their powers, and prepares to make herself a queen for eternity. Kale seeks out Merlin to finish him off, but he uses his remaining powers to pull the wicked woman into the Wild Magic and holds her there for long enough for the girls to release the positive magic of the Crystal Palace, revealed as the most powerful Enchanted Jewel in Avalon. Unaware of this, Kale attempts to absorb the powers of the gathered Crown Jewels which results in her being destroyed and her dark spells are undone. The girls then discover that they have tuned the Crown Jewels to their personal jewels, enabling them to channel all the magic of Avalon. In doing so, however, they squandered a chance of solving the magic crisis for good, as well as a chance of freeing Merlin, who has sacrificed his staff jewel to outwit Kale.
Second season Edit
The Jewel Riders realize that the Crown Jewels have given them a set of new 'Level Two' armor and magic seven times more powerful than before. They girls now have at their disposal far greater magic than they ever dreamed possible; they also find it difficult to use. Meanwhile, inside the Wild Magic, Kale's Dark Stone is summoned toward a floating palace, where she materializes back to life and meets her accidental rescuer, the elflike Morgana who was the creator and original wielder of the Dark Stone. Morgana had led the other ancient wizards against Merlin a millennium ago but was defeated and, losing her jewel, she has remained trapped in the Wild Magic ever since. The two villainesses, united only by their mutual hatred for Merlin, grudgingly decide to team up and Morgana sends Kale back to Avalon in search for the other Wizard Jewels in a preparation for the return of Morgana and the deciding battle between the forces of light and dark. The Jewel Riders need to master their enhanced powers while they continue their quest to bring Merlin home, and soon they confront Morgana and realize that they are facing a dangerous new enemy.
The seven Wizard Jewels are just as hard to obtain as the Crown Jewels were, as they are scattered in magical places beyond Avalon. Through most of the season the Riders try to find the jewels before they fall into the hands of Morgana, who wants to use their magic to complete her conquest of the kingdom; at the same time, Lady Kale also seeks the Wizard Jewels for herself while supposedly working for/with Morgana. The seven Wizard Jewels consist of the Unicorn Jewel (in "Vale of the Unicorns"), the Jewel of Arden (in "Prince of the Forest"), the Garden Jewel (in "The Wizard of Gardenia"), the Jewel of the Sea (in "The Jewel of the Sea"), the Time Stone (in "Mystery Island"), and the Fortune Jewel (in "The Fortune Jewel"), not counting the Dark Stone itself.
Princess Gwenevere meets a handsome, mysterious young man called Ian (a good-hearted werewolf-like who later comes to her rescue her during the final battle), falling in love with him. Tamara finds a magical animal for herself, which turns out to be a striped unicorn named Shadowsong. Together they fight to protect Avalon. During the series' two-part conclusion (in "Lady of the Lake" and "The One Jewel"), set in the Heart of Avalon, Gwen is given the magic Staff of Avalon by the Lady of the Lake (the Spirit of Avalon), which she uses to rid of Kale, turning the witch to a crystal statue, and to save her friends. In the final showdown, the Riders and their friends then band together to battle Morgana in a test of skills and wits over the collected Wizard Jewels. Eventually, the princess fuses the Dark Stone with the Sun Stone and captures the ultimate One Jewel forged from the Wizard Jewels, which the freed Merlin then uses the One Jewel to do away with Morgana and the ancient wizards' ghosts once and for all.
The titular trio of teenage Jewels Riders consist of Gwenevere/Starla (voiced by Kerry Butler in the first season and Jean Louisa Kelly in the second season), whose Special Friend is the winged unicorn Sunstar (voiced by Deborah Allison), and her friends: Fallon (voiced by Deborah Allison), riding Moondance the unicorn princess (Barbara Jean Kearney), and Tamara (voiced by Laura Dean), who in the second season gets the "zebracorn" Shadowsong (voiced by Henry Mandell). Each of their jewels has different magical abilities and their own colors and corresponding gemstones of various powers, also allowing them to communicate with their animals.
The series' main villain is initially Lady Kale (voiced by Corinne Orr, who also voiced Kale's good sister Queen Anya), Gwen's aunt who has become an "outlaw princess" and now uses magic for evil. She is aided by her animals: Grimm the dragon (voiced by Peter Fernandez) and a duo of small dweasel creatures named Rufus and Twig (voiced by John Beach Voiceguy and Henry Mandell, respectively). The prime antagonist in the second season is Morgana (voiced by Deborah Allison), with Kale reduced to basically her insubordinate sidekick.
Gwenevere and her friends are aided by the Merlin's talking owl named Archie (voiced by John Beach Voiceguy). In their missions, the Jewel Riders are sometimes assisted by the Pack, led by Gwen's aspiring boyfriend Drake (voiced by John Beach Voiceguy) and consisting of Josh (voiced by Bob Kaliban) and Max (voiced by Peter Fernandez). Other recurring characters include Gwen's parents Queen Anya (voiced by Corinne Orr) and King Jared, and the Travel Trees and Guardian the genie (all voiced by Bob Kaliban). Another major new character is Ian (voiced by Bob Kaliban), the man-wolf prince of the Forest of Arden who falls in love with Gwen.
The series had two seasons of 13 episodes each, all of them directed by Robert Mandell. The final two of them were differently titled in the UK Starla version, which was used in other foreign markets as well:
|1||"Jewel Quest"|| Robert Mandell |
Shelly Shapiro (uncredited)
|2||"Jewel Quest" (part 2)|| Robert Mandell |
Shelly Shapiro (uncredited)
|3||"Travel Trees Can’t Dance"|| Christopher Rowley |
|16||"Fashion Fever"|| Christopher Rowley |
|4||"Wizard’s Peak"|| James Luceno |
|17||"The Wizard of Gardenia"||James Luceno|
|5||"Song of the Rainbow"|| Mary Stanton |
|18||"Vale of the Unicorns"||Katherine Lawrence|
|6||"For Whom the Bell Trolls"|| Marianne Meyer |
|19||"Prince of the Forest"||Robin Young|
|7||"The Faery Princess"|| Linda Shayne |
|20||"The Jewel of the Sea"||Linda Shayne|
|8||"Badlands"|| Katherine Lawrence |
|21||"Trouble in Elftown"|| Laraine Arkow |
|9||"Home Sweet Heart Stone"||Robin Young||22||"The Wishing Jewel"||Laura Munro|
|10||"Love Struck"||James Mattson||23||"Mystery Island"||Robin Young|
|11||"Dreamfields"||Robin Young||24||"The Fortune Jewel"||Robin Young|
|12||"Revenge of the Dark Stone"|| Christopher Rowley |
|25|| "Lady of the Lake" |
("Spirit of Avalon")
| Robert Mandell |
|13||"Full Circle"|| Christopher Rowley |
|26|| "The Last Dance" |
("The One Jewel")
| Robert Mandell |
Production and release Edit
Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders was produced by the New York-based studios New Frontier Entertainment and Enchanted Camelot Productions for Bohbot Productions (later BKN) in 1995. The series was produced by much of the team behind the late 1980s science fiction cartoon The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, including the creator, co-writer and main director of both shows, Robert Mandell, after a long development process. Despite a similar theme and title, there are no connections with King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, which was Bohbot Entertainment's other Arthurian-inspired cartoon series that was produced in 1992–1993. It was originally supposed to be a cartoon adaptation of the Dragonriders of Pern series of fantasy novels by Anne McCaffrey but nothing came of it.
The series was renamed repeatedly in the course of its development, including to Enchanted Jewel Riders sometime in late 1994 or early 1995 and Princess Guinevere & Her Jewel Adventures in March 1995, before ultimately becoming Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders (which was again retitled as Starla & the Jewel Riders for the export version). One of the several work-in-progress titles for the show was Enchanted Camelot, which was acquired as such in March 1994 by LIVE Entertainment (along with Skysurfer Strike Force and Highlander: The Animated Series) Enchanted Camelot had some major differences in its character design. The August 1994 draft script for the pilot episode of Enchanted Camelot ("Enchanted Quest", which would become "Jewel Quest") was different in many aspects. According to The Buffalo News, "the production team intended for the Jewel Riders to serve as positive role models for girls." Bohbot's press kit for the series described it as "classic story-telling," incorporating "strong themes of friendship, teamwork, responsibility and conflict resolution."
Each episode was constructed as an animated minimusical, aimed at children ages four and older.The animation work on the series was done in Taiwan by Hong Ying Animation; one of the show's character designers was the future Emmy Award winner Rob Davies. The overall design was Jane Abbot, with Billy Zeats and Greg Autore serving as art directors. It was the first series scored by Louis Fagenson; French version's soundtrack was the work of Julie Zenatti. The show's CGI effects were created by Ian Tetrault in Autodesk 3ds Max and Adobe After Effects. The actress for Gwenevere/Starla was changed for the second season because Kerry Butler had to go to Canada for Beauty and the Beast. The series was not renewed for 1997, but there were rumors about the third season being planned for 1998.
Merchandise and promotion Edit
According to Robert Mandell, the show was originally commissioned by Hasbro through reverse toyetic to accompany their line of toys (albeit only in the form of vague outline and the creators developed the plot and the characters). However, according to Variety, Bohbot "took the Princess Gwenevere concept to Hasbro Toys, which after extensive market research, put itself enthusiastically behind the project, collaborating in equal partnership with Bohbot on the development of the property." A national "Watch and Win" contest in February 1996 offered viewers the opportunity to win Princess Gwenevere videos and toys if they mailed in the correct code words from the show. The Hasbro/Kenner toy line had two series of action figures for girls ages 4 and up. The first series contains Princess Gwenevere (Starla), Sun Power Gwenevere, Tamara, Fallon, Drake, Lady Kale, Sunstar, and Moondance; and the second series contains Deluxe Princess Gwenevere (Starla), Deluxe Tamara, and Deluxe Fallon. According to Time to Play, the action figures' sales "bombed". In the fall of 1996, Hasbro planned to reintroduce revamped versions of the figures as well as new characters from the animated series. The toys had a television advertising campaign featuring a 30-second commercial.
Other merchandise included a series of collectible trading cards released by the Upper Deck Company in 1996, a "play-a-sound" children's illustrated sound book by Nancy L. McGill based on the first two episodes and published by Publications International that same year, Panini Group collectible stickers, a makeup kit, Happy Meal and Long John Silver's premium toys, lunchboxes, clothing items, and such. There were unrealized plans to produce a video game adaptation and the series' theme song was included on Mastermix's TV SETS CD 14.
Broadcasts and home media Edit
The show was first broadcast in the United States in 1995–1996 on Bohbot Entertainment's "Amazin'! Adventures" block, had U.S. coverage of 80%, and aired on 106 stations. Internationally, Jewel Riders was shown in more than 130 other countries by 2000. It was acquired by Fox Kids Europe in 2000. In 2008-2009, the series was available to be watched for free in a streaming media form on the Lycos Cinema service (later Kidlet). In 2009, the show was also made freely available for users of the Internet service SyncTV (available online from the browser for the American users and downloadable for watching for the others); while it was titled as Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, it was actually the Starla version. In 2011, the Starla version became available for streaming through Netflix for the users in the United States, expanded to the entire first season in 2012. The first two episodes ("Jewel Quest") have been put on YouTube by 41 Entertainment, a new company founded by the producer Allan J. Bohbot.
There were four VHS releases in America by Family Home Entertainment between January 1996 covering only part of the first season and consisting of Jewel Quest (episodes "Jewel Quest Part 1" and "Jewel Quest Part 2"), Wizard's Peak ("Wizard's Peak" and "Travel Trees Can't Dance") and For Whom the Bell Trolls ("For Whom the Bell Trolls" and "The Faery Princess"), followed by Full Circle ("Revenge of the Dark Stone" and "Full Circle") in July 1996. Leading up to the release date, Hasbro and Toys 'R' Us offered an episode from the program on video for free with the pre-order purchase of a related toy. The UK (Carlton Video 1997) and French (Warner Home Video 2000) VHS releases include some episodes from the second season. In 2005, the rights for the DVD retail in the United States and Canada were given to Digiview Entertainment, which has reserved the right to release the show on DVD. They announced plans to released the first two volumes in 2006 and subsequent volumes over the course of the next year. However, the only DVD released by Digiview was Wizard's Peak, containing the first five episodes of the show and available in Wal-Mart stores. Though it says "Princess Gwenevere & the Jewel Riders" on the cover, the show on the DVD is the international version (Starla & the Jewel Riders); in the case of both the cover and the show itself, the Starla-style title fonts (similar to the title fonts in Gargoyles) are used in the logo, and the disc appears to be region-free. The complete first season was released on DVD in France in 2008 dubbed into French, and the whole series was released in Serbia the same year with voice-over translation into Serbo-Croatian.
Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders was reported to be "struggling with a 0.6 national Nielsen rating among girls 2–11" in 1995. Bohbot hoped heavy promotion of the merchandise products would raise awareness of the show. Nevertheless, it was the most popular of the first-run cartoon series in the 1995 edition of Bohbot's "Amazin' Adventures II" weekend syndicated package. Daily Herald reported it was "the number one syndicated television show in the U.S. among girls 6 to 11" in 1996. It was reported that Starla became "a huge hit" when it was shown in France. First broadcast there in April 1996, it reached the top of the channel France 3's ratings in children’s time slots with a 77.6% market share average, proving "that action, knights and fantastic stories work very well with boys, too."
Critical reception has been mixed. According to Video Librarian, "a cross between She-Ra: Princess of Power and the saccharine My Little Pony, the Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders series is standard Saturday morning cartoon fodder." Scott Moore of The Buffalo News compared the "underwhelming" Princess Gwenevere to the "overhyped" Sailor Moon. Bert Olton opined in Arthurian Legends on Film and Television that "Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders combines all the worst elements of minimalist cartooning, modern commercialism and vacuous storytelling with a tiny portion of Arthurian legend." Rob Bricken of Topless Robot ranked Princess Gwenevere fifth on his 2009 list of "most ridiculous" adaptations of Arthurian legend, commenting that shows like that "were clearly made to take advantage of a small, low-aiming school of girl-oriented action cartoons, but it ultimately lost out to a slightly more tolerable Japanese import." Kathleen Richter of Ms. tongue-in-cheek called the show "so sexist and racist" for how it has "the powerful female figure demonized as evil and the main character blond and blue-eyed."
On the other hand, some noted the show for its positive values. According to Billboard, "there are life lessons to be learned along the way, and the program in general promotes brains over brawn." Similarly, Keith Busby wrote in Arthurian Literature that "the series appeals to young girls and teaches them the values of friendship." Alan and Barbara Lupack's opined in King Arthur in America that the show, "with its strong female heroine, is interesting in part because it is designed primarily for girls." Marshal Honorof of The Escapist wrote: "Back in my day...little women watched, I don't know, Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, or something". In Tom's Guide, he described it as similar to the 1990s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon in being "a traditional swords-and-sorcery adventure with stand-alone episodes and an emphasis on making kids laugh rather than bogging them down with the dour intrigue or blood-soaked combat of most medieval fantasy stories." France's Fun Radio included it among the 14 "probably the best" cartoons of the 1990s. Bustle's Lucia Peters wrote, "Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders followed a pretty classic 'special kid and special friends have awesome powers and must defeat the forces of darkness' format. The fact that it met at the intersection of horses, sparkly things, and girl power, though, means that it holds a special place in many '90s kids' hearts."
Legacy & film adaptation Edit
In 2001, Rachel Roberts began writing her contemporary fantasy book series Avalon: Web of Magic loosely based on the show and borrowing concepts and names (even some of the episode titles), as well as lyrics from some of the songs used in Jewel Riders. As of 2012, the series consists of 12 novels, as well as the three-volume graphic novel adaptation, titled Avalon: The Warlock Diaries. A film adaptation of Avalon: Web of Magic was announced in 2012.
See also Edit
- Enchanted Jewel Riders Show Bible.
- Full Production Credits at NYTimes.com.
- Jewel Riders at Super3 channel's website.