In the summer of 1998 World Events Productions repacked their homemade season of the Lion Force Voltron as The New Adventures Of Voltron, igniting hope that more Voltron adventures would be forthcoming. Even though I recognized some of those episodes despite years after the series left the air I was hoping for more. What we got instead in the Fall was Voltron: The Third Dimension. It was not quite what I had hoped for. But was it bad?
It’s been five years since the events of Voltron: Defender Of The Universe. Peace has truly settled across the galaxy after the Voltron Force finally took down King Zarkon and Prince Lotor. Damaged when his ship crashed, Lotor had to be rebuilt as a cyborg, but not before sending Castle Doom and Hagar far away. Now Zarkon claims to have reformed, even becoming the Minister Of Peace for the Alliance. However, the bad guys are up to their old tricks and Voltron will be needed to battle again!
There are some oddities in this playlist I should warn you about. These appear to have been taken from the original recordings. Each episode will start with a test pattern and the information usually reserved for the guy running the broadcast equipment at the TV station, plus some odd bits of animation at the end that I don’t understand. There is also a new intro by episode 3. This playlist, as of this writing, contains the first five episodes of The Third Dimension, which should give you a good idea as to what WEP did with this series.
Okay, let’s talk about the CG elephant in the room. The animation is not very good. Like the current Legendary Defender this show is not produced by WEP but by Mike Young Productions (now Splash Entertainment), the same company that remade He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe in the early 2000s. Doing the animation was Netter Digital, the company that took over the final years of the Babylon 5 franchise. You can tell because the mechanical animation, special effects, and “sets” were good…for their time anyway. They don’t really hold up. However, the people are just awful, like they motion captured action figures. (And there were action figures via Trendmasters, which even led to a powered-up form for Voltron called “Stealth Voltron” so they could sell more toys.) The characters never had any civilian clothes (the most you get is the Voltron Force having removable helmets) and everyone is wearing some kind of armor now. Their hands can’t actually grab anything unless they do it Muppet-style, where you have to cutaway to have the item in their hands. It does really hurt the show.
However, the writing is where this show excelled. The most important addition is that there are more to the Lions than just being robotic vehicles. Now the Lions have their own spirits, and are almost alive. There is also a close bond between pilot and Lion. These have continued into every version of Voltron going forth, including the Devil’s Due comic run we’re currently looking at and the current Legendary Defender, both of which expanded on this concept. And it could be considered an expansion itself of ideas vaguely hinted at in the GoLion footage but that’s just Japan. You’d be surprised how many Zords are supposed to be living creatures in Power Rangers’ Sentai origins.
There is also more exploration of the personal relationships of the Voltron Force members. Lance has gotten the most development with the addition of a backstory that wasn’t in the original series, involving Zarkon attacking his colony when he was a boy. It’s not totally without precedent since they attacked Pidge’s homeplanet in the original series (or at least the American version), but what it lacks in continuity it makes up for in giving Lance more character. There’s also an episode where Hunk gets tired of Pidge making dumb jokes, when this version is shown to be mechanically inclined. Pidge liked to tease Hunk in the original series and I guess someone wanted to come out against that practice. They must hate Yo Mamma jokes. Keith is by the book to a fault, and Allura seems to be studying magic in connection with the Lions. However, their romance from the second season appears to have been dropped, and I don’t think any other version has tried to put them together either except for the Devil’s Due comic.
Even the villains get some bonus. Lotor is almost insane, and not just because Tim Curry is voicing him now. Considering what’s happened to him you really shouldn’t be surprised. Hagar is now after the mystic secrets of Voltron, but in a later episode we learn that the reason Zarkon was able to corrupt her (as seen in Fleet Of Doom) was that she was in love in Alfor, who rejected her for Allura’s mother. That same episode has her even trying to possess Alfor’s spirit the way Lotor keeps trying to do with Allura, which I’m not sure was needed but it is an interesting addition. And nobody’s buying Zarkon’s reform, right? That shadow Lotor was talking to in the final episode isn’t a red herring, it’s Netter’s inability to create a new character model to throw us off. His true colors show through before season 1 is out.
In the final analysis, Voltron: The Third Dimension is a show that is blessed with darn good writing for a 90s kids show, but suffers from terrible animation. For a story-interested person like me the former makes it worth seeing both seasons, if you can get past the animation. World Events and Mike Young would also try a more traditionally animated Voltron series, but it never got past the proof-of-concept, which I would offer but I can’t find it. I’m wondering if Dreamworks had them pulled down to not draw connections to their version? I put nothing past Hollywood these days. However, we do have one more alternate Voltron series to look at next week, so there’s more to come.