This is the Triforce of Wisdom, Link. The evil wizard Ganon has the Triforce of Power. Whoever gets both Triforces will rule this land forever. You must help me Link!
— cartoon intro
If you grew up in the 1980s, you probably either had a Nintendo Entertainment System or knew someone who did. And if so, then you were probably exposed to Nintendo's two flagship products and most successful franchises, Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. Capitalizing on the success of the games, Nintendo increased their exposure with the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, a half-hour show mixing 15 minute cartoons bookended by painfully unfunny live-action segments starring Captain Lou Albano as Mario. We put up with those to get to the cartoons. Monday through Thursday they showed Mario cartoons aimed at little kids who weren't old enough to be familiar with the movies they blatantly ripped off because that was easier than writing their own stories. But on Friday, oh Friday was something special.
Fridays they didn't show a Mario cartoon. They showed a Legend of Zelda cartoon which was superior in every way. The plots weren't stolen from movies, the art and animation were less cartoony, and the action was far more exciting. The music, inspired by the in-game music, was also very well done. It was obviously aimed at a slightly older audience. Like the Mario cartoon, the Legend of Zelda cartoon was inspired by both the original game and its sequel, taking elements from both. There were a total of 13 episodes animated, which could be watched in pretty much any order.
The magical kingdom of Hyrule is under attack by the evil wizard Ganon, who has the Triforce of Power and an army of magical creatures under his command. His plan is to capture Hyrule's Triforce of Wisdom, because it is written that whoever holds both Triforces will rule Hyrule forever. To stop him, Princess Zelda hires a professional adventuring hero, Link, to guard the Triforce of Wisdom.
And so our stage is set for some non-linear Western cartoon adventures, in which each episode occurs in its own little pocket of time, having little or no influence over events in other episodes, meaning that they can be shown in any order. Ganon is trying to get the Triforce of Wisdom from Hyrule, Link is trying to get a kiss from Zelda, Sprite is trying to get Link to notice her, and Zelda just wants the kingdom left in peace. These goals are all mutually exclusive, setting up reasonably complex stories for the show's 15 minute running time.
Moblins (orc-like monsters) and Stalfos (skeletons) were the most commonly seen enemies, possibly the easiest to animate I guess. They were treated as cannon fodder. Occasionally we'd also see an Octorok (rock-spitting land octopus) or one of the other classic Zelda monsters, but not often. Link generally fought by zapping with his sword, resulting in a kid-friendly, bloodless monster defeat, teleported back to the Evil Jar. Zelda sometimes joined in with a ranged weapon like a bow. Monsters would occasionally drop items when they've been defeated, like they do in the game.
The hero of our games is an ego driven, but competent
adventurer who proves more than a match for the bumbling monsters
under Ganon's command. That is, unless he gets distracted by his
near-constant attempts to get Zelda to kiss him, which are played for
slapstick laughs. More used to adventuring on the road and sleeping
in the mud, he hates living in a castle, except for being able to hang
around with Zelda and fight off the occasional attack by Ganon's
monsters. It's interesting to note that Link can still zap if he's been hurt,
unlike in the game, and is right-handed, whereas in the game he is
left-handed. Whenever he'd screw up (once or twice an episode), he'd use his Steve Martin-esque catch phrase, "Well excuuuse me, Princess."
The princess of Hyrule isn't your typical damsel in distress.
As one side character put it, "This is all wrong. Beautiful maidens
are supposed to be rescued by handsome heroes, not other beautiful
maidens!". Zelda eschewed pretty princess dresses and was typically
found wearing her hair tied back with a pair of thigh-high leather
boots and a practical blouse, ready at a moment's notice to act as
Link's sidekick rather than wait for him to rescue her. When she had
the Triforce of Wisdom with her, she became a magical force to be
reckoned with. Zelda managed to kick some butt while still being a
feminine character, and although she acted more as a sidekick than a
hero she helped pave the way for later heroes Lara Croft, Xena, and
the Powerpuff Girls.
Link's three-inch tall fairy sidekick was based on the
fairies in the game who would recharge Link's heath meter. Sprite
didn't do that in the cartoon, but did hang around with him,
occasionally helping out with magic, and trying to get Link to notice
her and forget about the nigh-unobtainable Zelda.
The evil wizard and villain of the first Zelda game rules the
Underworld of Hyrule, a maze of twisting caves and passages
occasionally resembling an M.C. Escher sketch. He holds the Triforce
of Power and his "Evil Jar", a massive glass jar on a huge stone
pedestal in his throne room that holds his magical monsters. When
Link zaps them with magical bolts from his sword, they are sent back
to the Evil Jar for an undisclosed amount of time, as is Ganon if he
takes three hits from Link or Zelda. His powers are vague and tend to
follow the needs of the plot, but he is consistently shown to be able
to teleport at will, but only in the Underworld, and fire magical bolts of energy from his hands.
The episodes had a number of running gags, the most famous of which is Link's attempts to get Zelda to kiss him. Occasionally she would even be willing to admit he deserves one, but something would always happen to ruin the moment (in 8 of the 13 episodes). He never does get that kiss. Sometimes Zelda is captured, but more often than not she is fighting alongside Link as his sidekick (in 9 of the 13 episodes). They were fairly formulaic, but always entertaining.
Episode 1: The Ringer
This is the only episode that's really in any sort of order, it functions as an introduction to the series. Link introduces himself as an adventurer hired by the kingdom of Hyrule to protect the Triforce of Wisdom, but doesn't like living in a castle, staying in one place. He does like hanging around Zelda and fighting monsters, though, so he sticks around. Ganon sneaks into a magician's contest to get close to the castle and steal the Triforce of Wisdom. Ganon causes a distraction during the contest to draw Link away from the Triforce to steal it, Link and Zelda pursue and stop him. Sprite reveals her crush on Link in this episode and starts the running gag of Link and Zelda almost, but not quite, kissing.
Zelda fights with a bow
1 missed kiss
Episode 2: Sing for the Unicorn
Ganon uses a captured flying unicorn to kidnap Zelda's father and puts him in room with a slowly vanishing floor to a bottomless pit, giving Link and Zelda a time limit to turn over the Triforce of Wisdom to him. Link and Zelda go on rescue mission, joined by unicorn's real owner, and the three of them defeat Ganon and save the king.
Zelda fights with a bow and a boomerang
3 missed kisses
Episode 3: Kiss 'N Tell
Link turns into frog by a trick from Ganon's monsters, and Zelda is captured. The Triforce of Wisdom suggests seeing a witch to learn how to break the curse. Sprite is a little nervous about Link's new compulsion to eat small flying things. Link discovers that only a kiss from a princess will change him back, which depresses him because Zelda wouldn't even kiss him when he was human. Upon rescue, Zelda agrees to kiss Link to change him back, but Sprite winds up kissing him when Ganon attacks and separates them, which works anyway because she's princess of the fairies.
Zelda gets captured and does not fight
2 missed kisses
Episode 4: Doppelganger
Ganon creates a magic doppleganger of Zelda to trick Link into bringing him the Triforce of Wisdom, saying they're going to take the fight to the Underworld rather than wait for Ganon to attack. Link figures out the trick when false Zelda fails to cast a reflection, but goes along with it anyway to rescue the real Zelda. When the real Zelda gets tired of waiting for Link to rescue her, she goes ahead and frees herself, meeting up with the fake one. A comical chase ensues in Ganon's labyrinthine underworld fortress, which ends with both Zeldas getting covered in mud, making them indistinguishable. A kissing contest reveals who's the real Zelda when one kisses him and the other slaps him. They get the Triforce back and escape.
Zelda briefly uses Link's sword
0 missed kisses from the real Zelda, but her doppleganger kisses him several times.
Episode 5: Fairies in the Spring
The King of Hyrule is building a water park to cool off the kingdom during a heat wave, when water monsters emerge from the underground spring that was going to supply the park. Investigating, Link and Zelda discover this isn't Ganon's M.O. The Triforce of Wisdom suggests they search the waterpark's drain when the king gets captured by a water monster. They eventually discover the fairies were behind the attacks because the waterpark was draining their spring. They eventually come to an understanding and the fairies are invited to the waterpark.
Zelda uses a crossbow and her own magic boosted by the Triforce of Wisdom's power.
1 missed kiss, plus 1 tease when Zelda agrees to a kiss but Link is blocked by their diving helmets.
Episode 6: The Missing Link
Ganon unveils a new weapon, a wand intended to send Zelda to his
Evil Jar, but accidentally zaps Link instead. Ganon holds Link
hostage, demanding the Triforce for his return. Link, however, only
received a glancing blow and is turned ghost-like becuase only his
physical body was transported to the Evil Jar. Only Zelda can see
him, which according to Ganon is because she loves him, providing evidence
that Spire (who can't see him) only has a crush. Zelda grabs Link's sword and heads off
to save his body. While Zelda fends off Ganon's Moblins, Link goes
into the Evil Jar to get his body back, using a bomb to blow his way
back out of it. It's revealed that the huge jar is filled with a pink
liquid, which washes Ganon and most of his forces out of the throne
room. The Evil Jar, meanwhile starts to
malfunction, shooting liquid and magical rays out in all directions,
and they escape just in time. Zelda denies that she loves Link any
more than just a little bit.
Zelda uses Link's sword, but has trouble controlling it. Apparently the zapper has quite a kick.
1 missed kiss, plus 1 tease when Zelda agrees to a kiss, knowing link is insubstantial.
Episode 7: Underworld Connections
Some of Ganon's minions split the Triforce of Wisdom apart with a
bomb to carry it back to the Underworld in three pieces. Link saves one of
the pieces but the other two are stolen. Link and Zelda use the
remaining piece of the Triforce to zap the monsters carrying the other
two parts from long-distance, and soon Link, Zelda, and Ganon are searching the
Underworld for the lost pieces. For the second time in the series,
after the unicorn episode, Zelda nails Ganon with the final hit to send
him back to the Evil Jar, and the Triforce is saved.
Zelda fights with boomerangs
1 missed kiss.
Episode 8: The Moblins Are Revolting
Two groups of monsters get in each other's way when trying to steal
the Triforce, resulting in failure of the mission. The monsters
decide Ganon's poor planning is responsible for their continued failure
and decide to mutiny, capturing Ganon in his own latest invention, a
magic bubble that is impervious to everything except the Triforce of
Power. Soon, the monsters have laid siege to Hyrule Castle,
surrounding it and trying in their own bumbling way to break in. Link
and Zelda, confident that they'll never get in, leave the castle to
find the Triforce of Power in the now abandoned Underworld. Link
finds Ganon in his bubble, but while toying around with him,
accidentally tosses the bubble into the Triforce of Power, freeing
him. Rather than pursue the fleeing Link and Zelda though, Ganon
heads to the surface to gather up and punish his rebellious minions,
forcing them to clean up the throne room with their tongues.
Zelda does not fight in this episode, and for that matter Link doesn't really fight much either. The monsters do a fine job of defeating themselves.
Zelda never agrees to a kiss in this episode.
Episode 9: The White Night
A noble White Knight prince comes to Hyrule just in time to help fend
off Ganon's latest attack when an overconfident Link is nearly
defeated by an Octorok. Zelda is smitten by the handsome,
gallant hero and Link is soon all but forgotten about. Ganon,
meanwhile, finds out what happened from the Octorok that was returned to the
Evil Jar, and reveals that he's met the knight prince before, and
knows his weakness is his vanity. Taking a page from the Big Book of
Cartoon Cliches, Link tries to compete with the prince on the prince's
terms, only serving to embarrass himself by failing to dress and act
the part of nobility properly. With Link feeling rejected and Ganon
confident he can evade the prince, who is unwilling to pursue his monsters
through a filthy swamp, Zelda is soon captured and sees the prince for
his true, insufferably self-centered nature. When Link hears Zelda's
screams for help, he realizes the prince failed to come through when
it mattered, and arrives just in the nick of time to save her.
Zelda is captured and does not fight in this episode.
For the second episode in a row, Zelda fails to give
in to Link's near-constant requests and never agrees to a kiss.
Episode 10: Cold Spells
Springtime is here, which means to Link that love is in the air, but
to Zelda that it's time for the castle's spring cleaning. Link
pretends to be sick to get out of mopping, and Sprite offers to help
out with magic. Zelda isn't buying the act but Sprite insists that Link be allowed to rest.
Ganon decides the cleaning is the perfect distraction to take
advantage of, and heads to the surface to see what havoc he can cause.
Seeing Sprite using magic to help clean up, he increases her power to
levels she doesn't know how to control, resulting in a rip-off of
Mickey Mouse's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, complete with animated
buckets flooding the castle. Ganon uses the distraction to grab the
Triforce of Wisdom, and Link and Zelda are soon in hot pursuit.
Sprite decides to tag along to help because she helped cause the
trouble. Ganon captures Link and Zelda in a glass jar but Sprite's
extra-strong magic frees them. Zelda grabs the Triforce of Wisdom
after zapping Ganon (personally defeating him for the third time in the series), but they have
to flee before she can get the Triforce of Power as well. Back home,
the castle is in even worse shape than before and everyone is set back
Zelda fights with a bow and a boomerang.
Once again, Link is denied even the hope for a kiss but at least the audience is spared the contrived excuses to prevent them.
Episode 11: Stinging a Stinger
Link saves a peddler from a band of robbers, who gives him a new sword
for saving him, promising Link that the sword has the magical power to
make him irresistible to ladies. Seeing his chance to win over Zelda,
he gladly trades his trusty short sword for it, only to break his new sword the
moment it sees actual combat. Link and Zelda are quickly captured by
Ganon as a result, and discover the peddler was hired by Ganon to
get Link's sword away from him. When he asks an outrageous price to
sell Link's sword to Ganon, however, the insulted evil wizard grabs the sword and takes
him prisoner as well. With the untrustworthy
peddler's help picking the dungeon's locks, the three escape and consult the
Triforce of Wisdom for advice. They discover they can't match
Ganon's magical power without Link's sword, so they collect
beehives and termite mounds to use as weapons instead. With Ganon's
forces swarmed and stung, Link is able to steal back his sword, and
Ganon is forced to retreat. Meanwhile, the peddler, looking out only
for himself as ever, tries to steal the Triforce of Wisdom, but falls
for Sprite's fairy illusion and steals the termite mound instead.
Zelda fights with a lasso
1 missed kiss, and this time it's Zelda who offered!
Episode 12: A Hitch in the Works
It's been weeks since Ganon's last attack, meaning Link is demoted
from hero to handyman to earn his keep around the Castle. Meanwhile,
the Castle's regular handyman is trying to invent a golem to help him
maintain the castle, resulting only in unfortunate but comical
malfunctions. When Ganon's monsters finally do attack, the golem
proves somewhat capable of helping Link defeat them but was better at
making a big mess. Taking another page from the Big Book of Cartoon
Cliches, Link gets the handyman to build some fake Moblins to pretend
to attack Zelda so he can save her so he can get out of doing chores,
but Zelda overhears the plan and resolves not to let the ruse work.
Unfortunately, real Moblins attack and carry off the
unsuspecting Zelda, who was expecting the fakes, and after a few
moments of confusion Link is in pursuit. Ganon puts a magic
mind-control necklace on Zelda to force her to marry him in a ceremony
presided over by the Grim Reaper(!). Link, of course, arrives just in
time to save the day.
Zelda is captured and does not fight in this episode.
Yet again, Link is deprived even the opportunity for a kiss.
Episode 13: That Sinking Feeling
Link takes Zelda off on a picnic, which unfortunately turns out to be
directly on top of an Underworld entrance. After fighting off some
Tektites, they find out Ganon has some new magic, an "Overworld
Magnet" that can pull objects down to the Underworld from the surface.
Zelda decides to invade the Underworld and defeat Ganon once and for
all, and they grab the Triforce of Wisdom to help them. Just as they
head off, however, Ganon uses the magnet to pull the entire castle
down to the Underworld, expecting the Triforce of Wisdom to be in it.
A showdown with Ganon reverses the magnet's power, which uses the
last of its energy to push the castle back to the surface before
Zelda fights with a boomerang and her own magic, boosted by the Triforce of Wisdom's power.
2 missed kisses, both in the first 5 minutes.