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Star Trek: The Animated Series ••••

Movie Greg Scott
Star Trek: The Animated Series

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Scott, I’m really animated about this week’s review of Star Trek: The Animated Series.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I’m a shallow male who prefers mating to animating. But I’ll join you in reviewing this unique rendition of Star Trek.

Four years after Star Trek: The Original Series was cancelled, Gene Roddenberry rehired nearly the entire cast to create a Saturday morning cartoon version of the show. Everyone but Walter Koenig (Chekov) returned and lent their voices to their iconic characters. The series ran for two seasons and generated twenty-two 30-minute episodes.

Correct, Greg. And apparently ST:TAS was hindered by a very limited budget, which prevented Koenig from being hired and also contributed to the extremely poor-quality animation. Leonard Nimoy was apparently upset with Koenig’s absence and was only willing to participate in the project if Koenig’s script for an episode was picked up, which it was. With most if not all of the key actors in place, we have what almost amounts to a Season 4 of ST:TOS.

Roddenberry also hired former ST:TOS writers David Gerold and Dorothy Fontana to run the series. After viewing the entire series again, I was impressed with how mature and thoughtful this was for a children’s show. Many of the episodes were sequels to ST:TOS episodes. For example, Harry Mudd returns with aphrodisiacs, the tribbles make a new appearance, and Spock returns to Vulcan through the time travel portal The Guardian. So in many ways it was very derivative.

However, there were also some novel plotlines. In particular was an episode penned by Larry Niven (Ringworld) called “The Slaver Weapon” that was based on one of his short stories.

The animation (by Filmation) was very poor. To keep costs down the same shots of Kirk and the Enterprise were recycled from episode to episode. If you’re like me and prone to annoying visual details, you can even see dust particles float across the cosmos as the film square for the USS Enterprise is dragged across the starfield. But that doesn’t distract from the quality of the writing and voice acting.

Greg, watching ST:TAS is one weird trippy experience. The opening theme music is an odd approximation of the original series’ music, almost lurking in auditory uncanny valley territory. The animation is terrible but the sounds of the actors’ voices from the original series are wonderful. The stories are largely unoriginal but at least they’re short and, for the most part, palatable.

The quality of the animation is so bad that I prefer to just listen and not watch.  The voices of the characters pretty much narrate the story.  And the voices of the original series characters all sound young and in their prime.

At 20 minutes each, the stories sometimes veer toward being pretty good, but as you point out they’re often too derivative of the original series. We have a return of the Tribbles, of Harry Mudd, and of the “Shore Leave” planet. There’s even an episode, The Infinite Vulcan, that resembles TOS’s infamous Spock’s Brain episode, complete with Spock being kidnapped and his brain being used to save a society.

Dorothy (DC) Fontana has been quoted as saying that she considered ST:TAS as the final year of the Enterprise’s 5-year mission. Paramount, for its part, has alternately included and excluded ST:TAS as canon. Today, almost everyone considers ST:TAS as authentically Star Trek. Even the latest incarnations of Star Trek (Lower Decks, Picard, and Discovery) refer to ST:TAS episodes.

Because the series so closely resembles ST:TOS, the heroic elements still remain. Kirk is still the more impulsive, emotion-driven character he’s always been. Spock continues to give wisdom based on sound logic, and McCoy continues to give the more visceral viewpoint. (Although I did notice that McCoy’s role in most episodes devolves into “the idiot in the room” so that he can ask the leading questions that inform the audience).

One criticism I have of the series is how thin the plotlines were. This is quite the nit-pick. A lot of times a character would come to a conclusion on the thinnest of evidence. Or, rather than a discussion about options, Kirk would jump directly to the solution. Of course this is due to a 20-minute (sans intro, outro, and commercials) time constraint.

The TAS episode Yesteryear is particularly good. The story pays homage to that classic episode from the original series, City on the Edge of Forever, with the Guardian of Forever hurling our heroes back in time – and of course, somehow accidentally changing the timeline. Yes, it’s another derivative episode, but it’s done very well.

Another limitation of TAS is that often the resolution of an episode’s problem is sometimes far-fetched and oversimplified to the point of incredulity. For example, in the episode The Lorelei Signal, the crew is aging rapidly – a plot we’ve seen before in the original series – and the solution is to use the crew’s saved transporter buffer pattern to restore them to youth and vitality.  Well heck – can’t that cure every health problem from now on, including death?

ST:TAS features more involvement of the women characters such as Uhura and Nurse Chapel. That either indicates a greater awareness of gender equality, or “hey, we have to justify these actors being in the studio, so we need to use them.” There is an episode where Uhura is the senior officer on the Bridge and takes command of the Enterprise. This is of course a very cool thing to see and would have been unheard of in TOS.

Scott, this was a welcome trip down memory lane and nostalgic of childhood days gone by. While the quality of the animation left much to be desired, the stories and voice acting were as strong as the original series. I give ST:TAS 4 out of 5 Reels.

It’s hard to complain about getting an extension of the iconic heroes we left behind in Star Trek: The Original Series. Kirk is still Kirk – but with fewer sexy scenes. Spock is still Spock, perhaps even more so since Nimoy had perfected the role.

As you point out, Scott, we see an improved role for the women in this universe. The original writing team including the fabulous and oft-overlooked Dorothy Fontana kept the essence of the original series. All of this means we get the same heroic elements we came to expect and love from the original series. I give this version of our heroic team 5 out of 5 Heroes.

I pretty much agree with your assessment, Greg. Watching TAS is weird, wacky, and wonderful. The actors voices are youthful and identical-sounding to the 1960s TOS. The animated versions of their bodies show them to be more buff than ever, and even Shatner’s animated toupee has never looked better.

Yes, it is true that less can be done in 20 minutes than in the usual 40+ minutes of a one-hour long show. That means in watching TAS, viewers must temper their expectations regarding story quality. I’ll also assign 4 out of 5 Reels, and like you, this heroic ensemble that I grew up with and have admired my entire life deserves all 5 Hero points out of 5.

Movie Greg Scott
Star Trek: The Animated Series

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