Friday, April 18, 2014

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)

In the wake of the network cancellation of Gene Roddenberry's live-action space drama/adventure Star Trek which ran from 1966 through 1969, fan hype and demand for more of this new and innovative universe was answered in the early 1970s in the form of a Saturday morning cartoon series produced by Filmation. Highly overlooked and widely forgotten nowadays, Star Trek: The Animated Series is a half-hour animated continuation of the original series which marked the second and thereby christening installment of the Star Trek franchise.

Continuation is no understatement; the cartoon picks up right where the live-action series left off.  Rejoin the crew of the starship Enterprise on their five-year mission for 22 additional adventures which uphold the sense of exploration and present interesting and thought-provoking plots.  Everything from the starting sequence, title cards, theme music, and general design of ships, uniforms, etc. is lifted from the original series, and Nimoy, Shatner, Kelley, Nichols, Takei, and Doohan all reprise the voice roles for their respective characters.  The run-ins span the typical Klingon, Romulan, Tribble dilemmas as well as several new alien lifeforms, celestial entities, and earthly deities of myth and legend.  What's really neat about the series is that the cartoon format allows for more freedom in the design and sequences featuring aliens, planets, and other FX scenes that just wouldn't have worked in a live-action TV show at the time.  It's all done surprisingly well for a cartoon from the '70s and is by far the best thing I've seen from the Filmation studio.  Most episodes are good, and a few are actually better than many of the live-action episodes; "Yesteryear" is one that immediately comes to mind, and the series finale "The Counter-clock Incident" is a blast.

All these elements of the show are so good that it begs for just a little sharper animation so that the characters mouths and facial expressions would move closer in sync with the words and emotions conveyed within the story.  Oftentimes the feeling of the characters is just not adequately captured.  This complaint is really only noticeable, however, because the commitment from the writers and actors to deliver a high caliber show is so strong.  It's still quite well done when measured against its contemporaries and is a very watchable show forty years later.  At a mere 22 episodes that are only about 22 to 23 minutes each, there's no reason for any Star Trek fan not to watch this show.

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