As part of the still-ongoing Boldly Going project, in which I’m watching every minute of Star Trek television ever produced, I watched Star Trek: The Animated Series as well.
TAS, which was originally aired as simply Star Trek or The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (that just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), had 22 episodes which aired from 1973 to ’74. The original series was canceled in 1969, but continued to grow in popularity in syndication. This is where I first discovered the series. By the time the cartoon came out, I was already a Star Trek fan, and an avid cartoon-lover who always woke early on Saturdays for a morning of cartoons over Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter cereal and a glass of Tang.
Keep in mind, this was only a few years before the original Star Wars (which you may know as A New Hope) premiered, so Star Trek was still the height of visual science fiction in those days. Plus, the Star Trek cartoon had the voices of most of the actors from the television series (with the notable absence of Walter Koenig). In many ways, it was like a fourth season of the original series.
Famously, Leonard Nimoy refused to voice Spock until Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were brought on board the series to voice their characters as well. I’m not sure why he didn’t hold out for Koenig as well, but Koenig did become the first Trek actor to write for Star Trek, when he penned the animated series episode “The Infinite Vulcan.”
I enjoyed these episodes as a child. I enjoyed them this time, also, as an adult, and still recommend them, although with some caveats. This was a Filmation cartoon, which is all I have to say if you’re familiar with their brand. This is the same company that produced the Fat Albert, Archie, and He-Man cartoons. Not top-grade animation here. Not even up to Hanna-Barbera standards. Lots of sequences get reused throughout the series. The characters often seem stiff and rather unanimated for an animated feature.
The artwork, however, is often quite good. Especially the details on the USS Enterprise herself, and much of the alien world background paintings.
The voice work, from our original actors, at least, is very good. These same actors also voiced many of the secondary characters as well, and that work wasn’t as good. I cringed every time Arex and M’Ress had speaking parts, even though they were voice-acted by James Doohan and Majel Barrett.
The stories in the episodes are serviceable, even if they seemed rushed in the 24-minute format. In my own five-star grading system, none of the episodes really rose above an “average” 3, even though the episodes “Yesteryear” and “The Slaver Weapon” deserve honorable mention.
In “Yesteryear,” Spock travels back in time, via the Guardian from “The City on the Edge of Forever,” to save the life of his younger self. This was written by Trek fave D.C. Fontana, and it’s a good story, even in this compact form.
“The Slaver Weapon” is almost not a Star Trek story at all. It was written by Larry Niven, of Ringworld fame, and introduced some of his original creations, such as the cat-like Kzinti, the Slavers, and stasis boxes, to the Trek universe. I enjoyed this one, even though Captain Kirk doesn’t appear in it at all.
Most of the episodes are forgettable fare, but I find that this is true of most of the live-action Trek episodes as well. This is not intended to be a harsh criticism. Average Trek is still better than much of what passes for science fiction on television.
If you’re a fan of the original series, you will find plenty to enjoy in the animated one as well.