CARTOON CRACKDOWN: Star Trek Animated Series Turns 40! Does It Hold Up?

Edmund Poliks

‘Sup y’all. Welcome to Cartoon Crackdown, wherein I go nuts about animated stuff and give you not-so-subtle recommendations for updating the cartoon section of your Instant Queue.

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Photo courtesy of http://en.memory-alpha.org/

Star Trek Into Darkness came out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, but there’s another bit of Trek-related news that went under the radar. This previous Sunday was the fortieth anniversary of Star Trek: The Animated Series, which was a continuation of the Original Series after it was sadly canceled in 1969. Seeing as the entire series is conveniently on Netflix, I thought it would be a cool idea to take a look back towards an era where Star Trek meant lower budgets, Shatnerian acting, and a lack of lens flares.

After the iconic “five year mission” of the Enterprise was abruptly ended after only three, The Animated Series premiered in 1973 with a new look and format. As opposed to the hour-long run-time of the sixties show, TAS presented easily digestible half-hour stories animated by Filmation (famous for cartoons such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe). Now as any self-respecting He-Man fan (coughmecough) knows, Filmation animation is cheaper, stilted, and perhaps a bit too reliant on stock animation to cut corners. Because of that, I can see why people can easily write off the show and not give it a chance.

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Photo courtesy of treknews.net

But believe it or not, there are a lot of awesome things that this show manages to pull off despite those visual shortcomings. For one thing, the show boasts the return of nearly the entire Original Series cast (minus Walter Koenig as Chekov) to voice their respective characters: a solid move proven excellent in hindsight. The vocal performances are a joy to listen to, and provide a much-appreciated sense of continuity with TOS. They could’ve just as easily cut corners with the casting (especially since James Doohan was a renowned voice actor in his own right and could’ve pulled a Seth McFarlance with it), but they shelled out the extra money to bring them back and I couldn’t be happier.

On a different note, the stories themselves carry on the consistent writing quality of TOS while even managing to outdo it in certain aspects. Much like its predecessor, The Animated Series weave strong sci-fi stories that can be poignant and thought-provoking, but leave room for a little much-needed levity in spots. One episode in particular called Yesteryear, involving a touching time-travel story centered on Spock, was so influential that J.J. Abrams actually ripped a scene from it (where a bullied younger Spock lashes out on his tormentors) and placed it into his 2009 film. On top of this, the animated medium allowed for bigger stories to be told with the real-world constraints of The Original Series. Sure it suffered similar budgetary constraints as its predecessors, but animation lends itself very well to the imaginative, broad stories that TAS presents. Watch the episode More Tribbles, More Troubles with its space battles and engorged tribbles to see exactly what I mean.

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Photo courtesy of dailygrindhouse.com

For the non-initiated or the casual Trek fans, this admittedly may not be up your alley. But for hardcore Trekkies, and for fans curious to watch Captain Kirk’s middle name revealed for the first time, beam it up on Netflix. This show was made for you, and lovers of Shatnerian pauses in general.

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