Star Trek: The Animated Series
Jeff LeBlanc · January 17, 2007 | In 1973, Star Trek's popularity was rising, despite its cancellation four years earlier. The reruns were widely syndicated and a devoted following was starting to organize itself with conventions, clubs, and fanzines. There was an ongoing comic book series from Gold Key and there had been two original novels by Mack Reynolds and James Blish. Cashing in on the revived interest, Paramount contracted Filmation Studios to produce a half-hour animated Star Trek series, with Gene Roddenberry acting as executive producer. The series was picked up by NBC for their Saturday morning fall lineup.

Most of the original cast returned as voice actors. Filmation producers had planned to hire only the core cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and James Doohan. Doohan and Majel Barrett were to provide the voices of most extras and other crew members, including Sulu and Uhura. This did not sit well with Leonard Nimoy, who threatened to walk away if the Enterprise's ethnically diverse crew were not properly represented. Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were finally brought on board, while Walter Koenig remained cut, owing to limitations in the budget. His character, Chekov, is here replaced by two alien crewmembers: a six-limbed Edosian named Arex (voiced by James Doohan) and a Caitian feline named M'Ress (voiced by Majel Barrett).

Roddenberry hired Trek alumnus Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana as associate producer to oversee the day-to-day production. She also acted as story editor, as she had done for the original series. Thanks in part to a writer's guild strike, many veteran Trek writers (and others) were available to contribute scripts to the animated series, as animation writing was not under the jurisdiction of the guild. Almost half of the episodes are written by Trek alumni.

Star Trek: The Animated Series
Animation production by Filmation Associates
Distributed by Paramount Home Video, 2007
Originally broadcast in the USA in 1973
526 minutes

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As one would expect from an early-seventies Saturday morning cartoon, the animation is extremely limited. Filmation's Star Trek had one of the largest budgets in Saturday morning animation, but the voice cast was large and the production schedule was tight. NBC had waited until May to greenlight the show for a September premiere and the animation suffers for it. There is no more movement than is absolutely necessary in any scene. The majority of scenes feature reused stock shots of talking heads or cuts to an empty background. Except for the occasional raised eyebrow, there is little expressiveness left in these figures. (This may work for Spock, but you would think that Shatner's performance demands a broader touch.) The remaining action animation is stiff and clumsy at its best, awful at its worst.

The design work, however, is a cut above the usual Filmation fare. The character likenesses are surprisingly good. Many of the alien designs are inspired, and thankfully take full advantage of the freedoms afforded by animation. No longer limited to bipedal zipper suits, the crew encounters giant slugs, sea monsters, a multi-tentacled shapeshifter, mer-folk, plant creatures, and many, many others.

The backgrounds are a particular standout. Care has been taken to faithfully reproduce the EnterpriseŚwith a few modifications, such as a second entrance to the bridge. The alien landscapes are vivid and lush, with an openness that couldn't be achieved on a live-action budget. Occasionally, the show even takes the crew to places that the original series could never have gone, such as the underwater kingdom of "The Ambergris Element."

Some creatures and their animation get reused throughout the series. I'm pretty sure I saw Kirk and crew attacked by the same pterodactyls in at least three episodes. This was standard practice for Filmation. Several of Star Trek's creature designs, backgrounds and even musical cues would even turn up later in other Filmation series.

To be sure, there are some hilarious slip-ups. In scenes set on a planet with constant volcanic eruptions, several layouts have the skyward-spewn smoke and lava painted onto the background, frozen in mid-eruption. Check out the opening credits, where a three-quarter angle drawing of the Enterprise is dragged sideways across the screen. There is also the recurrent misuse of the color pink on such things as enemy ships, the costumes of ferocious aliens, and tribbles. It turns out that director Hal Sutherland is color blind, and when he did the color assignment he assumed that this particular shade of pink was a light grey.

You may also notice a few surprising names in the credits, such as an early screen credit for Disney animator Glen Keane on layout, and a late one for Warner veteran Virgil Ross on animation.
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