The prospect of watching cartoons on Saturday morning used to be every kid’s (certainly my) raison d’être. Saturdays belonged to kids and every major television network had its own enticing line-up. Cartoons were background entertainment as we bent over our cereal bowls; they kept us pleasantly preoccupied as the day’s plans developed. In the intervening years, the once-crowded television landscape of Saturday morning has changed drastically to one of boring info-shows and earnest programs directed at toddlers. Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) was the cornerstone of my Saturday mornings, and discovering it on Netflix recently made me more delighted than any adult should be over a cartoon. However, TAS is not a cartoon in the conventional sense—it was not created with children in mind alone and that is probably why we (all right, I) loved it so much.
When TAS first aired in 1973, the original series had been in syndication for a few years. According to Trek lore, had Gene Roddenberry known his beloved series would eventually return in its many iterations, he might not have done TAS this way—he might not have done it at all. Instead, TAS picks up after the end of the original series, with the Enterprise beginning the fifth year of its mission. People with better-honed Trek chops than I can point out all the technical and script associations but, essentially, all 22 episodes of TAS are presented like their predecessors in the original series. The original characters (with the exception of Chekov) are voiced by the original actors and drawn to perfection; the introductory and incidental music are wonderfully familiar; there are new foes and a few of the old favorites (tribbles, anyone?); and its complicated organic forms, impossible on a studio budget, are rendered in a vibrant mid mod palette that is visually stunning. That palette includes the welcome but reportedly unintentional addition of pink, which read as grey to color-blind director, Hal Sutherland. Thankfully, he decided to retain the punchy color—it adds an air of whimsy that seems characteristic of the time, the subject, and the medium.
If you’d like to introduce a new generation to the Trek-verse or get a fresh dose of an old favorite, Star Trek: The Animated Series is well worth viewing.
Update: Hal Sutherland, director, artist, animator, and co-founder of Filmation Studios, died on 14 January 2014. Many of us owe the imaginative landscapes of our childhoods to this man and he will be greatly missed. Read more about him at The Fog of Ward and here. Read more about the production of TAS here. Star Trek: the Animated Series is available on Netflix and at Amazon.