Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Animated Series

Casual fans think that the U.S.S. Enterprise only made it through three of its five year mission when NBC canceled the cult series in 1969. But this was not the end of original TV episodes. Star Trek had a second life and finished the mission on Saturday mornings starting in 1973. For two years, fans were able to enjoy further adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy with their Cap’n Crunch. For the longest time, the animated episodes seemed hidden in the vault giving the notion that the series was something to be laughed at like The Brady Kids. The Star Trek: The Animated Series didn’t get the rerun love of the live action version, but now that it’s on Blu-ray, fans can enjoy these “bonus” 22 episodes in resolution no man has seen before.

Saturday morning was a great place for studios to extend the life of their hit series without trying too hard. Most of the shows had very little to do with the original series. Most of the time, they’d hire the lead actors and have them read scripts that were dumbed down to appeal to six year olds. They’d add in either goofy younger versions of characters or talking animal sidekicks. Star Trek: The Animated Series reunited the first season of the original show’s bridge crew with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Majel Barrett. Walter Koening wasn’t part of the voice so there’s no talk of Chekov. But Koening contributed to the show writing the episode “The Infinite Vulcan.” What truly makes this an extension of the original season is that the many of the scripts are from writers on the original show. Gene Roddenberry oversaw the series so the scripts had his approval. D. C. Fontana was story editor on both the original and animated. She brought back original series writers including allowing David Gerrod to give more tribble fun with “More Tribbles, More Troubles.” They weren’t recycling Scooby-Doo scripts. The episodes are a bit more cerebral than Wacky Races. This wasn’t a quick cash grab by dazzling the kiddies with spaceship battles and explosions. This was Star Trek in paint form.

The animation allowed the show to open up in sense of visuals. The planets can look fantastical since there’s no worry about spending a fortune in the production design budget. The same is true for the interstellar creatures that no longer have to incorporate a man in a rubber suit or hiding wires. Instead of Chekhov, the new crewman at the helm has three arms. They couldn’t have done that on the set at Desilu. Sure the series uses Filmation’s

“Beyond the Farthest Star” is appropriately written by Samuel A. Peeples who wrote the pilot that featured Kirk as the captain. The Enterprise gets stuck in the pull of a dying star. They discover another ship in the same fate, but it’s been out of commission for a while. Unfortunately their exploration party bring back a creature that possesses the ship and wants more. “Yesteryear” has Spock going back in time to save himself as a child. Mark Lenard returns to voice the Vulcan Selek. “More Tribbles, More Troubles” has Cyrano Jones return with his furry balls of trouble. He’s made it so they can’t multiple so fast, but they still have serious appetites. Jones is once more voiced by Stanley Adams. “The Magicks of Megas-tu” has the devil beam up to the Enterprise. “Mudd’s Passion” has Harry Mudd return with his latest invention. They are fake love-crystals. Roger C. Carmel merrily voices Harry Mudd. It’s so nice to hear Mudd pulling off another scam in space. This isn’t as light as a Scooby-Doo Mystery Movie with Sandy Duncan.

Star Trek: The Animated Series only lasted two seasons because that was considered a successful run for Saturday mornings. The series was aimed for the viewer who eagerly watched the original series reruns every weeknight on WLVI-56 in Boston at 6:30 p.m. When Star Trek: The Next Generation had a great first season, Roddenberry decided to declare what was considered “real” in the Star Trek universe. Along with comic books, novels and coloring books, Roddenberry excluded the animated episodes. Perhaps this makes fans who haven’t seen the animated episodes discount their value. But Roddenberry is wrong. The actors and the writers who brought life to the original series made these 22 episodes as essential as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. If you already own the Blu-rays of Star Trek: The Original Series, your collection isn’t complete until you add the Blu-rays of Star Trek: The Animated Series.

The videos is 1.33:1 full frame. The Blu-ray transfer brings a sharper image than the original DVD release. It really does make a difference when watching on a large screen HDTV. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1. The levels are great for spotting your favorite cast member voice. There’s also mono mixes in English, German, French and Italian. The episodes are subtitled in English, French, German, Dutch and Italian.

Drawn to the Final Frontier: The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series (24:31) makes the case that this is an extension of the series. Lou Scheimer explains how his Filmation was able to revive the series. His goal was to make more than another Saturday morning kiddie show. D. C. Fontana recounts how she was able to get writers from the original Star Trek series thanks to a writer’s strike. There’s a discussion about why Walter Koening was left out of the voice cast. Lou swears he couldn’t fit into audio booth with everyone else. But they did let Koening write a script. All praise William Shatner for being passionate about the series.

What’s the Star Trek Connection (7:12) shows how the animated series linked to either the original series and other shows in the Star Trek universe.

Show History is a short text essay that covers information covered in the big documentary.

Text Commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda are provided on “Yesteryear,” “The Eye of the Beholder” and “The Counter-Clock Incident.” The Star Trek historians point out factiods.

Audio Commentaries are provided on a few episodes. Writer David Gerrold speaks on “More Tribbles, More Troubles” and “Bem.” He relates the difference between scripts for live action and animation. David Wise illuminates “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth.”

Storyboard Gallery for “The Infinite Vulcan” breaks down how Walter’s episode was drawn up.

Collector Cards designed by artist Juan Ortiz for all 22 episodes.

CBS DVD presents Star Trek: The Animated Series. Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Majel Barrett. Boxset Contents: 22 episodes on 3 Blu-ray discs. Released: November 15, 2016

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