Welcome back, folks. For today’s blog, I thought I’d enlighten some of you on a cartoon show I’ve been recently digesting in my spare time. Given the resurgence in popularity after the fairly recent strong showings of Rise, Dawn, and War of the Planet of the Apes, I thought that a review of the classic 1975 cartoon entry into the Ape franchise would be a solid blog for the geek masses out there.
Plus the fact, that other than an occasional episode I watched as a teenager on the Sci-fi channel, I never really gave the show much attention. I’ve always been a strong fan of both the original Planet of the Apes film and even more so of its incredible sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which ranks among my top 20 favorite Sci-fi movies to watch. But often times, the cartoon versions of things tend to be dumbed down for the kiddies and therefore aren’t stomachable for more adult sensibilities. However, as I have often said, sometimes you just have to bite Fruit Stripes gum and go with it, and with that mentality I started watching: Return to the Planet of the Apes.
First, here’s some background about the series for those of you that don’t really know much about it. Produced in 1974 by DePatie-Freleng (That’s Friz Freleng of Looney Tunes fame), the cartoon show ran for 13 episodes during NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon block. This puts it chronologically after both the last of the big-screen features, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and a short-lived live-action television series. In fact other than some comic books produced by Marvel and others, this cartoon series was among the last Planet of the Apes projects for several years until Tim Burton tried to reboot the franchise in 2001. In other words, this cartoon really serves as the last entry into the classic Planet of the Apes canon.
Speaking of canon and the films, The animated series does fit in with the rest of the story lines presented in the Planet of the Apes universe. It borrows characters and elements from other entries in the franchise such as the character of General Urko who is borrowed from the TV series. Dr. Zaius, Zira, and Cornelius, Brent, and Nova are all from the movie series. Even Krador and the Underdwellers in the animated series are loosely based on the mutants in that appear in Beneath the Planet of The Apes.
As I said, for me, the only thing that doesn’t really make sense is where this series fits chronologically in regards to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, because there’s no question the planet is destroyed at the end of that film, making it really be the “final” installment. So everything in this series has to occur before that film to make sense. That’s difficult to understand though because the characters of Brent and Nova are a main part of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and you see what happens to them in full, so unless this entire series happens before or during the events of that film, you’re guess is as good as mine.
However, other than me nitpicking about that particular continuity aspect, overall, the series really does do a very good job of relating the same themes inherit in the movies and the original Monkey Planet book in which everything is based. The cartoon series actually does a better job at depicting the apes as having a technologically advanced society, complete with automobiles, tanks, film, and television more than the movie does. So in that way, it more closely resembled both Boulle’s original novel and early concepts for the first Apes movie which were changed due to budgetary limitations.
But more importantly, the cartoon series strongly portrays a bleak and otherwise alien world for us humans, in which grueling day to day survival and an intense feeling of isolation are typical. Really, it is a post apocalyptic world devoid of nuclear or chemical fall out, but ripe with fall out of another kind, the ultimate comeuppance for years of taking nature for granted and our dispassionate treatment of the other animals of this planet. Now, humans are the hunted, driven to the point of extinction at the hands of those we viewed at one time as simple beasts.
But now on the review of the actual cartoon itself. As many others have already said in other reviews, the cartoon itself is pretty atrocious in terms of production values. I have often felt as if I wouldn’t find a cartoon series that had less animation than the old Marvel Super Heroes show, but I was sadly mistaken. Return to the Planet of the Apes makes Marvel Super Heroes look like a full length Disney movie in terms of the animation, as most scenes are pans of backgrounds or reused stock footage of characters generically walking places.
This is sad too, because it’s not as if the actual design work for the animation is poor. The backgrounds are meticulously shaded and the characters are visualized well, it’s just that the animation is so limited, it can be very distracting more often than not. Sure, you do expect a certain degree of this from any 70s or 80s cartoon show with stock animation used over and over again, but not to this extreme.
In the end, I found myself having to reprogram my brain to view this not so much as a cartoon, but as one of those new fangled full motion comic books. Because if you really do view it as something like that, it actually becomes a much more enjoyable experience.
Although, the episodes are self contained, they should really be viewed in order as parts of a much larger narrative because so much of the series is grounded in a shared continuity which builds upon itself as it progresses. This also goes hand in hand with the idea of it being view as more of a full motion comic book, as you can just watch these episodes like comic book issues in an ongoing series.
The writing for the series is crisp and intelligent and really does make the most of the source material, crafting a dark vision of a world gone wrong, which is surprising for a cartoon show that was supposed to be aimed at kids. Often times, I feel as if you have to be an adult to fully grasp the concepts they are trying to relay in the series, and it does lend itself to multiple viewings. It’s unfortunate that the voice acting like the animation isn’t up to par with scripts though, most times, the appropriate drama and tension of a scene is lost through poor voice over emotion. Plus, there’s only so many times you can hear General Urko before you realize you are listening to Fred Flintstone, as the same actor did both parts.
However, if you can get past all that (and trust me that’s a ton to overcome for any causal viewer), I feel the series can be worth your time. For someone that really enjoyed the recent Planet of the Apes comic books BOOM! Studios put out in the past couple of years, I’m am also enjoying this series as a visual comic book more than a cartoon, so it’s a no brainer that I’ll finish the rest of the episodes. But I will definitely say this show is not for everyone. Most might view it as nothing but a poorly animated pile of chimpanzee poop, and I really can’t argue with that.