Part III: A Little Less Characterization, A Little More Monsters
Animation; as the late, great Rodney Dangerfield would say, it don’t get no respect. Since watching the brief twenty-two episodes that is Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS), I’ve read that it has been labelled “Not an official part of the Star Trek universe.” That’s funny, considering I see Gene Roddenberry’s name in the credits and all. People seem to automatically disregard animation. Knight in shining armor that I am (in my own mind,) I shall defend it’s honor.
The automatic argument I hear from animation haters is that “Cartoons are for kids.” While “The Simpsons”, “Family Guy”, and “Adult Swim” have made great strides in the past few years proving that this is incorrect, I still get into this argument. Fair enough, in America most animated shows are aimed at children. The thing is that animation is capable of so much more. It’s the only medium in which you can do, literally, anything! Want to have your character’s faces melt off while they ride on half zebras, half ostriches with giraffe spots through a forest comprised entirely of exploding candy canes? And then have the pink sky in the background turn out to be a giant snake-tongued hippo with the face and hat of Abe Lincoln? Good luck filming that! Better call in the cartoonists!
Going into Star Trek TAS, it was the “freedom of animation” idea that got me excited about it. If you’ve seen The Original Series (TOS), you may have noticed that every planet they visit happens to look a lot like Earth. Furthermore every alien they meet sure do look a lot like human beings. It’s part of the cheese factor I mentioned in my previous post. Hey, Star Trek TOS was a low budget series made in the mid to late sixties, I can look past it. They did their best. I was excited, however, for the Enterprise to come across some infinitely weirder stuff, and on that note Star Trek TAS comes through. Where it goes wrong though, is that “The Simpsons” was still more than fifteen years away. Thusly, the creators of this series did what came naturally, and aimed the show at children.
This is great news for the red shirts (red shirt death count in all of TAS: 0), but very bad news for Captain Kirk’s sex life (Kirk’s lady banging in all of TAS: also 0). More than Kirk’s boundless sex drive gets sacrificed in this series though. Kirk does as well, at least that which makes Kirk Kirk. All of the crew on the Enterprise get reduced to generic caricatures of their former selves. Sadly, the forgetting of McCoy begins here as well, as he is reduced to a secondary character. That’s nothing compared to Chekov though, he’s not even in it. On the upside, the secondary characters that are included do get episodes all to themselves and chances to shine, including McCoy. Uhura, Sulu, and Nurse Chapel get opportunities to climb out from beneath Shatner’s mighty shadow.
There’s a couple of new additions to the Enterprise, the first glimpse into the “freedom of animation” argument I previously mentioned. Lt. Arex, a three armed, three legged alien who always looks like he just ripped a joint in the storage closet. This is who we lost Chekov for. Then there’s Lt. M’Ross, a sort of lion, sort of koala lady who is constantly purring, as if on the verge of orgasm, before or after every sentence. Furthermore, the crew runs into monsters, an unnecessary amount of dragons, fish people, a guy who can split himself into several floating body parts, plant people, bird people, and super intelligent elephant/anteater… things. This sounds a lot more like space creatures than the many humans and gaseous clouds that TOS has to offer. The other space crafts and planet they come across are infinitely larger/cooler/weirder than anything TOS has to offer.
If you’re reading this and saying to yourself “Wow, this sounds much better than TOS!” I’m sorry I’ve mislead you. It’s not. I’m simply pointing out the freedom of animation element that makes this series stand out. Other than that, this series pretty much falls apart. It’s great that they got all of the original actors to play their respective voices in TAS and all. Though, theres some episodes which I’m fairly sure Shatner recorded his lines after just waking up and while sitting on the bowl. Secondly, have you ever seen an action cartoon from the 70s? The animation is in a word; terrible. They reuse their drawings constantly, and screw up often enough. At one point, Spock raises his eyebrow, but they forgot to take the original eyebrow out, resulting in Spock momentarily having two sets of eyebrows, so… yeah.
Some of the stories are pretty good. They revisit several elements from TOS, so that adds some nice nostalgia if you like the original series. Ultimately, Star Trek TAS is a nice appendage to TOS, but that’s about it. Like a pinky; looks nice but really serves no purpose. If you love TOS and need a fix with these characters, give TAS a watch. If you want to get your children into Star Trek but feel like the outfits ladies wear in TOS might be a bit too sexy, TAS might be the way to go there too. In the end though, this series does not stand alone. The characters are too bland, and the stories don’t have enough depth. It’s fun enough for the Trekkies, and doesn’t deserve to be taken out of the “Official Star Trek timeline.” Just don’t introduce yourself to the Trek universe with this one, chances are you’ll never return.