Everone’s favorite PGS reviewer, Willow Yang, shares her thoughts on STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES and how it succeeds in spite of its obvious failures.
Since I’ve recently discussed Turnabout Intruder, I thought I should send over my long overdue report on Star Trek: The Animated Series. While I might revisit some of the individual episodes for a more in-depth analysis some time down the road, I would like to give my overall impressions of the show first.
I will start with my main criticism of The Animated Series, which is that the animation itself isn’t the greatest, at least not by modern standards. I’m glad that we’ve had the discussion over the issues of verisimilitude and lack of emotion with the photo realistic animals in The Lion King remake: it has helped me process the problems that I have with The Animated Series.
The characters feel very stiff: there is just personality missing in their facial expressions. When they speak, their mouths tend to move in a restricted manner that’s often not synced to the words that they are uttering, while the rest of their faces remain stiff, with only the occasional blink or raised eyebrow. And while some of the drawings – Spock, Sulu, McCoy, for instance – do bear recognizable resemblance to their live-action counterparts, I do find Kirk’s appearance a little too generic. There is just something missing in his facial features that would immediately cause me to think of William Shatner; I cannot exactly pinpoint it, but I think part of it might just be that his animated self is missing the personality and charisma that I associate with Kirk. And perhaps its due to some latent prejudice that I’m not consciously aware of, but I cannot tell the difference between any of the Klingon characters: they all look the same to me.
In spite of the somewhat lackluster animation however, there is still plenty to like about The Animated Series. I really appreciated that the original cast (minus Walter Koenig) was brought back for the voice acting. Hearing the familiar voices of the characters from The Original Series brings a feeling of comfort, and lends an air of credence to the show being a true continuation of the original. I also appreciated the revisiting of various past events. One small gripe that I have with The Original Series is that I feel the episodes are sometimes too self-contained. Some significant things happen throughout the series: Kirk loses his brother in Operation: Annihilate; he loses several love interests, most notably Edith Keeler in The City on the Edge of Forever; the Enterprise encounters numerous races and beings with ground-breaking powers and technologies; they leave a number of civilizations in the midst of mass social reform, and yet, the main crew don’t appear affected by any of the incidents, nor do they revisit them. Apart from the occasional casual reference, the majority of the events from previous episodes are ignored and seem largely inconsequential. I was thus pleased to see the Animated Series bring back things like The Guardian of Forever, the recreational planet from Shore Leave, Cyrano Jones and his tribbles (#JusticeForTribbles), amongst others. This brings a sense of continuity that I feel is sometimes missing in The Original Series.
Being animated also enables the show to be freed from some of the technical and budgetary constraints that the live-action series had to deal with. I was glad to finally see Spock’s sehlat, which he had alluded to in Journey to Babel; although I do miss Chekov, I’m delighted to see more alien crew members like the tripedal Arex and the felonoid M’Ress. The general lack of diversity (in species) in The Original Series has been a bit disappointing to me.
Yes, I do realise that there are practical considerations that need to be taken into account when determining the makeup of a crew – different races of aliens will obviously have different social and biological needs – but I get a kick out of seeing more interspecific interactions. Additionally, The Animated Series is able to depict fanciful events like Kirk’s magic duel in The Magicks of Megas-tu, the shrinking of the crew in The Terratin Incident, Kirk and Spock being turned into the fish-monster from The Shape of Water in The Ambergris Element. Of course, some of the animation and effects do look a little cheesy nowadays, but I really enjoyed seeing more whimsical and outlandish stories being shown on screen.
On the subject of the writing, The Animated Series does feel lighter than its predecessor. Much of the more adult innuendos, such as Kirk’s dalliances with human (and humanoid) females, have been toned down. In spite of being made friendlier towards a slightly younger demographic however, the series still doesn’t shy away from headier concepts and challenging issues. The themes and moral lessons in the stories feel very much consistent with The Original Series: episodes like The Infinite Vulcan and The Magicks of Megas-tu present moral quandaries on free will and the rights of individuals; The Counter-Clock Incident deals with aging and retirement; How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth makes some interesting commentaries about theism.
On the side of the more wondrous and whimsical, there are planet-destroying clouds, sentient alien plants, giant rock monsters, negative universes, and a host of other whacky things, some less plausible than others. There are also plenty of misconceptions with regards to molecular biology and genetics, fields that weren’t well-advanced during the time the series was created, but I will probably address that some other day.
I would like to conclude this letter by thanking James M for writing in to recommend the series to me. To be honest, I had originally intended on skipping The Animated Series in the interest of time, and I’m glad now that I hadn’t. While the animation does leave something to be desired, the writing certainly more than makes up for the show’s technical shortcomings.
In spite of its altered medium and lighter tone, it remains a worthy continuation of The Original Series, which would have otherwise concluded on the less-than-stellar (albeit wildly entertaining) Turnabout Intruder. Instead, we are left with a touching line from the aging Captain Robert April in The Counter-Clock Incident: “What a blessing to be able to live one’s life over again…if the life you’ve led has left you unfulfilled.” Now that is a nice note to sign off on.