Being a child born in the 1970s, it was hard not to become a fan of the classic 20th Century Fox Planet of the Apes franchise. Some of my earliest memories of Christmas toys involve MEGO's Ape action figures; the film and its four sequels were a staple of syndicated television packages for years after their theatrical runs. Though I have no memories of watching the live-action television series (aired on CBS in late 1974), I did catch it later when several episodes were edited together as a series of tele-films.
Hell, I can even stomach that thing with Marky Mark pretending like he's smart enough to be an astronaut and "Mr. Orange" dressed like a monkey....
But the one bit of Ape lore that seemed to escape my viewing experience was the short-lived animated series of 1975. This was remedied by the recent 2 disc DVD release of the complete series, a release that was snatched up by my dirty ape-lovin' hands as soon as I was able to track down a copy.
My first impressions of the series are quite favorable...though stricken with the curse of limited animation (but, name one network Saturday morning cartoon produced during that era that didn't suffer from it), it boasts some great writing. The premise is familiar: Astronauts Bill Hudson, Judy Franklin, and Jeff Allen (voiced by Battle For the Planet of the Apes and Assault on Precinct 13 star Austin Stoker) get zapped by the time-whammy and thrown into Earth's future....a future where man is ruled by apes. There they learn to adapt and survive their new surroundings while trying to get a grasp on what's going on.
What really sets the animated series head and shoulders above other cartoons of it's day is the level of storytelling... each episode runs into the next in a serialized fashion, with plot points from earlier episodes being set up and revisited in later ones. Then there's the overall tone of the show, which is at times incredibly bleak and dark, an oddity for childrens shows of it's day. Then, there's the inclusion of several character that were made popular in the live-action film counterpart, such as the ape scientists Cornelius and Zira and their benefactor Dr. Zaius, as well as General Urko (voiced by Henry "Fred Flintstone" Corden), and the human female Nova.
The animated show also has a slightly different take on the future Ape society, one more in line with the automated one depicted in Pierre Boulle's original novel that inspired this whole mess. All in all, a worthy addition to Ape canon, though one that possesses it's own individual quirks...
The transfer is pretty good, though the show's earth-tone pallet of colors (which mirrors that of the live-action feature films) makes the transition into animation in a fairly rough fashion. Hues tend to look too dark, black line work practically screams out a jagged cry to one's eyes...and after a while, everything sort of starts to..."blend". When asked to describe the look of the show to a friend, my only response was, "Well...there's an awful lot of orange. And brown."
Oh...waitaminnit. Sorry...just had flashbacks to my college art major days...
Anyways, the show looks great on disc.
None to speak of, not even a collection of annoying "sneak peaks" (which generally only have the vaguest connection to the material the disc is devoted to). There is the option, accessible from the menus for each individual episode, that allows the viewer to watch the episode with it's original animated teaser for the next upcoming episode tacked onto the end.
In a world where Saturday morning animated adaptions of film properties tend to be the bastard offspring of the original source material, the one ruled by apes may actually be one of the best...
And, after saying that, I fully expect Chuck Heston to give me a call asking me to turn in my NRA membership card.
Anthony Conn, aka The Hong Kong Cavalier, 10/25/2006