DePatie–Freleng Enterprises in association with 20th Century Fox Television
Three astronauts get caught in a time vortex while on a mission and return to a changed Earth in the distant future to find that apes have replaced man as the most intelligent creature.
Who else remembers this animated show? If you do not, then do not feel too bad. It is another interesting yet short-lived entry in the Planet of the Apes franchise. But it is a good one that should not be overlooked.
Return to the Planet of the Apes was the last television iteration of the original Planet of the Apes idea. Or close to it at least. The difference here is the apes were more technologically advanced as compared to the pre-industrial civilization shown in the live action films and even the live action television series. This placed it closer to what Rod Serling had scripted in his draft of the original film than what made it to the screen.
This was a semi serialized series which made it unusual for children’s television at the time. The show borrowed concepts and such from the films but was not set necessarily in the continuity of those films. There was the inclusion of time travel. The subterranean humans (first appearance in “The Unearthly Prophecy”) showed up here. This series even had its own Nova (first appearance “Flames of Doom”). It however lacked the lobotomies and human hunting of the original film. Smart move.
The core human characters were:
- Bill Hudson (voiced by Richard Blackburn and Tom Williams)–Bill is a blond haired, blue eyed astronaut and comes off as the leader of the group.
- Judy Franklin (voiced by Claudette Nevins)–Judy is the only female of the trio. She is an expert pilot and fills the “damsel in distress” role on a few occasions.
- Jeff Allen (voiced by Austin Stoker)–Jeff is an African-American astronaut and rounds out our trio.
- Nova (also voiced by Claudette Nevins)–is an intellectually primitive human that joins the trio on their exploits.
- Ronald Brent (voice actor unknown)–he is an astronaut from the future of Bill, Judy, and Jeff but arrived a few years prior to them.
The core ape characters were:
- Cornelius (voiced by Henry Corden and Edwin Mills)–just as in the films he is a male chimpanzee scientist/archeologist.
- Zira (voiced by Philippa Harris)–she is as outspoken against the gorillas as in the films and fulfills the same role here as there.
- General Urko (voiced by Henry Corden)–he is the heavy of the series with his own designs and motives when it comes to the humans.
- Dr. Zaius (voiced by Richard Blackburn)–he is the orangutan leader of the ape scientists. He was more reasonable than in the original film. He was not the fanatic seeking to cover up the pre-ape civilization of humans. He appeared to be a reasonable intellectual and not an ideologue. You could trust him enough to at least hear you out. He was at least reasonable enough to question Urko.
- Krador (voice actor unknown)–The leader of the subterranean humans called Underdwellers.
- The Underdwellers–this shows equivalent of the mutant humans from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
In this iteration of the concept as stated earlier the apes were a touch more technically advanced than they were in the films. Planes were still an unknown to them (first appearance “Screaming Wings”), but they did have television and motorized vehicles not that different from anything seen in the late 70s.
As stated earlier, the show itself was semi serialized. Later episodes of Return to the Planet of the Apes would refer to events or characters in previous episodes but it wasn’t so serialized that the average Saturday morning cartoon viewer of the time jacked up on sugary cereal couldn’t jump in at any point and know what was going on.
The animation style was the usual cheap stuff of the era. I have a soft spot for that type though. It is reminiscent of the classic Johnny Quest and I loved that show. Though cheap they did manage to get the most out of what they had. They had a certain look and style that still looks acceptable today. At least in my opinion.
The show itself is more high concept than much of what you would’ve found on Saturday morning television at the time. Even at its worst, Planet of the Apes back at the time was still more sophisticated than most and touched on deeper things. This show is no different. The scripts were strong and the voice acting was great. The characters were distinct. There were messages at times that went down pretty easy.
Return to the Planet of the Apes ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and that is unfortunate because it was just one short season that to me had a lot of potential. If you can find the show (and it is available on YouTube) check it out. It is worth a watch for fans of retro cartoons and good science fiction.