Judge Dennis Prince is simply amazed at how easily astronauts can make the trek through that purportedly rare bend in time. At this rate, billionaire tourists will be traveling to poke fun at those damned dirty apes.
"They're apes! They can speak!"
Three U.S. astronauts, Bill Hudson (Tom Williams, Richard Blackburn), Jeff Allen (Austin Stoker), and Judy Franklin (Claudette Nevins), are in the midst of a deep space mission to prove the theory of time acceleration. When their space capsule, the Venture, is suddenly drawn into a space vortex, their calculating Earth clock advances wildly. Their capsule crash lands on a planet and the three astronauts strike off on foot. As they make the difficult trek across the barren plains of the unknown planet, they're subjected to spontaneous firestorms and earthquakes. Ultimately, Judy is drawn into a gaping fissure that strangely disappears as if it never existed. Bill and Jeff trudge on and are surprised when they encounter primitive humans, including a minimally-speaking woman named Nova (also voiced by Claudette Nevins). They're completely dumbstruck, though, when an army of intelligent, talking apes descends upon them. Although Jeff and Nova escape, Bill is captured by General Urko (Henry Corden) and his army and carted back to Ape City. Meanwhile, orangutan leader of the Ape Senate, Dr. Zaius (Richard Blackburn also doing double duty), has promised six "humanoid" specimens from Urko's catch to the chimpanzee scientists, Zira (Phillipa Harris) and Cornelius (Edwin Mills). Upon seeing Bill, whom she immediately names "Blue Eyes," Zira is struck by the odd humanoid's clothing and mannerisms. She and Cornelius are duly startled when their prized specimen speaks. Knowing that the Senate has deemed a death sentence upon all humanoids should even one indicate abilities of rational thought, the chimps help Bill escape. From here, Bill reunites with Jeff and ultimately Judy as the three discover they have become fugitives on their own Earth—2000 years in the future!
If this all sounds quite familiar, it is. Return to the Planet of the Apes premiered during the Fall 1975 season, airing on the NBC network at 10:00am Saturday mornings. Since TV Guide ads promised "all new adventures with your favorite characters from the hit 'Ape' movies," the scripts included several familiar ape-film characters plus an immediately recognizable plot. Essentially, the series worked as an adaptation of the first two films, Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, much like the Curtis comic magazines concurrently in circulation. As the apes marketing blitz was in full swing during the mid-Seventies, the weekly cartoon saga made for a natural addition to the primate profiteering. The cartoon's title, then, was appropriate to the flagging ape saga, that which sputtered following the lackluster final cinematic adventure, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and an unsuccessful TV series. But while the original films and the TV exploits were hampered by budgetary constraints thereby preventing the realization of the more refined La Planète des singes (Monkey Planet) that author Pierre Boulle originally imagined, surely a competent animated series could atone for previous missed opportunities.
Unfortunately, Return to the Planet of the Apes was not a competent production.
Although Fox was enjoying profits from licensed toys, bedsheets, and other apes artifacts, they still wouldn't ante up to deliver a budget for recent ape productions. Therefore, the DePatie-Freleng endeavor was even more constrained that anything that went before it. The first episode, "Flames of Doom" served as harbinger of the newest doom to modern-day humans trapped in a world where apes speak, humans cower, and Fox accountants hold purse strings tight in their damned dirty paws. A NASA space capsule that floats through space as three seated astronauts record their observations certainly requires little movement but, upon landing on the odd planet, we quickly discover that there will be little animated movement for the duration. The show is immediately hamstrung by a seemingly nonexistent budget that relied on still layouts and background pans and zooms to masquerade as animation. The few scenes of full-body animation are liberally reused to the point of being distracting. Mouth movement is suitable when it's utilized but more often, dialogue is delivered in cutaway to the unanimated reaction of another character or uttered when a motionless character's back is turned to the camera. The vehicles utilized by the apes are animated as a still rendering upon acetate that is simply pulled across a background—sometimes tires will rotate but most often they won't. Really, it makes for a confounding situation given D-F's previous reasonable accomplishments (most notable, the Pink Panther cartoons) yet, here, the term "animated" is barely applicable.
The character designs are just as drab as the action, especially the poorly conceived model sheets of the key ape figures, Zira and Cornelius. General Urko and Dr. Zaius are reasonably competent in design although the General's orange headdress makes for a fashion faux pas that surely a thinking ape could have avoided. The characters of Bill and Jeff are very bland, always appearing in their white flight pants and solid colored shirts. Interestingly, the rendition of astronaut Judy is similar to that of the bitchy queen in the "Neverwhere" story from 1981's Heavy Metal. Sporting a full-on Mary Lou Retton coiffure, the resemblance is more than curious. You'll often see Judy in a robe and hood and expect her, at any moment, to step forward, shedding the cloak and baring all (she doesn't, of course).
As for the stories themselves, each episode provides a reasonably self-contained adventure that pits the humanoids against the apes in numerous escape-themed situations. It's a bit odd how the scriptwriters chose to liberally include characters from the original films yet swap out the General Ursus name for General Urko (the lead gorilla from the TV series, he based on the lead gorilla, General Aldo, from the final film). You'll also meet Nova who simply speaks too much to be believable here and even a shaggy version of U.S. astronaut Brent. The mutants from the second film adventure are presented here as the "Underdwellers," a cloaked and hooded society of technologically competent humans who aren't exactly the same radiation-afflicted monstrosities from the movie but who still employ hallucinogenic mind-tricks (not to mention an unexplained ability to emit damaging laser beams from their eyes).
Yes, its all a bit of mish-mash that clouds, not clarifies, the ape lore. It's a shame, really, because it's easy to see the potential here. Composer Dean Elliot's score is a bright spot, having to work overtime to provide some sort of activity amid the many still frames. He adopts and adapts Jerry Goldsmith's score elements well, providing a glimmer of hope to a production that never gains any real traction. As a nostalgic element, though, there's enough here to placate those saw the show during its original broadcast. On this new DVD, you'll find all 13 original episodes, giving you an opportunity to return to the planet yourself without having to throw your wallet into the retail vortex to purchase the previously released Ape-Head/Ultimate DVD Collection set (where these cartoons first appeared on disc). Now, on this emancipated two-disc set, you'll find the following:
Both discs feature static menus from which you can select episodes to view (including the option to view the next episode preview). Each episode is presented in the original 1.33:1 full-frame format via a quite vibrant and clean transfer. The colors are remarkably rich and the image quality is crisp without excessive edge enhancement. Because of the high-quality detail the media provides, matched with the original cell animation process, expect that you'll also witness the usual animation artifacts of specs and drop-shadows that accompany the overlay animation method. Still, although the animation is sub-par, the image quality here is likely better than you'd expect (for what it's worth). The audio is presented in a similarly adept Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track that's quite clear and clean, offering good discernment between the dialogue, sound effects, and score. Technically, this two-disc set outdoes the material it houses. Pity.
If you're a die-hard apes fan, you may have already acquired this same content when you purchased the Ape-Head DVD set. If you passed on that indulgence but are still interested in including this Saturday morning specimen in your cartoon collection, then the price is worthy of purchase. Don't expect this show will entertain today's youth (it simply moves too little and too slowly) but it may amuse you with a bit of long-gone nostalgic appeal.
Not guilty, just not too terribly interesting, either.
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