Star Trek: The Animated Series: How animation elevated Star Trek storytelling 50 years ago

Star Trek Explorer #8 courtesy of Titan Books
Star Trek Explorer #8 courtesy of Titan Books /

“Star Trek: The Animated Series” 50 years ago, blasted onto Saturday morning cartoons with all new adventures.

It was the very first, of what has since become a flurry of reboots, retcons, and new “Star Trek” series.   Each 22-minute episode was a trimmed-down version of the live-action series and with just a few “weird adventures” – this Trek was faithful to the live-action original.  Many episodes were penned by original series writers such as D.C. Fontana, Samuel Peeples, and David Gerrold.  The show was positively received and even won an Emmy for “Outstanding Children’s Series” in its first year. That non-technical Emmy is the only one of its kind ever awarded to “Star Trek” in its entire history.

Star Trek: The Animated Series: Today we owe much to the short-lived, but generally loved series.  Its impact can still be felt 50 years later.

Let’s go a little deeper into just what makes this first animated “Star Trek” series so special.  First off animation allows us to explore stories with greater scope.  Roddenberry himself mentioned how animation removed financial barriers and expanded storytelling to motion picture status without a requisite expanded budget.

In doing so, it allowed us to really visualize what a future, big-budget “Star Trek” might look like.  A case in point is “Beyond the Farthest Star” – which brought us a massive alien starship, dwarfing the Enterprise and intimidating its crew while they cautiously explored the massive ship to which they appeared as mere insects.

Sound familiar?

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” explored a similar theme to great dramatic effect in 1979.

Star Trek Animated Series: Vulcan was largely defined in ALL new Star Trek from the single TAS episode, “Yesteryear”.

Another memorable episode, “Yesteryear” penned by “Star Trek” veteran Dorothy C. Fontana takes us to Vulcan where we learn much more about the people, customs, and culture.  Even the dangers are dramatically portrayed with oversized dangers busting out on screen.  We even get a first-hand look at Spock’s pet sehlat, mentioned in “Journey to Babel.”

Many common themes, originally portrayed in this one episode would re-emerge as canon in future “Star Trek” series and movies.  Spock’s early childhood bullying reappeared in the movie “Star Trek”.   The city and culture, complete with a live-action sehlat this time in Enterprise: “The Forge”.  Discovery’s “Lethe” also expands on architecture and stylistic designs referring back to this iconic first episode.

There’s also been some retconning to TOS.  Visual updates to Bluray and re-released HD versions of the original series ( The City of ShiKahr was re-rendered for TOS’s “Amok Time” as it originally appeared in “Yesteryear.”  We also see a very arid, desert Vulcan with that distinctive “yellow” sky in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”.

We also can thank “Star Trek” TAS for its precedent-setting introduction of Robert April as the previous commander of the Enterprise and both Kirk and Pike’s immediate boss from TOS and even cast in live-action “Strange New Worlds” (SNW).  Kirk’s middle name, “Tiberius” is from “BEM” and even the holodeck makes its first appearance as “the recreation deck” in “The Practical Joker.”

So we can thank TAS for not only giving us new “Star Trek” adventures but also for giving us a “bigger” universe to play in and a deeper background into our characters and their history, forever impacting future “Star Trek” productions to this day.

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