Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Planet of the Apes — chronicling the epic and turbulent history of a civilization of evolutionary advanced apes – particularly the bloodline of two chimps, Zira and Cornelius – and their relationships with humankind. The franchise spawned from Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des singes, and spans five original-series films, a theatrical remake, two television series, and a new prequel-re-boot hitting theaters August 5.
Planet of the Apes
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Escape From the Planet of the Apes
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Battle For the Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes (TV series)
The Installment: Return to the Planet of the Apes (September 6, 1975 – September 11, 1976)
The Story: Much like the live-action TV series, this animated endeavor is a reboot of the general Apes concept. Three astronauts – Jeff, Bill and Judy (finally a chick!) – crash on ye ole planet of apes, and end up on the run, pursued again by General Urko (a character carried over from the live-action series). Dr. Zaius is back once more, and now we also have Zira and Cornelius. Not to mention Nova, Taylor’s cow-eyed human squeeze from the first two films. This version has humans somewhere between the feral morons from the original Apes and the normal intelligence peeps from the live-action series. These humans can talk but are basically Tarzan-like cavemen. There are also characters similar to the mutant telepaths from Beneath, here known as the Underdwellers, plus towards the end of this short-lived series our heroes encounter Ron Brent, another crashed astronaut whose name obviously conjures thoughts of Beneath‘s boring hero, Brent.
Now finally freed up from the limitations of building sets, Return is the first Apes project to finally realize author Pierre Boulle’s original vision of an advanced ape civilization. The ape city here is a sprawling metropolis comprised of tall buildings and paved streets, and the population is much larger than we’ve ever seen before. These apes use telephones, automobiles, and even acquire an airplane. I don’t know that this is necessarily an improvement, but after five films and a TV show it is novel change of pace. Overall, Return deserves props for its basic approach, which is pretty goddamn weird, even if it isn’t very successful. Now and then the show reveals that its creators had interesting things going on in their minds — I like that Ron Brent crashed twenty years prior to the arrival of our heroes, yet he originally left Earth many, many decades after they did. That’s the kind of gooky sci-fi shit I can get into (this detail serves absolutely no actual purpose on the show, unfortunately).
Though the animation itself is pretty wretched, the style of the artwork is rather cool. The background paintings are uncharacteristically detailed and the general style of the show evokes more of an old-school comic book feel than a typical animated kids show of the period. The color scheme is interesting as well. The whole thing just feels weird, which is commendable in its own way. I especially dig the the show’s intro. It is overly intense and hyperbolic in its design, and features a great music piece. Actually, the series’ score by Dean Elliott and Eric Rogers is pretty groovy in general.
What Doesn’t Work:
Return is very hard to sit through, unless you’re dazed in a cloud of nostalgia… or an incapacitating bong rip.
As a fan of the myriad shoe-string animated works of Hanna Barbera, I can easily look past the asstacular animation of Return, but I found the tone of the series almost unbearable at times. The biggest culprit is the voice acting, which is so lifelessly atrocious that it is almost impossible to believe that the series wasn’t some high-concept The Producers-like scheme to get the show canceled immediately. I’ve certainly seen other old cartoons that had comparably awful voice talent, but those shows weren’t based on massive, globally popular franchises. Return has some major pacing problems too, but that is par for the course, as far as cheap kids cartoons are concerned — it’s not as if superior shows like Scooby-Doo were a thrill-a-minute joyride or anything either. But even beyond the voice acting and the pacing, the series seems unsure of what its tone is supposed to be. For the most part the show is surprisingly serious, which I kind of liked (at least on paper), but the show also loves dropping in corny gags, though often doesn’t even treat them as gags. There is a Flintstones-esque thread running through the series, with dopey ape versions of classic human things, like a book by William Apespeare, or a painting that is the Mona Lisa with an ape’s face. As an adult obviously I’d rather the series had pulled itself even farther in the serious direction, but I think it would have been a much better idea for the series (as a Saturday morning cartoon) to have beefed up its comedy.
As far as tweaks to the franchise — while I like the novelty of the technologically advanced ape city, I don’t like the changes made to the planet overall. Earth is now full of crazy new species – dragons, a King Kong-sized ape god named Kigor, giant spiders – that simply don’t feel right. Instead of this feeling like Apes in a modern parallel to Earth (Pierre Boulle’s original setting), it feels like Apes meets The Herculoids or something.
At the end of the day I could probably have looked past all these other problems, except for one glaring flaw: our heroes suck. There are three of them – and one is even a woman! – yet they are completely interchangeable. This, combined with the heinous voice acting, is a huge problem for a show that can’t afford to have interesting action sequences, and must rely on a lot of talking.
Corniest Flintstones-esque Name Gag: The two apes discussing the film The Apefather.
Connection to Previous Installments: The role of Jeff is voiced by Austin Stoker, who played MacDonald in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
Bad Ape Logic: General Urko wants to destroy all “humanoids.” I think you should actually look up what that word means, General.
Goofiest New Species: Unicorn buffaloes.
Should It Have Been Canceled: It had to be this way.
Up Next: Planet of the Apes, das reboot.