In the 1970s, with the rise of studios like Filmation and Hanna-Barbera, American television saw a boom in animated entertainment brought on by a newfound niche of programming: Saturday mornings. What began in the 60s with Looney Tunes, The Superman/Batman Hour and Jonny Quest soon spawned into a mad dash to license any and every popular comic franchise, famous personality or blockbuster movie.
Among the many properties picked up, Return to the Planet of the Apes was based on the Planet of the Apes series of books, movies and live-action TV show. Just like the movies or TV series, the cartoon featured a cast of displaced astronauts (Bill Hudson, Jeff Allen and Judy Franklin) who somehow manage to find themselves in a world where the roles of man and ape are reversed. Unlike previous incarnations, and more like Pierre Boulle’s original novel, the apes in Return to the Planet of the Apes were much more scientifically advanced – they even had guns, cars, architecture, tanks and television!
The series, produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises for NBC, unfortunately only lasted one season (13 episodes). While the artwork in general was impressively detailed for that time period of animation, the by-product included stiff animation (more like a motion comic) and frequently used stock footage. Interestingly enough, only Austin Stoker (voice of Jeff) had any previous involvement with the Apes franchise, playing MacDonald in 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
For those interested in seeing one of the truest adaptations of Boulle’s vision, the complete series is currently available on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
EPISODE ONE – FLAMES OF DOOM