Saturday, April 29, 2023

channel freakboy: RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES (1975-1976)

A red background shows a gorilla soldier with fist raised and text that reads… Return to the planet of the apes!

The year is 3979 and Earth has experienced a cataclysmic catastrophe while I was on a rocket ride in Outer Space with a certain animated feline pop band. 

Three ape-like figures are tied to what appears to be upside down crosses.
Saturday morning in the 1970’s was a very different time.

You see, I had Josie and the gang leave me on a planetoid so a certain animated Starfleet vessel could take me home, but Kirk and crew dropped me off in the upside-down future of RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES (It’s a convoluted scenario which you can read about HERE Anyhoo, I’ve been hiding out with the cave-dwelling humanoids for the last two years after my Ted Talk concerning the dangers of being a toon junkie went horribly wrong.  The talking apes chased me out of Ape City, but thankfully they now believe I was just a mental trick deployed by their below surface enemy, the Underdwellers.  If a humanoid with the knowledge of language is ever discovered, all the humanoids will be eradicated, instead of simply being harvested for animal labor, for scientific studies, for war games, for the “animal replacement preserve” and to be kept as pets. 

Close up of Jeff, a black man with short, dark hair.  Judy, a white woman with shoulder-length light brown hair.  And Bill, a white man with short blond hair.
Jeff, Judy and Bill pose for the cover of their folk album!

This is why I’m worried about the spaceship that crashed in the lake.  By keeping quiet and observing, I’ve learned three astronauts from 1976 are now among us.  Bill Hudson, Judy Franklin and Jeff Allen survived their crash, only to find themselves at the mercy of the desolate landscape and sweltering heat of The Forbidden Zone.  Bill and Jeff made it through the treacherous terrain, thanks to the care of Nova, easily the smartest of the humanoids, but Judy has been abducted by the Underdwellers!  They call her “Usa” and claim she is part of an ancient prophecy. 

Nova, a white woman with long dark hair.  She is wearing an officer’s dog tags
Nova cared for me during my Quisp withdrawal.

As if there wasn’t already enough going on, Bill and some of the humanoids were captured by General Urko, the leader of the gorilla army.  Thankfully Bill escaped by befriending Cornelius and Zira, two chimpanzee scientists.  Jeff and Bill then managed to free the captured humanoids, which is great, but the pressure is mounting from all sides.  Dr. Zaius, an orangutan leader, is growing more and more suspicious of Cornelius and Zira, as they are constantly risking their careers for Bill, Jeff and the humanoids.  General Urko is growing more and more war-hungry and paranoid of humanoids, the Underdwellers and even other apes.  The Underdwellers’ motives and ultimate plan for Judy remain uncertain and now volcanic activity is threatening their existence.  To top it all off, Bill and Jeff are planning to move the humanoids to a lush area called New Valley, where herds of unicorn-buffalo hybrid roam. 

Dr, Zaius, an orangutan with yellow-ish hair.
The doctor is in!

Will Dr. Zaius catch Cornelius and Zira breaking ape law?  Will General Urko start an all out war?  Will The Underdwellers release Judy?  Will Bill and Jeff save the humanoids?  Will the dog tags Nova wears bring help with a surprising reference to one of the films?  Will “A Day at the Zoo,” an ancient book Bill and Cornelius placed in the care of the extremely peaceful and very zen Mountain Apes, bring peace to the planet or completely tear it apart?  There was only 13 episodes and it ended with a cliffhanger, so we may never know.  Plus, I managed to escape from this animated upside-down future, which is another post for another time. 

Cornelius, holding an open book, and Zira, both chimpanzees with dark hair, glance at each other in their laboratory.
Cornelius and Zira doubt I’ll blog about my escape.

I first experienced RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES when my sister purchased a massive APES box set in the early 2000’s.  We both expected the series to be utter crap, but we were both wrong.  This criminally short-lived animated series is wildly entertaining and full of surprises.  While each episode has its own plot, there is an overall storyline throughout.  For a Saturday morning cartoon, it is amazingly complex.  Seriously, you need to watch this one in order!  The writers even expected viewers to remember little events from several episodes before.  Another interesting aspect of the series is how it borrows elements from the novel (the apes are technologically advanced), and includes characters from the original films and the live-action TV series, but does its own thing. 

The Underdwellers, hooded robed figures, worship a tree standing in a glass tube.
Tree huggers of the future unite!

I’m sure there are those of you out there who are yelling at my words.  Screaming about the not-so-great animation and the occasionally stiff voice-acting.  Yes, there are deficiencies, including plot holes and a few contradictions, but I think PLANET OF THE APES fans should embrace the sheer scope and clever intricacies of the animated series.  You simply need to overlook the flaws and lose yourself in the story and the characters.

General Urko, a gorilla with dark hair and wearing orange ape military gear, points an accusing finger.
General Urko wants YOU to watch this series!

SIDE NOTE: Sadly, Roddy McDowall does not voice Cornelius, but there is still an acting thread connecting the animated series to the films.  Austin Stoker, who portrayed MacDonald in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, voices Jeff Allen. 

In conclusion…
I always look forward to returning to this intriguing animated planet when my sister and I commence our annual APES marathon.  With more money and an evening time slot, I believe this series could have found a wider audience and lasted longer, but, alas, it was not meant to be.  At least we have these 13 episodes to enjoy!  So, if you dig classic Saturday morning television or you’re a franchise completist, then RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES may be in your future! 
(whispers - “check YouTube”)

Thank you for reading or listening to my half-blind contribution to the FUTURETHON blogathon hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews!

Michael York looks helpless in a scene from Logan’s run, with text that reads… cinematic catharsis and Realweegiemidget reviews present… Futurethon, April 28-30, 2023

Freak Out, 

P.S. Click a pic ⤵️ for more of my animated misadventures… 


  1. I am glad you wrote about Return to the Planet of the Apes! I remember watching it as a kid and, like the animated Star Trek series, even then it seemed obvious to me that it was different from other cartoons. One thing as a kid that I liked about it is that, unlike the movies, the apes had 20th Century technology! I have no idea what I would think of it now, and I guess I should seek it out. Anyway, a great post on the cartoon!

    1. Thank you! Happy to conjure up some good television memories for you!
      I think it's a great series, even with its deficiencies. However, it might be different since you have fond memories of it as a kid. It's always difficult to know what to rewatch as an adult or just leave behind as the fond memory.

  2. I totally adored your quirky take on this cartoon, it sounds so much fun. You must tell us all when you do your Apeathon so we can join you.. thanks for bringing this one to my attention with such a lovely take on it. Really enjoyed reading your post and so glad you brought it and yourself to the blogathon.

    1. Thank you, Gill!!
      It's a fun animated series!
      As for the Apeathon, rewatching Return has kicked it off! However, we are going to watch everything out of order this time! πŸ˜ƒ

  3. This series completely passed me by, but I do remember Quisp cereal - how sad is that? It sounds like it was a bit too sophisticated and adult for a Saturday morning cartoon, and thus the short run (that first screenshot is somewhat disturbing...) Still, it's great that it's on YouTube for present day pop culture archaeologists to pore over.

    1. Thank you for mentioning that first screenshot, brian! It's from the beginning credits and it is startling to think this was Saturday morning television aimed at little kids.

      As for Quisp, you can order fresh new boxes of it from Amazon and it's still very delicious!

  4. I haven't seen this in a couple of years, but I agree with you - once you get past the 1970s low-budget animation style, it's a very good series ... as long as it lasted! It's definitely one of the best animated series of its era; shame it didn't last

    1. It is a shame, but at least 20th century Fox tried to do something different with the ape franchise! Thank you for stopping by!

  5. I remember this series all too well! I would sit in front of the TV on Saturday morning with my Planet of the Apes action figures watching this....I wish I still had them; they would be worth a fortune today.
    Also a huge fan of the live action series a few years later, with Roddy as 'Galen' but he will always be Cornelius to me!

    1. Oh yes, your apes action figures would be worth a fortune, especially if you had the original packaging.

      I enjoy the live action series, as well, but I'm a bigger fan of the animated one. Thank you for stopping by!

  6. Excellent post, John! I don't know how I missed this series when it aired (hmm... Other than the fact that it only lasted 13 episodes), but I'm sold. The plot you described had my head spinning, but in a good way! Thanks so much for joining the Futurethon!

    1. You're welcome and thank you, Barry!
      I suspect a lot of people missed it the first time around. Even my sister, who is a major apes fan missed it.

      Oh, and my head was spinning the first time I watched it because it is nothing like I expected! In a good way!

  7. WHAT?! There was an animated Planet of the Apes series?! I totally missed the memo.

    Anyway, I was glad to read your thoughts about the series. I hope I cross pass with this someday.

    1. The series seems to be a little-known gem and is totally worth watching!
      Thank you for stopping by!

  8. I never watched the animated "Planet" that much, but oh my word, this brings back memories. The animation style screams 70s.

    1. I'm always happy to bring back memories for readers! πŸ˜ƒ