Return to the Planet of the Apes—The Complete Series

return to the planet of the apes dvd cover review episode guide
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Smarter stories than most Saturday Morning cartoons at the time

Ended before story concluded, padded animation

return to the planet of the apes title card review episode guide

Come back to the Planet of the Apes…for the first time!

Astronauts Judy Franklin, Bill Hudson, and Jeff Allen find themselves stranded on a strange planet, but quickly learn that the planet isn’t alien at all.  Flung into the future, the astronauts discover they are on Earth…but an Earth ruled by apes!  With Judy being taken by a group called the Underdwellers and Will and Jeff fighting for survival among the humanoids with the help of a woman called Nova, things seem grim.  Scientists Zira and Cornelius discover intelligence among the humanoids and begin a clandestine alliance with Will and Jeff in the fight to bring peace to Ape City.

Return to the Planet of the Apes was a science-fiction animated TV following the Planet of the Apes film series and live-action TV series.  Largely based on Pierre Boulle 1963 novel, the series aired on Saturday Mornings on NBC from September 6, 1975 to November 29, 1975 and has gained a cult following since its release.

return to the planet of the apes episode 1 flames of doom

It’s the Rushmore of Apes

I grew up watching the Planet of the Apes movies, but really didn’t get to see the live action TV show or cartoon because they weren’t rerun with the frequency of the films.  With streaming and DVDs, they are a bit more widely available if you seek them out, and Return to the Planet of the Apes is one of the series that is worth seeking out.

The story has continuing plotlines which is a bit unusual for cartoons at the time.  Most Saturday morning cartoons were self-contained, but Planet of the Apes required the series to be aired in order…it would introduce characters and specific storylines that had to be followed.  Stories like Judy’s adventure with the Underdwellers (and being called Usa aka U.S.A.) factor into episodes throughout the season while the theft of General Urko’s plane becomes a running dispute between Urko (voiced by second Fred Flintstone voice actor Henry Corden), Doctor Zaius, and the humans.  It required a lot more patients from viewers than was accepted (and even possible) in 1975 with no VCRs even to keep up with a show.

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I’m just glad to see that apes still use grips for their camera men

This was the benefit and the curse of the show.  The show was originally planned for three seasons with a complete story arc for the characters…this of course didn’t happen.  You end up with an incomplete story though it is complete enough that you don’t feel slighted by watching it.  It would have been nice however to see the whole story play out and see if Judy, Jeff, and Bill (and later Brent) would make it back home.

Another strange thing about the series is how uneven it is for the age it is targeting.  The acceptance that cartoons were not “just for kids” wasn’t always the case and especially on the Saturday Morning front when the series aired.  The show has typical killer creatures and big apes battling which is for kids, but it is mixed with more adult stories of politics and an ape political battle between science and war…which still feels oddly relevant.  It also mixes in jokes like “The Apefather” and “William Apespeare” which are much more for adults than children.

return to the planet of the apes episode 12 invasion of the underdwellers fred flintstone general urko

Ma’am, can you say with certainty that you saw Barney Rubble take the Fruity Pebbles I left out for Santa?

The animation is both slick and at points obviously cheap.  The classy art is largely designed by Jonny Quest artist Doug Wildey and has a certain charm.  While it could be seen as cheap, there is also a strange “pop art” style to it that feels unique.  With the use of the book as the basis, the apes are much more advanced than the film apes and generally live like modern humans in a city that resembles humans…with of course ape characteristics.  The series often feels like it is forced to use filler moments to pad out its runtime with unnaturally long extended scenes of “suspense” (that generally aren’t that suspenseful) that pretty much involves switching back and forth between two of the animations over and over again…it becomes almost funny at points.

Return to the Planet of the Apes is a smart series that was too smart for the time.  If it had been released now with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others, it probably would have made its three year run and would have been better received (it also would likely be buried amongst all the other streaming cartoons).  Instead, the cartoon ends up a bit of an oddity and somewhat of a kitschy throwback to a different time that fans of the films should track down.  As always, the Apes rule!

Return to the Planet of the Apes—The Complete Series Episode Guide:

return to the planet of the apes episode 1 flames of doom bill judy jeff

“Flames of Doom”

Episode 1        Flames of Doom Airdate:  09/06/75

The Supreme Council of Apes gathers to debate the future of humans on the planet and decides they must be eliminated only if they speak.  Judy, Bill, and Jeff crash land in the future and try to find a means to survive in a harsh desert.  Judy is sucked into the ground by a mysterious earthquake, and Bill and Jeff find a girl named Nova who might have contact with a man named Brent from their future.  When apes attack, Bill is captured and taken to Ape City.

return to the planet of the apes episode 2 escape from ape city bill zira cornelius dr zaius

“Escape from Ape City”

Episode 2        Escape from Ape City Airdate:  09/13/75

Bill finds himself a prisoner in Ape City while Jeff attempts to locate him Nova.  Doctor Zaius butts heads with General Urko over the humanoids, and Bill finds himself given to Cornelius and Zira for their experiments.  In Zira and Cornelius, Bill finds not all apes may be bad, but when the news of a talking humanoid reaches the orangutans, Bill finds himself on the run.

return to the planet of the apes episode 4 the unearthly prophecy underdwellers judy

“The Unearthly Prophecy”

Episode 3        The Unearthly Prophecy Airdate:  09/20/75

With the apes in pursuit, Bill and Jeff discover an underground society and their lost crewmate Judy as their worshipped goddess.  Trying to get Judy to safety, Bill and Jeff face the dangers of the Underdwellers led by Krador…and escape might be impossible!

return to the planet of the apes episode 4 tunnel of fear jeff bill

“Tunnel of Fear”

Episode 4        Tunnel of Fear Airdate:  09/27/75

Moving the humanoids might be the only chance that Jeff and Bill have to protect them from the apes.  With a dangerous plan, Bill and Jeff return to Ape City in search of Cornelius and Zira, but Dr. Zaius and Urko are beginning to grow suspicious of “Blue Eyes” relationship with the scientists.

return to the planet of the apes episode 5 lagoon of peril sea monster

“Lagoon of Peril”

Episode 5        Lagoon of Peril Airdate:  10/04/75

News of the talking humans has reached the press and Zaius is anxious to quash it.  Bill and Jeff find themselves in a race against time to return to the scene of the crash site and get the laser and other needed supplies.  Nova expresses fear of something in the lagoon…and the apes are getting closer.

return to the planet of the apes episode 6 terror on ice mountain

“Terror on Ice Mountain”

Episode 6        Terror on Ice Mountain Airdate:  10/10/75

Cornelius’s discovery of human artifacts indicating that apes were once below humans could give General Urko the fuel he needs to wipeout the humanoids.  Using the discovery to build a hot air balloon, Bill and Cornelius set to hide artifacts on a mountaintop, but find themselves blown off course to the mysterious kingdom of the mountain apes.

return to the planet of the apes episode 7 river of flames

“River of Flames”

Episode 7        River of Flames Airdate:  10/18/75

Bill and Jeff are contacted by Judy with the revelation that the Underdwellers need their help and their laser.  Fearing that they are entering a trap, Bill and Jeff learn that the dangerous volcano under the Underdwellers’ home is threatening to destroy the reactor powering their devices which could cause a chain reaction that could destroy the planet.  Unfortunately, General Urko’s men have found the laser, and Bill and Jeff must get it back before it is too late.

return to the planet of the apes episode 8 screaming wings airplane

“Screaming Wings”

Episode 8        Screaming Wings Airdate:  10/25/75

The apes have discovered a working airplane, and General Urko plans to use it to boost moral for the gorilla army.  With fears that it will be used against them, Cornelius, Zira, Bill, Jeff, and Judy realize they must get the airplane out of Urko’s paws.

return to the planet of the apes episode 9 trail to the unknown rocket

“Trail to the Unknown”

Episode 9        Trail to the Unknown Airdate:  11/01/75

The time to move the humanoids to a safer location has come, and it means taking a dangerous journey.  Travelling into unexplored lands, Bill, Judy, and Jeff find the shock of their life when they discover another astronaut named Brent.  General Urko learns the humanoids are on the move and intends to stop them before they establish their new location.

return to the planet of the apes episode 10 attack form the clouds monster bird

“Attack from the Clouds”

Episode 10      Attack from the Clouds Airdate:  11/08/75

A defensive home built, the humanoids are learning to farm and raise cattle…but the appearance of a dangerous flying monster could threaten the humans and Ape City.  Bill and Judy go on a dangerous mission to get the airplane back to the humans before the apes discover it again.

return to the planet of the apes episode 11 mission of mercy cornelius judy

“Mission of Mercy”

Episode 11      Mission of Mercy Airdate:  11/15/75

With plane needed to defend the humanoid settlement from General Urko’s forces, Bill and Jeff head on a fuel run to Ape City.  Nova is found to have come down with a deadly virus, and Judy must risk everything to find Cornelius and Zira in Ape City in the hopes for a cure before the virus spreads.

return to the planet of the apes episode 12 invasion of the underdwellers

“Invasion of the Underdwellers”

Episode 12      Invasion of the Underdwellers Airdate:  11/22/75

In an attempt to win approval for budget increases for his military, General Urko has apes pose as Underdwellers to begin robbing cultural pieces from the people of Ape City.  Urko pushes for war with the Underdwellers, and the Underdwellers must turn to Bill, Judy, and Jeff to prevent the war from destroying both the Underdwellers and Ape City.

return to the planet of the apes episode 13 battle of the titans

“Battle of the Titans”

Episode 13      Battle of the Titans Airdate:  11/29/75

General Urko has lost his title and is suspended from duty due to his attempts to make war with the Underdwellers, but with Colonel Rotok replacing him, Urko still has plans for war.  The change in Ape City politics has Cornelius and Zira realizing that the evidence of the planet’s past could now be presented if Cornelius and Bill can reach Kigor where the artifacts have been stored.

Related Links:

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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