Getting Animated Over TNG

The shirt came from K-Mart.  Or maybe it was Target, I’m not sure.  In any case, the recent trend toward retro fashions has resulted in the availability of some really awesome clothes and my wife, knowing what a die hard Trek geek I am, couldn’t resist getting me the dark green T-shirt depicting the lead characters from Star Trek in their 1970’s animated form.  So enamored am I with my retro TAS (The Animated Series) shirt, that I wore it on the first day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas.  Today’s post has its genesis in a conversation about that very shirt; a conversation involving Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and myself.

Brent Spiner

"Yep, I can do Old Baldy's voice pretty well."

For those very few readers who may not be aware, the aforementioned gentlemen portrayed Cmdr. Will Riker and Lt. Cmdr Data (respectively) on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I had the good fortune to meet them in the dealers’ room at the con and we were discussing something completely unrelated when Spiner commented on my shirt.  “Are those cartoons of the original series guys?”, he asked.  “Did they have an animated show?”  When I told him that they had, indeed, done a Saturday morning Star Trek cartoon, he leaned over toward his costar and inquired, “Hey Frakes, did you know the old guys did an animated show?”.

Mr. Frakes was well aware of the existence of the ’70’s Star Trek cartoon series and suggested to Mr. Spiner that the Next Generation cast should do something similar,  “We could do that.”. “Yeah”, said Spiner, “…and we wouldn’t even need to look good!”.  When I suggested that either one of them could voice Picard if Patrick Stewart were unwilling or unable to do it, Brent Spiner regaled me with his excellent impression of Sir Patrick and we all had a good laugh.

It was a memorable moment for more than one reason.  Obviously, as a fan, I was thrilled to even be talking to those guys.  However, as a fan who believes there hasn’t been any really good new Star Trek since Voyager went off the air, it really got me thinking about how great an animated version of NextGen could be!

It’s an affliction from which we Trek fans suffer – we are forever hopeful that our favorite characters from our favorite show(s) will return to television or theatrical films in one form or another.  And why not?  With rotoscoping and other awesome animation techniques now being possible (and affordable) on computers as well as the wealth of experience the cast has in voicing cartoon characters, it seems that good writing would be the only other element required to produce a phenomenal TNG cartoon series.  Personally, I’d love to see that happen.

The 1970’s animated Star Trek was actually fairly cheesy in many regards but it included the voices of [most of] the original cast and it did have good writing.  In fact, it won an Emmy in 1975.  I can’t think of any reason, except perhaps the prohibitive salaries of the actors, that a TNG animated series couldn’t be made and be ten times as good.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ever thought of this either.  Several years ago CBS/StarTrek.com artist David Reddick had a similar idea and even prepared an imageJean Luc Picard cartoon pitch depicting Captain Jean Luc Picard as he might appear in animated form.  A slightly altered version of his original image appears to the right.  It is fairly obvious that he chose to emulate the animation style of the old ’70’s animated Trek … and that’s fine.  Although I still contend that better animation would be easily and cheaply achievable.  All the same, there might be something rather novel about a TNG cartoon that borrowed the visual characteristics of its classic Trek predecessor.  The quality of the stories and the believability of the voices would really be the keys that could make it work.  Terrific animation quality would just be a bonus.

As exciting as the prospect is though, it seems wildly unlikely.  After all, if there were a market for a TNG cartoon, someone would probably have seen to it already.  Furthermore, Sir Patrick Stewart himself indicated at the Vegas con that he would have no interest in reviving Captain Picard in animated series (other than Family Guy anyway).  Oh well. Maybe, by some miracle, it can be made to happen and, if need be, Brent Spiner can do his very convincing Picard impression on a weekly basis.

Tomorrow is Yesterday

We had barely begun our walk down the long corridor that leads to the ballrooms when I spotted it scurrying along the floor.  “Look!”, I said to my teenage son, “A horta!”.  He knewStar Trek Horta the reference immediately and bent down to have a close look at it.  A resourceful fan had constructed it so that it could be remote controlled from a few feet away and, except for being a tad smaller than one might expect, it was a very faithful recreation of the silicon-based life form from the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark”.  Two things occurred to me as the horta encounter transpired: this was going to be a good first day at Creation Star Trek 2011 Las Vegas and my son, attending his very first Trek convention, reminded me of myself 38 years ago attending mine.  In fact, my first day at the New York City International Star Trek Convention in 1973 began very much as this one did – with a homemade horta on the hotel carpet.

There are, of course, some significant differences between the Trek conventions of the early ’70’s and those of today; the sizes of the crowds and the prices being among them. Nevertheless, all the great things I remember from being a kid at my first con were still evident (and still great!) in 2011.  The array of stars was larger than any I’ve experienced at past cons and many of them were wandering around among the fans or seated in the dealers’ room so they were incredibly accessible.  The variety and amount of merchandise for sale would leave any Star Trek fan salivating.  The number of people adorned in costumes was mind-boggling and many of the uniforms and alien outfits were really well put together.  Most of all, however, the people at Star Trek conventions are just so friendly, outgoing, and positive that you can’t help but enjoy being around them.  To me, the interaction with other fans is one of the most enjoyable aspects of going to these things in the first place.

Us posing with Grace Lee As for the activities in which we engaged, they were many and varied. We got to see Walter Koenig on stage in the morning.  We met in-person and spoke at some length to Grace Lee Whitney, Tim Russ, Mariette Hartley, John DeLancie, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Don Marshall, and Stephen Manley (all of Star Trek) and Richard Hatch and Herb Jefferson (of the original Battlestar Galactica).  We picked up some cool stuff in the dealers’ room and bid on some items at the auction.  My son’s tribble was a great conversation piece, especially with fans dressed as Klingons – one of them even “attacked” it!  We saw the TOS blooper reel and laughed out loud watching it. We laughed more when we took in Jonathan Frakes’ stage appearance – he is hilariously entertaining.  We got autographs from him and from Brent Spiner.  All in all, I’d say those things made for a good day…then there were the other fans who helped make it a great day!

There were people in attendance of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes.  Some of them came from a few miles away and some from other parts of the U.S. and even from otherFans in costume countries.  There was no shortage of homemade costumes on display as well, many of which were outlandish and all of which were very creative. The common denominator in all these cases though was the great joy in meeting and talking with all these folks who were beyond friendly.  They made me feel comfortable, which was nice as I hadn’t been to a Trek con in over 15 years and they made my son comfortable, too.  I think it’s safe to say that he will look back on this day with fondness, just as I do when reminiscing about my first experience at a Star Trek convention.  In many ways, I was enjoying being a kid again vicariously.  It was like we spent a day back in 1973 at the International Star Trek Convention…and we’ll do it again tomorrow.  I guess tomorrow really is yesterday!