Western Animation / Back to the Future

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"Is there a Tannen in every century?"
Marty McFly

An Animated Adaptation of the successful Back to the Future films, that ran for 2 seasons of 13 episodes each in 1991 and 1992 on CBS; it was the very first production of Universal Cartoon Studios, which would later go on to create Exosquad, Earthworm Jim, The New Woody Woodpecker Show, and a crap-ton of The Land Before Time sequels.

The series followed on from where the films left off. Doc Brown and his family (wife Clara, originally from the 1880s, and their sons Jules and Verne) have moved back to 20th Century Hill Valley, settling down in 1991. In addition to their flying, time-traveling steam engine, Doc has built a new DeLorean, and together with his friends Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker, Doc and his family Time Travel backwards and forwards through time in search of adventure, usually meeting up with ancestors or descendants of both Marty and the films' villain, Biff Tannen.

The series has a section on the recap page which needs attention.


The series contains the following tropes:

  • Adoption Diss: The episode "Go Fly a Kite" has this kickstart the plot. Jules, who doesn't get along well with his younger brother, tells Verne that given that he doesn't resemble Doc, Clara, or Jules (especially in personality), it's clear he's adopted. This is a case where the insulting remark isn't true Verne is Doc and Clara's biological son but the idea obsesses him to the point that he runs away to look for his real father. Of course, Doc and Clara are very displeased with their eldest son. This may also count as Values Dissonance, given that the episode was aired in the 1990s; a hero implying there's something wrong with being adopted might go over much worse today than perhaps it did then.
  • Aesop Amnesia:
    • Go count the number of episodes where Jules and Verne disagree with each other and have to learn to get along again. We'll wait.
    • See Series Continuity Error below. Marty forgets a big one he learnt from the film trilogy.
  • Action Mom: Clara, Jules and Verne's mother, definitely Took a Level in Badass between the films and this series.
  • Adult Fear: Verne has a winds up hanging from the clock tower in Independence Hall during "Go Fly a Kite" and Doc positively freaks out.
  • Alternate History: What if the Browns accidentally prevented the extinction of the dinosaurs?
  • April Fools' Plot: "Retired" centers around Jules and Verne's April Fools' prank convincing Doc that he has only a tiny amount of his brain capacity left.
  • Artistic License Paleontology: In the episode "Forward to the Past", the Cretaceous Period is stated to be in 3 million BC. Oh, and apparently there were lemon trees in California during that era.
  • Ascended Extra: Jules and Verne. Their only appearance in the original films is a brief, non-speaking appearance at the end of the third film, but they're main characters in the series.
  • Bait and Switch: In the Baseball Episode, Marty and the boys break a window while playing. After the episode's adventure is over, they're back to playing and Marty hits a home run. The ball comes down at the store where Doc is buying a replacement window. The replacement window is inevitably broken, but the trope comes into play by changing the circumstances. Instead of hitting the replacement as expected, the ball smashes the store window. Doc offers his condolences while walking away, only to trip and drop the replacement window.
  • Baseball Episode: Marty, Jules and Verne go back and time to save Pee Wee McFly's career as a baseballer.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The crack in the Liberty Bell was created when Doc ran into it.
  • Black Sheep: Verne does not have the same scientific interests or intelligence as his father, though he does have the blond hair (and a bit more common sense). His brother Jules likes to tell him he was adopted. However, it's mostly Verne who feels this way (and his brother encourages it); Doc and Clara love him every bit as much as Jules.
  • Brick Joke:
    • At the beginning of "Retired", one of the pranks Jules and Verne play is switching the sugar in the sugar bowl for salt. It quickly gets forgotten thanks to the fallout of their other pranks but comes up again when Doc puts "sugar" in his cup of coffee at the end of the episode.
    • Early in the episode, Verne packs worm-filled apples for Principal Strickland. Later, when his mother and Marty turn up at school to tell the boys about Doc's disappearance, Verne asks if the reason they're here in the middle of the school day has anything to do with Principal Strickland going home with a stomachache around lunchtime.
  • Broken Pedestal: Mr. Wisdom with Verne. He's nowhere near as cool in real life.
  • Break the Motivational Speaker: During the Christmas episode, Marty tries to get Clara out of prison by using the Yet Another Christmas Carol trick to appeal to the local Tannen's good nature. Unfortunately, none of the miserable things Marty shows him have any effect. Finally, Marty, in disgust, admits defeat. (Fortunately, he manages to find another way around the man's stubbornness.)
  • Burn the Witch!: One episode takes place in Salem, Massachusetts.
  • Catchphrase: In addition to "Great Scott!", Doc was given more catchphrases such as "Jumpin' jigowatts!", "Galloping Galileo!", "Ouchamagoucha!" and "For Petri's sake!"
  • Celebrity Impersonator: "Solar Sailors" uses this as a gag, with Marty the one being impersonated.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • Michael J. Fox seems to exist in the BTTF universe (see "Mythology Gag" below).
    • Back to the Future itself seems to exist in this universe; it can be seen on a theater marquee in "Hill Valley Brown-Out."
  • Character Name Alias: Marty says that his name is Jimmy Olsen during "Super Doc."
  • Chariot Race: Marty, Doc, Jules and Verne went to Ancient Rome, where Marty (as Marticus) had to enter a chariot race against Bifficus (Bifficus called Marty by an Ancient Roman expression translated by Marty's device as "Chicken") and had to lose for sake of space-time continuum because otherwise people would (according to Doc) revolt against Bifficus, which would prevent Caligula from becoming Emperor of Rome. Doc described it as key event to the end of the Roman Empire.
  • Child Soldier: Doc Brown's sons Jules and Verne go to the The American Civil War and find themselves recruited by the Union and Confederate armies. As Verne is being trained by another boy, Jimmy, he is told that they are positioned in the front lines in the line of fire:
    Jules: But we're just kids!
    Jimmy: [Bleakly] War makes you grow up fast.
  • Christmas In July: the Brown family and Marty decided to visit late 1800's London during Christmas to beat the heat of the present time.
  • Continuity Nod: "Solar Sailors" opens with Doc and Clara looking through a telescope and reminiscing about the first time they did this.
  • Cool Car: The new DeLorean time machine, which has even more gadgets than the film's DeLorean did.
  • Cool Train: The train from the end of Part III, which now has a compartment attached to it that can store the DeLorean.
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: Mr. Wisdom, who seems happy-go-lucky on the surface, but has no trouble fleecing people out of their money, dropping kids through trapdoors, and stealing Doc Brown's inventions to sell as his own.
  • The Ditz: In the film trilogy, Marty was a bit Book Dumb and sometimes did stupid things because of his impulsiveness, but he was a quick-witted and capable assistant to Doc. Post Character Exaggeration, he's much more of a dope and continually needs the Browns (including Jules and Verne) to help him out. Lampshaded in "The Money Tree", where Jules laments that his intelligence has always made it tough for him to make friends. Marty remarks that that's never been a problem for him, right around the time he hits himself in the face with a ball he's tossing around.
  • Enhance Button: Marty uses one in "Go Fly a Kite" to take a peek at the time circuits inside the DeLorean in Verne's video message, in order to figure out where/when Verne has run away to.
  • Evil Counterpart: Walter Wisdom for Doc Brown. Both are science geeks, but Walter is greedy while Doc is altruistic if a bit careless at times.
  • Evil Former Friend: In fact, the two were frat brothers and roommates in college in the late Fifties, and were close enough friends that Doc even told Walter about the concept for the flux capacitor. It wasn't until Walter stole and profited from Doc's perpetual motion hula hoop that he became evil and greedy.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: At the end of "Brothers," Doc uses Mr. Fusion to create a powerful electromagnet. A little too powerful, as he finds out...
    Doc Brown: It's attracting every metal object in the vicinity! Paper clips... this silverware... why, even the camera! (Beat) AAAH!! THE CAMERA!!!!
    (camera is pulled toward the magnet. Static, then darkness)
    Doc Brown: Hopefully, I'll have this thing fixed by my next broadcast. See you in the future!
  • Floating Clocks: For some reason, this replaces the instantaneous temporal displacement seen in the movies. In the episode "Einstein's Adventure," a pair of crooks steal the DeLorean as a getaway car after a robbery, and accidentally travel to Sydney, Australia in 1790. When temporal displacement occurs, this is what they see for a few seconds through the windshield.
  • Floating Timeline:
    • The present is 1991, but despite 6 years passing since the events of the movie trilogy in 1985, Marty and Jennifer appear to be younger than they should. They at least put them in college—the first episode does make mention of Marty being in college, and makes a reference to DEAN Strickland—even if they were drawn looking like teenagers and seem to have become less mature than they were in the trilogy. Of course, Michael J. Fox still looks like he could play a teenager.
    • This is also the case in 2x02, which flashes back to Doc's college days in the late 1950's (when hula hoops were popular). Walter Wisdom, who knew Doc back then, even recognizes the flux capacitor as Doc's "old college dream." If you assume that maybe Doc went back to school for another doctorate sometime after 1955, he still seems younger than he should have been.note 
    • Biff also looks younger then he did in the movie. There, the present day version had graying hair and mild wrinklage. The animated incarnation has a brown buzzcut and no wrinkles.
  • Free-Range Children: Jules and Verne frequently steal the DeLorean and gallivant around the space-time continuum, although zig-zagged if Marty tags along on an adventure.
  • Full Name Ultimatum: The Browns and Marty discover Verne's video message that he's running away and Jules confesses that he was responsible, given that he told Verne he was adopted. Clara tells him sternly, "Jules Erastothenes Brown, I'm ashamed of you."
  • The Game Come to Life: "Bravelord and the Demon Monstrux".
  • Generation Xerox: Tannens throughout history are just like Biff. Biff himself also has a like-minded son, who occasionally appears.
  • Geographic Flexibility: Guess what? Hill Valley has its own college now even though it's supposed to be a small town and no college has ever been mentioned before.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: At the end of the episode "Roman Holiday", Biff actually does the "Oh shit!" gag from the movies. The trick is that he's saying the words in Latin.
  • Grows on Trees: Jules grows a money tree, but the bills wither once they're picked.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The Browns regularly drive the DeLorean around town and use it as the family car, without the rest of Hill Valley knowing that it's a time machine. This causes problems in "Einstein's Adventure" when two bank robbers steal the car to use as a getaway vehicle, and accidentally activate the time circuits.
  • Historical In-Joke: Many.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: In "Solar Sailors", Clara asks Marty (actually an Celebrity Impersonator), "How off the  Earth did you get here?"
  • Idea Bulb: Parodied in the episode "Forward to the Past"; Doc is standing in front of a lamp when he has an idea.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Jules in "The Money Tree". Early on, he grows tired of being an outcast due to his high IQ and invents the tree of the title to get attention.
  • Impossibly Compact Folding: Doc Brown builds a car that can fold itself into a briefcase, just like George Jetson's example above. However, it's still a car, and requires a crane to lift, as Marty discovers when he tries to move it by hand.
  • Kid from the Future: Jules and Verne have met the past versions of their parents in multiple episodes.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    • Marty: "Is there a Tannen in every century?"
    • In one episode, Verne imitates a speech his mother gives, complete with it being delivered by Clara's voice actor as is sometimes done with cartoons. Once he's finished, another character remarks on the uncanny accuracy of the impression, and Verne says he sometimes uses it to call himself in sick to school.
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water: Clara and Verne adapt to life in the 1990s perfectly. Jules is unpopular, but it's because he's a nerd, not because he was born in the 1880s.
  • Musical Exposition: During the Christmas Episode, Doc takes his family and Marty to Dickensian England to beat the heat wave that's currently roasting Hill Valley. While there, they encounter a group of Christmas carolers, who have a tendency to respond to any question asked with an improvised verse to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Eventually, Marty tells them to stop it, and they do give the next explanation in speech, but it doesn't last.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Marty sarcastically says in one episode that he's Michael J. Fox, who played him in the films. Verne admits that he can see the resemblance. This also subtly lampshades the fact that he is not Michael J. Fox in this series.
    • The circus owners from "Verne's New Friend" are named Robert and Bob ("The Bob Brothers") after Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: In "Put on Your Thinking Caps, Kids! It's Time for Mr. Wisdom!", it's finally revealed what Doc's middle initial L stands for when Wisdom refers to him as "Emmett Lathrop Brown."
    Marty: Lathrop? So that's what the "L" stands for!
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Jules and Verne. This actually proved to be a plot point in the episode "A Verne By Any Other Name" — after being bullied about his name, Verne went back in time to convince the real Jules Verne to change his name; failing at that, he traveled back to his own birth to convince his parents to name him something else. The trope is later subverted when Verne ends up helping with his own birth. Doc and Clara are so appreciative that they name their new son after the "stranger" who helped them.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted. Besides having two time machines, Doc keeps spare equipment in case of emergencies. The main plot of "Witchcraft" begins because the train's flux capacitor is damaged (stranding the Browns in Salem) and Doc gets a message to Marty to bring the spare.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Zig Zagged; Doc, Clara, Verne and Jennifer all address Marty by his nickname, but Jules, in keeping with his preference for Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, always calls him "Martin."
  • Pac-Man Fever: Every sound effect from Bravelord and Monstrux — which is Verne's favorite video game In-Universe — is taken directly from Super Mario Bros1.
  • Parental Favoritism: Verne accuses Doc of this in "Brothers" (due to he and Jules sharing a love of science). Doc, however, is shown to be constantly supportive of Verne, nor does he give Jules special treatment.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: In the Christmas Episode, Doc gives a woman some cash, explaining, "This should cover the damage I'm about to cause." He then takes out the bad guys with some rolling barrels.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: During "Time Waits for No Frog", Marty and Doc are in the jungle looking for an extinct species of frog. Marty gets grabbed by an anaconda.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • The Hill Valley clocktower is shown running in 1967 (in "My Pop's An Alien"). This contradicts the films, which made a plot point of the fact that the clock never ran again after 1955.
    • In the same episode, 1967 Doc does not recognise Marty, even though they met for nearly two weeks back in 1955.
    • In "Roman Holiday," while visiting Rome, Marty accepts a race against Biff's Roman ancestor Bifficus after he calls Marty a chicken. This contradicts the huge lesson about self-control that Marty had learned around the time of his showdown with Mad Dog Tannen in the third film.note 
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Doc and Jules are both prone to using big words, Jules possibly even more so than his father.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Just one example: Verne interrupts Benjamin Franklin's electricity experiment, causing Doc and Marty to have to simulate a storm in order to get Franklin to do it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The writers loved referencing The Andy Griffith Show. So much, in fact, that Hill Valley's sheriff is even named Andy Taylor, and he has a deputy named Barney.
    • In "Super Doc," the boys and Marty "identify" themselves in ways that should sound very familiar to Batman and Superman fans.
    • In "Solar Sailors", Verne tries telling someone that their parents are going to be lost in space. He responds, "An unlikely scenario, but a good idea for a television program."
    • During "Retired", Marty asks, "What's up, Doc?"
    • In "The Money Tree", one of the workers Jules hired asks if he thinks he's Richie Rich.
    • In the Yet Another Christmas Carol episode, Marty complains that Tannen hasn't been affected by "things that would make the Terminator cry."
    • The end credits to "Witchcraft" use a version of the Bewitched theme song.
  • Shown Their Work: In "Roman Holiday", the Romans speak actual, genuine Latin (at least until Doc's Translator Microbes kick in), not Canis Latinicus.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Jules and Verne's fights kick off many episodes.
  • Something Completely Different:
    • The seventh episode is the only one in the series to use a Two Shorts format ("Time Waits for No Frog" and "Einstein's Adventure" specifically).
    • "Solar Sailors" is largely set in the future (2091 specifically), whereas other episodes only traveled to the past.
  • The Speechless: In the live-action segments, Bill Nye appears as Doc's lab assistant and performs given experiments. Of course, he doesn't say anything; Doc just narrates the instructions.
  • The Stinger: The Tannen for that particular episode makes a joke after each show's credits—possibly a Shout-Out to Tannen voice actor Thomas F. Wilson's career as a stand-up comedian.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Chris from "Verne's New Friend," who pretended to be a boy so she could hang out with the girl-hating Verne. Verne doesn't react well when he learns the truth, but he lightens up by the end of the episode.
  • Take a Third Option: "Brothers" starts with the boys fighting over the computer. Jules wants to do scientific research (which Doc, of course, supports) and Verne wants to play a video game (which Doc approves of since it means developing hand-eye coordination). Unable to choose between them, Doc says they should go play outside.
  • Ticking Clock: Changing history in "Forward to the Past" causes a present ruled by dinosaurs. Doc calculates the precise amount of time he and the boys have before they're erased from existence.
  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: Unlike the films, the DeLorean and time train can now travel through space as well as time, meaning they are no longer confined to Hill Valley.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The people of Hill Valley don't appear stunned by time machines flying through the sky or Marty regularly using his hoverboard. Averted in other time periods, though, as witnesses are regularly shown looking quite shocked.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Every episode was told as a story by Doc. Considering it's Doc, it explains a lot.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: With a few subversions and a little Oliver Twist snuck in too. Doc and family, plus Marty, travel back to 19th century England during Christmastime to escape some nasty summer heat. One of the B plots of the episode features Ebiffneezer Tannen, who forecloses on the owners of a toy shop the main characters met in the beginning and sends them to debtors' prison. Clara, who was in the shop at the time and refused Ebiffneezer's advances, is sent too. Marty, attempting to break Clara out, is told Ebiffneezer is a real "Scrooge," which inspires him to pull the Ghost act on the Tannen. Ebiffneezer is a hard sell, though even after seeing stuff that "would make the Terminator cry," he refuses to change. It's only through Marty dropping and accidentally activating a projection movie system that he was watching on his hoverboard at the beginning of the episode that Ebiffneezer is inspired to change the Tannen is terrified by the Godzilla movie and swears to be good. The episode may be unique in having the lesson also not STICK Ebiffneezer reverts near-immediately to his nasty self once he sees Marty at the end and realizes he's not a ghost. There's an amusing bit of lampshading when Marty first appears as the ghost Ebiffneezer asks him if he's "Past, Present, or Future," and Marty, being a time traveler, admits to being all three.

Alternative Title(s): Back To The Future The Animated Series

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