Occupying its own continuity, yet clearly drawing aspects from the first two films, Return to the Planet of the Apes is an animated series that was produced in the 1970s based on the Planet of the Apes franchise.
In the year 1976, a small space shuttle with a three man crew is launched as part of an experiment in relativity, achieving a speed where one hundred years and multiple days goes past in almost no time at all for them. But then their ship develops a malfunction and goes blasting towards an alien planet, hurtling rapidly through time to the point that, when they crash-land in a lake, over 2000 years have passed for them. Setting out in hopes of finding civilization, they discover themselves on a strange world of caveman-like humans and advanced, intelligent apes... which are not too welcoming towards the intelligent humans.
While criticized for its limited animation and sometimes monotonous voice acting, the show was praised for its painted backgrounds, as well as its storyline, it being one of the few animated series of the era to have a serious, serialized plot. Airing on NBC, the series premiered on September 6, 1975 and was broadcast until September 4, 1976, although only thirteen episodes were produced.
This series provides examples of:
- Big Bad: General Urko, who wants to Kill All Humans and usurp Doctor Zaius.
- Bittersweet Ending: The astronauts are no closer to finding a way back to their own era, but the show still ends on a hopeful note; Urko has been suspended and will likely face further punishment for his unsanctioned, last-ditch effort to exterminate the humans, who have forged an alliance with the Underdwellers and found a safe, fortified place to live. Bill and Cornelius also plan to present an ancient book revealing the true history of the planet to the Council, in an attempt to foster peace between the apes and the humans.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: In "Screaming Wings", the apes find an old World War II fighter, and manage to make it fly. The humans steal it from them.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Ron Brent kind of just disappears without comment after "Mission of Mercy".
- Continuity Nod: The series is full of Shout Outs to the first two films and even one or two to the live-action series. Cornelius and Zira the Chimpanzees are scientists with respect for humans, Dr. Zaius the Orangutan is a law keeper hoping to kill the space travelers to avoid the destruction of the Ape society, Urko the Gorilla Chief of Security leads the hunt for the humans, Nova the savage woman, the mysterious earthquakes and walls of fire being created by the Underdwellers in the Forbidden Zone... Nova even has the dog tags of Brent, the main character from Beneath.
- Earth All Along: In "The Unearthly Prophecy", the astronauts discover that they are on Earth in the far future.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: The Forbidden Zone, which is where the astronauts first land; partly because of the Underdwellers panicking and attacking them with their psychic powers.
- Bill Hudson: Taylor
- Jeff Allen: Dodge
- Judy Franklin: Stewart
- Ronald Brent: Brent from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
- Underdwellers: The mutants from Beneath.
- Fantastic Racism: The apes look down on humans in general as being little better than animals, but General Urko was champing at the bit to exterminate all humans before the space travelers landed.
- Flintstone Theming:
- In "Lagoon of Peril", there is a television news report delivered by the Ape Broadcasting System anchorman Dick Huntley.
- In "River of Flames", two apes discuss the new film The Apefather.
- In "Invasion of the Underdwellers", a first edition copy of the collected works of the playwright William Apespeare is stolen from Cornelius and Zira's house by General Urko's troops disguised as Underdwellers. They also steal the famous painting The Apea Lisa from a museum.
- General Ripper: General Urko is constantly pushing to exterminate the humanoid beasts and gets progressively more vindictive as "Blue Eyes" thwarts him and the Simian Senate tries to assert its authority.
- Humans by Any Other Name: Humans are called "humanoids." Even the astronauts refer to them as such.
- Next Sunday A.D.: The space shuttle Venturer was launched from Earth in 1976, then one year into the future.
- Ruins of the Modern Age: In "The Unearthly Prophecy", Bill and Jeff discover the ruins of the New York Public Library in the Underdwellers' caverns.
- Secret Keeper: Cornelius and Zira. Not only are they secretly helping the humans, but they're the only ones who are aware that there is more than one intelligent and speaking human. As far as the ruling apes are concerned, Bill Hudson is the only talking human they know of so far.
- Token Trio: Bill Hudson (white male), Jeff Allen (black male), and Judy Franklin (white female) in the initial crew, then Bill, Jeff, and Nova for the series proper, until Judy came back.
- Truer to the Text: A minor case but the apes are as advanced as their literary counterparts while their film counterparts were less advanced than their literary counterparts. They were advanced enough to have guns and that is it.
- You're Insane!: In "Escape from Ape City", Bill shouts to Cornelius and Zira "You're crazy!" when they consider performing brain surgery on him.