THE BOOTLEG FILES: GILLIGAN’S PLANET

BOOTLEG FILES 472: “Gilligan’s Planet” (1982-83 animated TV series).

LAST SEEN: Several episodes are on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: At least one episode had a VHS video release.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A long-forgotten blip in the “Gilligan’s Island” franchise.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Oh, I hope not!

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started in a cheap cartoon based in a rocket ship…

I know, I know, that is not the way the fabled “Gilligan’s Island” theme song goes. But were you aware that Gilligan, the Skipper and the other shipwrecked souls of the S.S. Minnow ended their days marooned on a lonely planet far off in outer space? Yes, that was the focus of something called “Gilligan’s Planet” – and if you’ve never seen that program, consider yourself very, very lucky!

“Gilligan’s Island” was one of the most popular sitcoms of all-time. Following its 1964-67 run on CBS, the show played in syndication for years and grew into a cult favorite. By the mid-1970s, the franchise was revived in a number of so-called reunion films and a Saturday morning animated series produced by the Filmation studio. However, some people believed that the concept could be squeezed even further, so another animated series based on the program was created by Filmation in the early 1980s.

Unless you are an animation addict, the name “Filmation” might not ring that proverbial bell. The company was active in the 1960s through the 1980s and produced a significant number of animated television series, along with a few live-action shows and a couple of feature-length movies. The problem with Filmation, however, was its lack of consistency. Some of their programs resonated with both kids and adults: “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” and “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” were among the company’s most notable achievements. And in 1969, the Filmation-produced series based on the Archie comic books managed to crossover into the pop music charts when a throwaway tune that originated on the show – “Sugar, Sugar” – became the nation’s #1 hit tune.

But on the down side, Filmation’s output often suffered from truly terrible animation. When the productions had great scripts (“Fat Albert”) or catchy musical numbers (“Groovie Goolies” or the various shows based on the Archie characters), it was easy to overlook this flaw. But when the scripts were mediocre or worse, the crummy animation was impossible to ignore. Even worse, Filmation had a weird habit of making inferior animated series based on popular live-action shows. Does anyone remember such oddities as “The Brady Kids,” “My Favorite Martians” or “Lassie’s Rescue Rangers”?

Filmation produced “The New Adventures of Gilligan,” which ran on ABC from 1974 through 1977. The series lacked the goofy charm and loose-limbed humor of the original “Gilligan’s Island,” but at least it compensated by having most of the original cast return for voice performances. (Tina Louise declined to come back as Ginger, while Dawn Wells was committed to another project when the soundtrack was being recorded.)

In 1982, Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of “Gilligan’s Island,” met with the Filmation crew to revive the series with a new twist. Rather than keep the castaways on their tropical island, Schwartz decided to put them in a new setting. In this series, the Professor turns the damaged S.S. Minnow into a spaceship (don’t ask how) and the castaways are able to flee their island by flying away. But during the flight, Gilligan tosses a banana peel at the Skipper’s head, which causes him to lose control of the spaceship. The craft veers wildly into the heavens and crashes on a planet that appears to be mirror the Earth’s environment – albeit with exaggerated vegetation that would look at home in an Henri Rousseau painting. A new character – a bipedal reptile named Bumper – joins this Earthling community and becomes Gilligan’s sidekick.

Over the course of 13 episodes, “Gilligan’s Planet” is basically a retread of “Gilligan’s Island,” with extra-terrestrials brought in to harass the castaways and space-related jokes tossed about carelessly. I tried watching four episodes of “Gilligan’s Planet,” but I was ready to cry “Uncle” (or “Skipper”) because of their sheer awfulness.

“Super Gilligan” was the best (or least bad) of the bunch, with Gilligan being mistaken by a cave-dwelling troll for a long-awaited savior. The silly sailor receives a cape that gives him the ability to fly, but an elephant-headed alien named Gooniac wants to gain control of the cape and the secret powers within its fabrics.

“Journey to the Center of Gilligan’s Planet” is a strangely sour affair, with a dyspeptic Gilligan trying to avoid chores in order to amuse himself with a comic book. Bumper takes over the dishwashing duties, but the little creature goes bonkers and winds up throwing the dishes about like confetti.

“Bumper to Bumper” finds the wee reptile feeling under-appreciated, so he makes friends with a hostile alien who threatens the castaways and wrecks their newly-repaired spacecraft. And “Invaders of the Lost Barque” finds the humans in a struggle with aliens seeking a treasure map. When the Professor admits he cannot break the map’s coded messages, Mrs. Howell remarks, “Why not have Gilligan break the code? He can break anything.”

Even by the standards of Filmation’s limited animation, “Gilligan’s Planet” is visually stagnant. Many of the characters deliver their lines in close-up while staring right at the camera, and scenes where the characters are either walking or running were rotoscoped in from “The New Adventures of Gilligan” – but the animation is so sloppy that it often appears the characters are walking on air instead of the ground. A mild laugh track punctuates the dialogue, reminding the boring viewer that something funny was supposedly hatched.

Occasionally, the series tries to have fun with its outer space setting. But most of the humor is stale and dull. For example, the Professor creates a flare rocket to call attention to the planet. But Gilligan glues the Skipper’s hand to the rocket, which takes off with the burly navigator sealed to its side.

As with the earlier animated series, most of the original cast members are back for voice performances. Tina Louise still avoided reprising Ginger, but Dawn Wells found the time to return and voiced both the Mary-Ann and Ginger characters. But throughout the shows, the line readings were strangely lethargic – in particular, elderly cast members Alan Hale, Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer offered their dialogue in such halting tones that they sounded as if they were having respiratory problems while giving their voice performances.

“Gilligan’s Planet” ran on Saturday mornings on CBS for the 1982-83 season. The network had no desire to renew the show, and the series’ 13-episode run limited its chances for a second life in syndication. At least one episode, “Let Sleeping Minnows Lie,” was released as a standalone VHS video in the late 1980s, but to date the entire series has never been collected for a commercial home entertainment release.

“Gilligan’s Planet” is still around, thanks to Gilligan addicts posting episodes on YouTube. But, trust me, you are sure not to get a smile from seven stranded castaways who are not on Gilligan’s isle!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on March 22, 2013 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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