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Back to the Future: The Animated Series

Updated on May 6, 2019

Back to the Future is one of those film series that has made a huge impact upon pop culture and one that, even if someone haven’t seen it, they’ll likely at least recognize references to it. Whether back to 1885 or all the way to October 21, 2015, the film trilogy’s elements of time travel and humor have captured the imaginations of people for the past 30 years.

However, this is not so much about the film series as it is a look into one of the projects that spawned from it. After the film series became popular, Universal wasted no time on cashing in on expanding the franchise to every type of visual medium, producing video games, a theme park ride, comics, and even a musical set to open next year. Naturally, of course, that would include television…

September 14, 1991 - December 26, 1992
Universal Cartoon Studios

Premiering on September 14, 1991 at 11AM as part of CBS’s Saturday morning schedule (immediately following a full hour of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then in its fifth season), Back to the Future: The Animated Series was the first production by Universal’s newly founded “Cartoon Studios” division (which would later be renamed “Universal Animation Studios” in 2006).

Skipping a few years after the events of Back to the Future Part III, it is 1991 and Marty McFly (voiced by David Kaufman) is now a student at Hill Valley College along with his girlfriend Jennifer. Doc Brown (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) has relocated with his family to the present, but the family still travels around through time in both their steam train and a new version of the DeLorean which can be contained within a suitcase. Naturally, time travel is the main focus of the series, and while the films stuck exclusively to Hill Valley, the animated series broke free of this restriction and went to various locations such as ancient Rome, medieval Europe, Peru, London, and even Mars.

Jules Brown
Jules Brown
Verne Brown
Verne Brown

While Marty is still the main character, many of the plots focus primarily on the Brown children, Jules and Verne. Jules follows in his father’s footsteps, being a bright intelligent boy who invents seemingly impossible things, such as a money tree or a printer that can produce newspapers from the future. Verne, on the other hand, is much more like a normal child, enjoying television and video games, while also being very popular in school.

Oddly enough, Doc Brown’s dog Einstein, who was an ordinary dog in the films, takes on a much more anthropomorphic style in the cartoon similar to other cartoon dogs. But unlike other cartoon dogs, he can still only speak through barking.

One of the most notable things about this series was the live-action segments, which featured Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doc Emmett Brown. In these segments, he would show kids at home different science experiments, usually using things that could be found around the house. These segments was the first time many people saw William Sanford Nye, later to be known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, performing the role of Doc Brown’s mute assistant.

The first season of the show had additional segments at the end of each episode, with Biff Tannen making a plot-relevant joke, paralleling his actor Thomas F. Wilson (who reprises the role here) and his own real life career as a stand-up comedian.

Back to the Future: The Animated Series was a moderately successful show, running two seasons and 26 episodes before leaving CBS at the end of the 1992-1993 season. The show never made the jump to cable reruns, but did briefly return as mid-season filler on ABC in early 1995, and again in early 2003 on FOX’s Fox Box block. However, the series has not been lost to the realms of low quality recordings, as to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original film, and the arrival of the October 21st 2015 date seen in the second film, Universal has finally gave the animated series a complete DVD release.

The show itself wasn’t much, but it is forever tied to the legacy of one of the best sci-fi comedy films ever made, allowing viewers to spend just a bit more time with the McFlys and the Browns.

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