This review contains spoilers.
'Star Trek: The Animated Series' has had a very mixed reception from 'Trek' fans across the years, and it's general "status" in the fan community often shifts back and forth as the years pass.
It is from Filmation who, even for the era, were often criticised by some for their often basic and corner-cutting animation. This is certainly true (most of the designs are fine, but it's the lack of level of character and "prop" details that stands out), yet at the same time, the backdrop and general designs do show flair of creativity.
I grew up loving Filmation's later 'He-Man and the Masters of the Universe' (and hey, I'll admit it, MOTU is still a big thing in my life, though not so much the cartoon series!), which (as well as recycling the odd Animated Series design here and there) too suffered similar criticisms over the level of animation. But if nothing else, one can't deny that Filmation productions knew how to tell a good tale, which is probably the main saving grace that kept them ahead of many competitors of the era.
And for people who moan about the general execution and tone of Animated Trek ... c'mon, what do they expect – deep, dark Anime? Think of the era, and who the series was aimed at!
One of the problems with Animated Trek, even beyond Filmation's debatable animation quality, is that fans, or indeed itself, never seem totally sure what it is, or what it should be. On one hand, it's a comic book-like kids' cartoon series; on the other, it attempts many of the deeper moral tales of the original series. These two ideas didn't always mesh well, and as a result has met with mixed reception from fans in the almost 40 years since it first appeared.
Personally, whilst far from perfect, I love what the Animated Series attempts, and like to take it on face value. Yes it does have a real "comic book" feel, but many overlook that that was an important element of the original 1960's 'Trek' – comic book tales that masked deeper tales of social commentary and moral issues. Heck, I almost wish this approach had continued into some of the later incarnations of 'Trek' (I could be very critical and say that the lack of this, with the franchise starting to take itself far too seriously, contributed to killing the Trek TV franchise off, but that's getting onto a different debate for a different page!!).
I personally first encountered Animated Trek in the mid-1990s. It would occasionally be run through on BBC Two (the traditional home of 'Trek' for *many* years here in the U.K.) in a daytime slot, typically during school holidays. I would catch a glimpse of it and liked what I saw (being a lifelong fan of Original Trek, and the better days of 'The Next Generation'), but usually only started to catch it as the run came to the end of the run.
I purchased the complete series on DVD a few years ago, but despite several attempts never made it right through the series (due to being distracted by other newer TV shows rather than anything wrong with Animated Trek!). So I thought it was about time I had a proper stab at getting right through the series.
So anyway, the first episode, "Beyond the Farthest Star". (I say "first" – this was actually the fourth episode production-wise, but I'm tackling the episodes in broadcast order, as presented on the DVDs, and indeed here on TV.com).
I found this to be a very reasonable opening episode, which introduces the viewer to the animated version of 'Trek' very well (which is presumably one of the prime reasons why this episode was chosen to be aired first).
The theme tune is amusing as it's obviously "not-the-original-theme-yet-clearly-intended-to-remind-us-of-it"; I vaguely recall reading somewhere that the rights to the original theme were unavailable / too expensive (though I may be wrong). In fairness though, this theme tune for the Animated Series is quite catchy.
The design of the long-deserted "pod" ship is an example of just how good, and detailed, some of Filmation's designs could be. I was almost disappointed in a way, that the ship was deserted, and we never encountered the insectoid beings that once inhabited it.
As the crew return to the Enterprise mid-story, things take another turn, as they unwittingly take a malevolent entity back with them, which "possesses" the Enterprise.
The overall story is pretty good, though I did find it's pacing a bit slow in places, and from what I recall, isn't one of Animated Trek's very best offerings.
The final scene, as Kirk outwits the entity, making it think that the Enterprise is about to crash into the dead sun, is pretty good, and the entity's final words as the Enterprise pulls away, begging for them not to leave it, and saying how "lonely" it is, is actually quite haunting.
All-in-all, this is a very fair first (broadcast) episode for the Animated Series. As I say above, it's probably not one of the Animated Series' best offerings, but gets things off to a reasonable start. The plot is a little slow in places, but the overall story is quite interesting (and could easily have been a vintage live-action episode of 'Trek' in its style and telling). I give "Beyond the Farthest Star" a reasonable 8/10 rating.