With my “New Year, New You” series, I am examining cartoon series that were based on live-action series. As I mentioned previously, the trend of turning primetime shows into cartoons is a little odd, in that most of the time, the live-action shows were already popular with children, and that is certainly the case with this week’s installment.
‘Gilligan’s Island’ is one of THE classic sitcoms (with possibly THE MOST classic theme song). Created by the great Sherwood Schwartz, who also spawned ‘The Brady Brunch’, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ originally aired on CBS from 1964-67, for only three seasons, but has been shown in syndication pretty much continuously ever since.
The original series starred Bob Denver as the klutzy doofus Gilligan, the first mate of the SS Minnow. Alan Hale Jr. played the short-tempered captain of the Minnow, known only as Skipper. Jim Backus portrayed “The Millionaire,” Thurston Howell III, with Natalie Shafer playing his wife, “Lovey” Howell. (The others simply called them Mr. and Mrs. Howell.) Tina Louise portrayed the bombshell movie star, Ginger Grant, with Russell Johnson as the group’s stoic scientist, called only “The Professor.” And Dawn Wells portrayed Mary Ann, the farmer’s daughter-next-door. (All of the characters had full names, although they were never mentioned on the show.)
The show’s opening explained that this motley crew wound up stranded on an isolated tropical island after a storm at sea. The entire series revolved around them trying to get off the island, and they would get SO CLOSE nearly every episode, until something would go wrong, usually thanks to Gilligan’s bumbling.
Filmation delivered the first animated spin-off, ‘The New Adventures of Gilligan’, to Saturday mornings in 1974. That cartoon was basically just an animated continuation of the sitcom and aired on ABC for two seasons, for a total of 24 episodes.
Then in 1982, Filmation struck again, but took things to a whole new level with ‘Gilligan’s Planet’, back on the sitcom’s home network, CBS. On this series, the gang finally escaped the island only to wind up stranded on a strange planet! It seems The Professor built a spaceship out of wood and whatever other materials he could find on the island, only for Gilligan to screw things as usual. (A rocket? Couldn’t he have set his sights a bit lower, like on an airplane or a boat?!)
On their new alien homeworld, The Professor once again set about trying to repair their only means of getting home, but generally speaking, this was the same premise, just in space and with aliens instead of headhunters and the like. Presumably, this was at least on some level inspired by the boom in sci-fi due to the success of the ‘Star Wars’ movies, which were still going strong. This cartoon arrived in between the 1980 release of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and 1983’s ‘Return of the Jedi’.
As was typical of cartoons, and those by Filmation in particular, the group was given a comedic sidekick, a green reptile called Bumper, voiced by Filmation founder Lou Scheimer. (Scheimer loved voicing sidekicks, and among his other roles were Orko from ‘Masters of the Universe’ and Bat-Mite on ‘The New Adventures of Batman’.)
Both ‘The New Adventures of Gilligan’ and ‘Gilligan’s Planet’ featured the voices of original cast members Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Russell Johnson, Jim Backus, and Natalie Schafer. Neither Dawn Wells nor Tina Louise lent their voices to ‘The New Adventures’, but Wells returned for ‘Gilligan’s Planet’ providing the voices for both Mary Ann and Ginger. (Wells had simply been unavailable at the time of ‘The New Adventures’.)
Tina Louise was not interested in any further ‘Gilligan’s Island’ projects, including two live-action made-for-TV reunion movies. The animators decided that for both cartoons, that redheaded Ginger be given platinum blonde hair, so that Louise wouldn’t sue for using her likeness… even though the character’s NAME was GINGER!
Louise never returned for another ‘Gilligan’ project, so technically the last episode of the original sitcom was the last time the entire cast appeared together. Otherwise, this cartoon actually serves as the final reunion of the majority of the originals. Louise and Wells are the only surviving cast members today.
Of other historical significance, this show marks the final Filmation cartoon made for Saturday mornings. After this, the studio focused on producing exclusively for syndication, plus a few movies. This was also one of the last cartoons to employ a sitcom laugh track, as the practice had fallen out of favor.
Despite its spacey setting, ‘Gilligan’s Planet’ may have been too much of a throwback, what with its laugh track and all. It only lasted for one season of 13 episodes. And they never got off that damn planet.
Believe it or not, ‘Gilligan’s Planet’ was primarily written by Tom Ruegger, who would go on to create Warner Brothers’ ‘Tiny Toon Adventures’ and ‘Animaniacs’, and Paul Dini, creator of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’.
The entire 13-episode series is available on DVD-on-demand from Warner Archive.
Do you have any memories of this series? Leave a comment below!