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The Untold Truth Of The Back To The Future Animated Series

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Great Scott! Does the DeLorean have any gas in the tank? Is the clock set to the right year? Let us ponder these questions as we take a drive back in time to find out more about "Back to the Future: The Animated Series." 

Released in 1991 after the completion of the film trilogy, the cartoon carries on the adventures of Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown and Marty McFly for two seasons. Contrary to what a cynic might assume, "Back to the Future: TAS" was certainly not a half-hearted attempt to cash in on an already popular franchise, as original "Back to the Future" creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were heavily involved in the production. The official "Back to the Future" website reveals that Gale even had an office at Universal while he worked as an executive producer and director for the second season.

Despite the cartoon's short-lived run, it left its mark on the fandom and pop culture in multiple respects. It functioned as a career launching pad for a few actors. Meanwhile, fans continue to debate the show's place in "Back to the Future" canon. On that note, let's put the DeLorean into gear and go where roads aren't necessary to discover the untold truth of "Back to the Future: TAS."

This Back to the Future takes place in an alternate universe

In showbiz, studios can be sneaky and slippery when it comes to intellectual property rights. Even if a creator is entirely responsible for conceptualizing a well-known IP, studio executives could hold the power to decide if a reboot or continuation occurs, and they might not need the original author's input or permission. That's not the case for Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who struck a deal ensuring that they have the final say on any film related to "Back to the Future." The two collaborators are precious about the franchise and like to be involved in all facets of the "Back to the Future" universe.

Considering Zemeckis and Gale's behind-the-scenes presence during "Back to the Future: The Animated Series," it's fair to presume that the show is an official continuation of the movies' storyline, especially since it takes place after the events of the third film. However, Gale has revealed this is not the case. 

Answering fan questions on Telltale Games' blog, the franchise's co-creator said, "Only the movies are canon. Everything else fits into the 'what-if?' category, or might be canon in some alternate universe." Gale added that "Back to the Future" was never meant to be continuous as there was a definitive start and endpoint for the creators.

We have Back to the Future to thank for Bill Nye

"Back to the Future: The Animated Series" and "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!" have more in common than you might realize. Both of these kids' programs used live-action segments to complement their animated antics. While Christopher Lloyd returns as Doc Brown for the live-action sections of "Back to the Future: TAS," Marty McFly is elsewhere. Due to Marty's absence, Doc Brown is assisted in his experiments by a different currently familiar face — Bill Nye.

Undoubtedly, "Back to the Future: TAS" gave Nye his first slice of the mainstream spotlight, as he quietly went about his business in the lab during the live-action portions of "Back to the Future: TAS." A year after the show's cancellation, Nye rocketed to success as the star of "Bill Nye the Science Guy," an offbeat educational series that ran for six seasons and won several Emmy Awards. Nowadays, Nye is fondly remembered as an awesome TV science teacher, but his big break came courtesy of Doc Brown. 

Has anyone checked to see if Nye is building his own time-travel machine?

David Kaufman became Marty McFly on a fluke

For whatever reason, "Back to the Future: The Animated Series" was unable to convince Michael J. Fox to return to the role of Marty McFly. In this respect, Lil Nas X would eventually succeed where "Back to the Future: TAS" failed, but that's another story. 

David Kaufman starred as the audacious teenager who doesn't like to be called chicken, and later went on to voice the eponymous characters in "Freakazoid!" and "Danny Phantom." Oddly enough, Kaufman admitted to Saturday Morning Rewind that he practically stumbled into the role of Marty.

As Kaufman explained, he was an on-camera actor and doing a lot of commercials at the time. One day in 1991, he went to an audition and walked past the office of casting director and former Brainy Smurf Danny Goldman. "[Goldman] popped his head out of his office and said, 'David, come here,'" Kaufman said. "And he goes, 'Say some of these lines,' and hands me this script that I could tell was 'Back to the Future.'" Kaufman read the lines, and Goldman remarked how his voice had similar characteristics to Michael J. Fox. The voice actor laughed as he recalled how most of his roles at the time were for a "Michael J. Fox type," so he wasn't surprised by that feedback. Goldman invited him to officially audition, and Kaufman landed the prestigious gig.

A Spider-Man voiced Doc Brown's kid

While "Back to the Future: The Animated Series" focuses on Doc Brown and Marty McFly the same way the films do, it also promotes Doc and Clara's children, Jules and Verne, to major character status. While the two brothers only briefly appear in "Back to the Future Part III," they provide the catalysts for much of the tomfoolery in the cartoon.

Jules shares the most traits with his father, as he is highly intelligent and tends to overcomplicate everyday actions. Josh Keaton, who many Marvel fans will recognize as the voice of Peter Parker in "The Spectacular Spider-Man," portrayed Jules. Following "Back to the Future: TAS," Keaton went on to a remarkable and celebrated voice acting career, but he started out as an on-screen actor. Interestingly, that's how he landed his first gigs in voice acting, according to an interview with Behind the Voice Actors. "A lot of the earlier parts I got in my voice-acting career I got from my on-camera agent," Keaton said. "That's where I got my experience, back with the 'Back to the Future' animated series and some of my earlier jobs."

Tom Wilson traveled to a future ... in cartoons

Tom Wilson's return as Biff Tannen is quite a feather in the cap of "Back to the Future: The Animated Series." Not many of his castmates reprised their parts from the film trilogy, but the series wouldn't be the same without one of the greatest bullies in the history of cinema. Wilson's time in the voice booth ignited a passion for animation that launched a successful voice acting section of his career. He's since appeared in multiple iconic cartoons, including "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Gargoyles," and "Batman: The Animated Series."

Speaking to The Music, Wilson explained his belief that animation allows for unbridled creativity. "Some of the most creative things being done right now are being done in animation," Wilson said. "Just the nature of having all of the actors in one room, having the script in front of them on a music stand and recording the show before it's animated, so we know the story, we know the jokes, but it hasn't been animated yet, so we're not in a straitjacket; we don't have to match anything."

The tie-in comic didn't last long

Other media featuring "Back to the Future" characters and iconography isn't necessarily canonical to the movie universe, and that's a pity. IDW Publishing's "Transformers-slash-Back to the Future" crossover comic book series by Cavan Scott and Juan Samu is an event that should be remembered as a part of the main storyline. Speaking of comic books, there was also a tie-in series that was released to accompany "Back to the Future: The Animated Series."

Released by Harvey Comics in 1991, a not-for-sale preview comic titled issue #0 dropped as a taste of what was to come. After that, the series ran for four more issues that mostly adapted the stories from the show. After almost a year of inactivity, the "Back to the Future" comic series restarted with a new #1 and continued as a three-part miniseries before its conclusion. The entire series was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, co-founder of Milestone Media and a highly influential figure in animation based on DC Comics.

Pretty much the whole cast recorded together

Due to the nature of animated shows and films, it isn't unusual to hear about actors recording their lines at different stages in the production cycle. This is especially common when one or more cast members are big stars and can't commit to prolonged periods of time sitting in a studio with other voice actors. For "Back to the Future: The Animated Series, most of the cast members actually recorded together, which apparently made the process feel more like rehearsing a play and allowed them to naturally react to each other's performances.

Discussing the process on the Saturday Morning Rewind podcast, David Kaufman revealed that apart from Mary Steenburgen, who recorded her lines in northern California, everyone else performed in the studio together. "We filmed it together as a cast," he said. "We just recorded the show from top to finish, all sitting together." Kaufman added that it was an enjoyable experience and he got to know castmates Tom Wilson and Dan Castellaneta.

The sound production is top notch, according to the Emmys

When folks discuss the best animated adaptations of popular films and other pre-existing properties, not many people immediately bring up "Back to the Future: The Animated Series." That isn't a reflection of the cartoon's quality; it's more like a consequence of its blink-and-you-miss-it run on television. While "Back to the Future: TAS" might lack its proper place in the minds and hearts of its era's TV audience, at least it has a few awards to show for its efforts.

"Back to the Future: TAS" won four Daytime Emmy Awards, snagging two trophies apiece for outstanding film sound mixing and outstanding film sound editing in 1992 and 1993. Perhaps honors for the sound department aren't as validating as a nod for outstanding children's animated program, which the Daytime Emmys bestowed upon "Rugrats" in '92 and "Tiny Toon Adventures" in '93. But the fact that "Back to the Future: TAS" wound up on the radar of any award shows at all is impressive, given the crowded category of cartoon classics in the early '90s. Keep in mind, "Back to the Future: TAS" competed for our eyeballs against "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Batman: The Animated Series." While each of those programs have their own stacked trophy cabinets, "Back to the Future: TAS" wasn't prepared to let them take all the accolades.

The DVD release took forever

Even though the first film came out all the way back in 1985, "Back to the Future" remains a significant part of pop culture in the modern era. Nike even celebrated the film's 30-year anniversary by presenting Michael J. Fox with his own pair of self-lacing sneakers. With such widespread appeal and popularity, one would imagine that physical media containing "Back to the Future" in both its film and animated incarnations would be available everywhere and flying off the shelves. That's true for the film trilogy, but fans of the animated show had to wait a long time for a proper DVD release.

After "Back to the Future: The Animated Series" concluded in 1992, VHS copies of the episodes were released in the subsequent years. However, it took a while for the complete series to drop on DVD — 23 years, to be exact. Sure, it was a nice surprise to see it arrive on the iconic date of October 21, 2015, but holding back the DVD release for so long was definitely a curious decision on somebody's part.

Michael J. Fox probably didn't have time for this show

Only a few of the original cast members from "Back to the Future" returned for the animated series. Tom Wilson and Mary Steenburgen provided the voices for Biff and Clara, respectively, while Christopher Lloyd returned to the role of Doc Brown for the live-action segments. In his cartoon form, Doc was portrayed by Dan Castellaneta. At the time, Castellaneta was also a major contributor to a somewhat edgier animated program that implausibly still makes new episodes to this very day.

Michael J. Fox, the main star of the movies, never showed up in any capacity on "Back to the Future: The Animated Series." Chatting with the Saturday Morning Rewind podcast, David Kaufman suggested that "Back to the Future: TAS" tried to get Fox for the show, but he was unavailable. To be fair, Fox wasn't a part of the "Teen Wolf" animated series either, and Scott Howard is arguably his other most famous role. Looking at his filmography from that era, the truth is that he probably struggled to find the time to sleep back then, so he probably couldn't have said "yes" to a run as the animated Marty even if he wanted to.