It’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek: The Animated Series this month, so the Star Trek military-industrial complex has commissioned five new animated Short Treks – which they’re calling Very Short Treks – to celebrate the occasion. The first, “Skin a Cat,” just dropped on Star Trek Day, and four more will follow over the next month.
These new shorts come from the mind of Casper Kelly, an animation vet who is perhaps best known as the mind behind the 21st-century masterpiece of insanity “Too Many Cooks.” I jumped on a call with Kelly to talk about the new shorts, which will feature the voices of Trek luminaries like Jonathan Frakes, Doug Jones, Armin Shimerman, Gates McFadden, George Takei, and many others.
From Wonder Twins to Star Trek
Kelly said that Star Trek boss Alex Kurtzman was a fan of a series of Wonder Twins shorts that he made back in the day, which is in part what led him to work on the franchise.
“I came up through Cartoon Network and Adult Swim and did these shorts making fun of the Wonder Twins,” says Kelly. “I did it exactly in the style of the Wonder Twins. In fact, I think I used Wonder Twins cartoons and then just added new animation.”
You may remember them because they’re pretty brilliant. In one, a group of teens is lost in a cave, so Zan the Wonder Twin turns into a gopher and digs a little moat around them to protect the kids from a bear. That really happened in the original cartoon, but in Kelly’s version the bear just steps over the moat and kills all the kids.
“So you never know,” laughs Kelly. “You do something, you don’t know if anyone’s seen it, and then somehow you get another job out of it.”
Kurtzman brought Kelly in to work on the Short Trek “The Trouble With Edward,” specifically the post-credits scene which was a faux Tribbles cereal commercial. This experience gave Kelly a sense of how serious Star Trek takes the question of canon.
“I shot a version where blood shoots out when they chew the cereal, which we ended up not using,” he recalls. “But it was very fun because there was a huge debate of what color the blood would be, because they figured it would be canon if [it was used]. And I thought that was very thrilling to do something that’s potentially canon.”
Based on the first Very Short Trek, which sees an increasingly crazy array of aliens appear on the bridge of the Enterprise, these stories are likely not canon. Kelly refers to the project as “sort of an experimental low-pressure bet.”
Part of that bet involved bringing the Very Short Treks’ over-the-top scenarios to the actors who have been doing Star Trek for years, or in some cases, decades. Take Will Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, for example.
“I was real starstruck because I have very fond memories of that show, and he was so nice,” says Kelly. “I wrote a script with him and then I’m like, ‘I think I want him to do a song.’ So I wrote him doing a song and I was like, ‘Is he going to go for this?’ But he did. He was very nice, very charming. He’s what you want when you look up to someone and meet them. He delivers on all fronts. He was a pure delight.”
So we’re gonna get Riker doing a song, eh? Look for that in the last Very Short Trek on October 4, “Walk, Don’t Run.”
Kelly is also heading up a tie-in comic from IDW Publishing called Star Trek: The Animated Celebration Presents The Scheimer Barrier (part one dropped on Star Trek Day as well). The comic is intended to also be a celebration of The Animated Series, in this case with a retro feel in the style of the old Gold Key Comics of that era.
“We did an idea where they encounter this mad scientist who believes that reality is a cartoon and they are in a cartoon in 1970s Earth,” teases Kelly. “So that’s the start of the story. It gets meta pretty quickly!”
Adult Swim’s Too Many Cooks: Spot the Killer
What Kelly’s future is with Star Trek beyond the comic and the Very Short Treks remains to be seen. “Too Many Cooks” remains a big moment for him.
“For some reason that short just put me in a new level of awareness … but now it’s the heroin high that I’m chasing,” he laughs. “Will I ever have anything cut through like that again? We’ll see. But you can drive yourself. I’m just happy to get to make stuff. I don’t worry too much about it.”
If that includes getting to make an alien with a butt-face on the starship Enterprise, then all the better.
The Very Short Treks will be available on StarTrek.com and the official Star Trek YouTube channel.