It’s the New Year! Am I officially out of hiatus? Not quite. But I have gotten some inspiration back.
Animation has struggled to be taken seriously for a long time, but people forget at the very beginning it was seen as a legitimate art form. The Golden Age of Animation (1920’s and 1930’s) was a time when the medium thrilled audiences of all ages for its ability to show literally anything. You could show action sequences that would be impossible to do with real people, offer political and social commentary, and get away with showing more risqué or scary content. But as the decades passed a chain reaction led to animation’s current state of frequently being seen as kid’s stuff, at least in North America.
First, the Hays Code eventually started to enforce censorship on animation, neutering them. There’s a great Prezi on the history of animation and the Hays Code HERE. This affected feature animation as well. The earliest Disney animated films could get pretty dark, but as time went on they adopted a softer image that ultimately made the edgier theatrical short obsolete. When animated shows became more prolific on television during after school hours, parents groups demanded that they be as kid friendly as possible, launching a plague of cheap animation in the 1970’s. The reinforcement of animation as a kids medium began to rear it’s ugly head in the 80’s, with animated shows being made mostly to sell toys. Animated films were few and far between.
The 1990’s was probably one of the better decades for the medium, with Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. creating a plethora of well written and nice looking shows and movies…but they were all family friendly. There was also a distinct lack of competition during this time as well.
Come the 2000’s and there was a boom of cartoons from different studios. Some shows were crap, but there were also true classics like Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack, Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, and more. Again, though, they were all family friendly. The only animation for adults were crudely drawn comedies at night. Film animation was still struggling as it was mostly a battlefield between Pixar and DreamWorks.
As for our current decade of the 2010’s? I think it’s a mixed bag. Disney TV has proven successful, with hits like Gravity Falls, Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, Wander Over Yonder, and the new Tangled series. Nickelodeon has been dragging Spongebob Squarepants through the ground, and messed up the scheduling of the better received Legend of Korra. Cartoon Network is practically nothing but Teen Titans Go! aired ad nauseam. For some information on the state of TV animation, I highly recommend Saberspark’s videos. You can find his channel HERE, where he has info on the history and decline of the most prominent cartoon channels in America.
For animated films, it’s great that now there’s now a lot more competition than in the 2000’s, but I feel like since animation is more profitable than ever too many movies are made at too fast a pace. While Disney is doing better than ever and smaller animation studios are crafting some truly awesome films, Illumination, Sony, Blue Sky, and even DreamWorks have garnered a negative reputation for churning out mediocre to downright crappy films several times a year that offer no nutritional value for anyone over the age of 12. It seems that one year we’ll have a bunch of quality animated films only to be followed by a conga line of crap the next year.
At any rate, the damage has been done: too many studio executives see animation as something to make a quick buck out of kids and produce them as quick and cheaply as possible, not caring about actual quality. Now awards ceremonies and most of the general public see it as well.
I was originally going to make a list of animated films that are honest to god works of art to check out instead, but the list was getting too long! (Basically what you really need to know is that you need to forget everything bad you associate with DreamWorks and go watch The Prince of Egypt and Pinocchio is probably the best Disney animated film ever.) Instead, I’ll leave you off with this:
It will probably be several decades until animation is no longer considered cheap or kid’s stuff, so in order to make any real change, you have to actually SUPPORT quality animation whenever you can. Be selective of what you take your kids to in theaters, and don’t be afraid to buy the Blu Ray of that foreign cartoon. Don’t just complain on the situation and do nothing about it. Animation is a legitimate art form, and we need to make production companies realize that with your wallet.