Friday, June 10, 2011

What I Mean When I Say Bad

I've mentioned a countless number of times about how terrible American animation had become in the early and mid 1980's. The decline started way back in the 1950's, after the studio system was dismantled. After that, pre-run cartoons declined in popularity and development shifted toward television. But since the profit models hadn't really been all figger'd out yet, the budgets for cartoons intended for television were usually a fraction of what they had previously been.

Some artists made due, such as Chuck Jones and Friz Freeling, who knew how to apply their small budgets to achieve high quality (They would dump money into character animation and skimp on the backgrounds). And even though the major studios were reducing their animation budgets to the point of creative anemia, Hanna-Barbera emerged as the standard bearer for cheaply-made but still high-quality animation in the form of The Flintstones, Jetsons, and Scooby Doo. The remnants of great feature animation and Hanna-Barbera sustained animation and produced its fair share of memorable things for about twenty years. It was nothing compared to the amazing works of the golden era, but it was still good.

That twenty-year period went from about 1955 to 1975. We saw the release of The Flintstones, the creation of Speedy Gonzales and The Pink Panther, and renewed interest in golden-era cartoons when studios began to air them on television. But we also saw the closure of Warner Bros. Cartoons, and the slow but steady gutting of animation departments at every major studio, in favor of cheaply-made, outsourced productions that made increasing use of foreign countries.

By 1980, American animation was restricted to small studios, crappy Japanese animation, and compilations produced simply to let studios repeatedly re-release their old animation. Hanna-Barbera continued to produce entertaining fluff, like Captain Caveman and The Teen Angels, which I still love, but by and large, it was an animated Dark Ages.

Obviously, all that has changed. In 1984, Muppet Babies was released and became an absolute mega-hit, dwarfing the success of even The Smurfs. And in 1985, we saw the creation of Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, which was a complete reversal of what had been happening. While animation was still primarily handled in Japan, large budgets and American key-frame animators kept quality at a level that other studios wouldn't match for half-a-decade.

Two of the big reasons for the changes were the emergence of cable TV and VCR's. Cable gave studios an entirely new broadcast channel on which to sell advertising, allowing them to monetize new animation as well as old, golden era animation. And the biggest one was definitely VCR's. This provided a direct financial link to the consumers of their product. Before, their money was third-hand at best. They produced, and then received flat payments per episode from stations, who would then sell advertising, and it was the advertisers who would actually make the money from the consumer.

VCR's allowed studios to broadcast and then sell the tapes with only one middle-man, the store. They also gave birth to the rental market, which skyrocketed to popularity because it allowed parents to, at any time, shut their kids the fuck up by popping a VHS tape into the player. And as any child from the 1980's can attest, renting tape after tape of cartoons at Major Video was a rather substantial part of weekly life.

These new profit vectors gave studios the money that they needed to initiate a renewed golden age of cartoons. The Animation Renaissance of the late 80's and early 90's was directly responsible for shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Spongebob, and the creation of Cartoon Network.

But until that grand era, until that most glorious time, we had shit like this. Poorly written, poorly animated, poorly designed, insulting, and downright stupid. While this one came from 1992, the origins of this cartoon date back to 1983. I chose this one specifically because it's sexism is almost funny. And you thought The Flintstones was bad.

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