Friday, September 09, 2005

Woofers & Other Funny Animals

Well I just submitted an equipment review on the web, for a pair of speakers I purchased recently. It's been awhile since I've done something like that. Here's the link if you want to check it out (posting by Ray G)

I received a very nice comment the other day from a fellow blogger in response to my last post, where she listed many of her favorite cartoons (a good chunk of which were my favorites as well, although by the time Smurfs came along I was already taking my first tentative steps towards adulthood). This made me realize that I am one of millions of people who grew up during what was perhaps the worst 20 year period of the history of the animated cartoon, roughly spanning the years 1965-1985. While I am not really an animation expert, I have my theories about what happened during that bleak time. By the mid-1960s the theatrical cartoon was nearing the end of a gradual slide to extinction, and by the end of the decade there was no longer a viable market for fully-animated cartoon shorts. TV animation, although "limited" due to drastically lower budgets than the theatrical shorts, in the early days of the medium included such enduring and still entertaining shows such as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beany & Cecil, The Fintstones, The Jetsons, etc. Television also was a "dumping ground" for many of the great theatrical shorts of the 1930s-1950s, which were available daily on local stations throughout the country. The situation was not to last for long.

In the mid '60s superheroes began to replace the "funny animals" on the Saturday morning airwaves. Due to the small budgets they were designed and animated more or less as a talking comic strip, with very limited movements. I believe that the popularity of these shows, as well as the contemporary Hanna-Barbera "adventure" shows (such as Johnny Qwest) had a strong influence over the look of kids animation through the 1980s. At the same time, full color television began to push all of the black & white 1930s-40s theatrical shorts from the mainstream airwaves. In response to the superhero cartoons parents' groups began to rail against the more realistic violence in these shows (as well as the more traditional "cartoon violence"), which led to stricter content restrictions, ultimately resulting in the inane Super Friends-type shows in the 1970s that replaced more realistic comic book adventures (which did not really return until the Warner Bros. Batman series in the 1990s) and less classic unedited theatrical shorts TV.

In the meantime, budgets grew tighter, veteran studio animators and story men began to retire, and the networks (of which there were only 3 - no cable TV networks yet) insisted that the shows on Saturday morning take as few risks as possible, meaning that every show looked and sounded the same. As soon as something slightly original became a hit (such as Scooby Doo) it was instantly ripped off in pale imitations of the original (complete with laugh tracks!). Funny animals would return to the airwaves, but generally not in any new or interesting characters, just recycled characters from the '50s & '60s (Yogi Olympics, anyone?)!

By the early 1980s, kids cartoons still looked and sounded like what the old-timers called "illustrated radio", and had also turned into blatant half-hour toy commercials (Transformers/Care Bears). The old-line cartoon studios that supplied most of the product in the 1960s and 1970s (Filmation/Hanna-Barbera), were being supplanted by newer studios (such as DIC), that were producing their shows using cheaper overseas labor. It's difficult to envision that in a few years things would turn around dramatically, leading to what is what I believe is a real "golden age" of TV animation that we're still enjoying today.

Next time I'll give my thoughts about how things were able to turn around.


Mister Ray


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