Jun 5, 2006

The Other 15 Big Moments in Animation

While I'm pondering the need for a Top Ten Biggest Turning Points in Animation list, I know that Jerry Beck had a lot of material to ponder. He made great choices. Even the questionable ones like Ren and Stimpy and Gerald McBoing Boing made sense if you think long and hard about it.

Here's the list Mr. Beck made:

GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1914)

STEAMBOAT WILLIE (1928)

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

GERALD McBOING BOING (1950)

THE FLINTSTONES (1960)

FRITZ THE CAT (1972)

AKIRA (1988)

THE SIMPSONS (1989)

THE REN & STIMPY SHOW (1991)

TOY STORY (1995)

But ten isn't enough. It should have been a Top 25 Biggest Turning Points in Animation. I'm just taken aback that there Mr. Beck didn't mention any Fleischer, MGM, nor Warner Bros. shorts at all. Perhaps, subconsciously, this was his protest against Time Warner and Cartoon Network for removing those shorts from the more availiable Cartoon Network to Boomerang, almost totally removing Looney Tunes from public view, and failing to put Popeye on DVD.

Here are my picks for "The Other 15 Big Turning Points in Animation:" And yes, in case you're wondering, I do have a Westernized view of animation for the most part.

Popeye The Sailor (Fleischer/Paramount, 1933): A Betty Boop cartoon that introduced a cultural icon who would become worlds more popular than she ever was.

A Wild Hare (Avery/WB, 1940): Although not the first cartoon to feature the rabbit that would become known as Bugs Bunny, the short cemented the character dynamics of the franchise and elevating the studio to greatness.

Superman (Fleischer/Paramount, 1941): One of the costliest productions of its time, this series brought a comic book icon into full-color motion setting a standard still held for generations.

Red Hot Riding Hood (Avery/MGM, 1943): Tex Avery's break from Warner Bros. actually let his comic genius truly shine at MGM, and this is the master at work.

Astro Boy (Tezuka/Mushi, 1964): Already a popular comic book in Japan, Osamu Tezuka brought his creation to the small screen, literally creating an industry out of Japanese animation.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Melendez, 1965): A special that didn't adhere to the commercialistic attitudes of Christmas (which How The Grinch Stole Christmas would echo a year later) and actually celebrating what Christmas is really all about.

Schoolhouse Rock (ABC, 1972): Every producer who wants to make an entertaining E/I series should watch every one of these shorts A Clockwork Orange style.

A Grand Day Out (Park/Aardman, 1989): Nick Park did what Closkey and Vinton tried, but couldn't totally accomplish . . . create enduring, entertaining characters out of plasticine and making them worth watching again and again.

Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale/Wise/Disney, 1991): The reason why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to separate animated films from the Best Picture category.

Batman: The Animated Series (Dini/Timm/Burnett/WB, 1992): What Dave Fleischer started in 1941 with the Superman series, the team of Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Alan Burnett exceeded with their Batman series, wiping away decades of campiness that persisted since the 1960s and creating something worth watching. Something that was truly revolutionary.

Animaniacs (Warner Bros., 1993): One of the few Warner Bros. productions to adhere to the comedic and themetic spirit of the original Looney Tunes shorts (it's spinoff, Pinky and the Brain is the other), Animaniacs created comic mischief for five good years, introducing new characters, spoofing pop culture without making it a throwaway, non-connected joke, and making background music, arranged by the late Richard Stone, a real character ala what Carl Stalling did in the original theatrical shorts.

ReBoot (Mainframe, 1994): Before Toy Story, there was ReBoot, the first computer-animated production to be seen on a weekly basis. In 1994, that's saying a lot. It became ABC's highest-rated series, and the only reason it was cancelled was because Disney took over the network. But the series' creation convinced others that 3D animation could work on a weekly basis.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Cartoon Network, 1994): The idea of splicing scenes into a new production wasn't a new practice (Woody Allen and Carl Reiner did it in What's Up, Tiger Lilly? and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, respectedly). Americanized series from Japan such as Voltron and Robotech were built from many unconnected series. When Space Ghost Coast to Coast came around, it transformed one of Hanna-Barbera's B-level characters, an intergalactic law keeper of sorts, into a pompous talk-show host, interviewing many celebrities, large and small over the years. It was also the first production to come from Williams Street Productions, producers of The Rudy and Gogo Cartoon Show, Cartoon Planet, Toonami, and Miguzi. But their most popular project was Adult Swim, which engineered new shows similar to SGC2C and completely originally-animated ones.

What A Cartoon!/Oh Yeah! Cartoons (Seibert/Cartoon Network [WAC!]/Nickelodeon [OY!C], 1995 [WAC!]/1998[OY!C]) and yes, I am grouping them together: Dexter's Laboratory. The Powerpuff Girls. Cow and Chicken. Johnny Bravo. Mina and the Count. The Fairly Oddparents. ChalkZone. My Life As A Teenaged Robot. All of these series were spawned by the creator-guided animation endeavors launched by Fred Seibert. This underappreciated genius was the guy who introduced the creators behind these shorts to the world courtesy of Hanna-Barbera and his own Studio Frederator. It's because of these shorts that kids are now entertained by more original characters that have lasting entertainment (and merchandising) power.

Homestar Runner (The Brothers Chaps, 2000): The most recent moment is something that's still going on. Homestar Runner utilizes Flash animation and creating something of an oddity on the interweb . . . a funny, well-written series that attracts college-aged viewers and little kids. For a series that was intended on being a children's book, Homestar has become something of a phenominon in the world of animation.

7 comments:

Melon which rhymes with said...

Great post Jeff!

The only thing I didn't agree with on Mr. Beck's list was "Akira." I think "Nausicaa" or "Grave of the Fireflies" should have replaced it. No Warner Bros was a huge surprise. "What's Opera Doc?" and admittedly "Feed the Kitty" (The cat shaped cookie is just priceless).

Ahhh Fleischer Superman is just amazing and Batman:TAS is still timeless. Great picks!

Putting Homestar Runner on the list reminded me of other past Flash acievements such as the legendary Joecartoon.com and the web premiere toons CN use to have on their website like Pink Donkey and B. Happy. They still have it on the web:
http://www.cartoonnetwork.com.
au/asp/webpt/o_bhappy.asp
So funny with the Click o vision...brings back memories.

Duke said...

I think the reason Mr. Beck put in Akira was because it's well known not only in Japan, but in the US. Nausicaa only became popular in the US recently (and it still hasn't eclipsed Spirited Away or Mononoke), and Grave of the Fireflies, though known longer, never reached the same level as Akira.

Akira was one of those movies that almost everyone under the age of 30 saw back in the 80's-early 90's. Hell, it was even advertised on the old version of the TV Guide Channel (back when it was known as the Preview Channel) as a main feature worth paying money for.

Jorge Garrido said...

Ren & Stimpy definately wasn't questionable in my book... your list was good, too, but did some of those cartoons CHANGE or create a new situation that basically made people go in a differetn direction in animation

jh said...

Jorge,

I wasn't trying to slight Ren and Stimpy with that comment of it being a questionable choice from Mr. Beck.

It was a very important series that changed the way television looked at original animation from a financial standpoint. But from a creative standpoint, I think that this was the zenith of John K's works. It was clearly influenced by the works of Bob Clampett and Ed Benedict, who set a standard many of today's artists are now only recognizing as genius (thanks to Mr. Kricfalusi).

Personally, I think that the work he did on Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures nearly outshined everything he has done (I said nearly). What he (and Mr. Bakshi) did on Mighty Mouse set the standard of what the 90s should have been. Ren and Stimpy only continued what Mighty Mouse created.

To answer your other question, yes, I feel that my 15 other choices did change and create a new situation that basically made people go in a different direction in animation.

Popeye The Sailor: This short spawned a series that allowed Fleischer to experiment with new visual techniques as well as making cartoons more adult without being gratuitously graphic, something a lot of animators need to reflect on.

A Wild Hare: Like I said, it completely set a standard and guideline for the new comedic short (intelligence over lunacy), and proof that cartoons didn't have to be supersweet Disney clones.

Superman: Proved that action could work in animation. Unfortunately, the message was lost on a lot of animators for about 20 years when the Silver Age of Comics (the return of DC Comics and the arrival of the Marvel Superheroes) reminded animators that they too can do action. Thirty years after that, another standard was created.

Red Hot Riding Hood: With this short, the creator of the last comedy standard created another.

Astro Boy: It created an entire industry in a foreign country. You can't get more revolutionary than that.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: A defiant production from inception, this special was revolutionary because it didn't adhere to the status quo of what a special should be, and they stood steadfast through it all.

Schoolhouse Rock (ABC, 1972): I'll admit. It didn't make the industry change at all, which is a shame. In fact, of all the cartoons that came out in the '70s, this is the only one with true creativity without looking stale in the end. Plus, it's truly memorable to this day by two generations of viewers.

A Grand Day Out: The effect is limited in the US, but in the UK, this short was responsible for a resurgence of British animation that continues to this day in all forms (2D, 3D, and, of course, stop-motion).

Disney's Beauty and the Beast: What this film accomplished became the inspiration for all future animation film directors strived to accomplish over the next decade. Some have succeeded while others have failed miserably.

Batman: The Animated Series: What they accomplished on that show is awe-inspiring. They helped bring seriousness to American animation, which was hard because

Animaniacs: I know a lot of folks don't like Animaniacs, but in its lifetime, the series did accomplish a lot and inspired some folks to try to create some shows. Unfortunately, the anti-Animaniacs voices overpower those creators who entered the industry because of it. Oh, and it does have the distinction of being one of the first series to be embraced by the internet community.

ReBoot: They did the impossible. They created and animated a series via computer animation. This was a time of slow processors and new technologies, many of which were first used on this series. The series' creation convinced others that computer animation, whether it is 3D or, in the latter half of the 90s, 2D, could work on a weekly basis on television.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast: It wasn't entirely original and really didn't set the animation world on fire. It's creation only served to allow the creation of other outlets that would house newer projects inspired by the folks that created these Space Ghost.

What A Cartoon!/Oh Yeah! Cartoons: The inception of these two experiments served to create projects that would be creatively and financially successful, not to mention becoming breeding grounds for creativity, something the Random Cartoons guys and gals at Frederator will attest to.

Homestar Runner: The influence of Homestar Runner is just being felt in a lot of the more modern web cartoons. Just wait a few more years, and a lot of folks will realize its impact.

Fred Seibert said...

Jeff, someone just forwarded me your post and I wanted to say thank you for the kind words. Keep up the opinionating, it helps us all. Fred

Jorge Garrido said...

>Personally, I think that the work he did on Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures nearly outshined everything he has done (I said nearly). What he (and Mr. Bakshi) did on Mighty Mouse set the standard of what the 90s should have been. Ren and Stimpy only continued what Mighty Mouse created.

I agree that Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures changed animation more than Ren & Stimpy. Ren & Stimpy, A Pup Named SCooby Doo, Tiny Toons, Batman: TAS, and The Simpsons were all spawned from it. As John K said, Tiny Toons copied all of Mighty Mouse's mistakes and took their artists. So it was sort of the spring board from which tons of shows came, including Animaniacs

Enoch Allen said...

I second Mr. Seibert.

I think another possible reason why Mr. Beck placed Ren & Stimpy is his closeness to John K. I dare someone to prove those guys aren’t tight with each other.