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The Decline of Animation

 

I don’t suppose many of you will remember the name Max Fleisher. The ones who do will know that he was the father of modern animation back in the thirties, making incredible works like Superman, Popeye the Sailor and the incorrigible Betty Boop. The Superman cartoons were especially stunning, and still now the animation is far better than many modern cartoons, with more frames per second and deeper coloring techniques.

Walt Disney is another great exponent of animation. The year 1938 saw the dawn of the most wonderful idea ever conceived in the past century: full length animation. The names Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas are names of great value among the followers of animation. They, together with other great artists, created the finest, most amazing animation ever seen to that date, from 1938 to 1977. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was their first masterpiece, and their final piece (and greatest, at that) of golden animation was the animated version of Margery Sharp’s treasured novel series, The Rescuers. After the ‘Nine Old Men’ from Disney became too old to keep working, a new team of half-assed spoiled brats came in, making half-assed attempts at good animated features. Mind you, the animation is good, but the stories reek with poor quality. The only two films that don’t suck so badly are Lloyd Alexander’ The Black Cauldron and Atlantis the Lost Empire which had both good stories and stunning animation.

Then appeared Don Bluth, a former Disney animator that helped make a few backgrounds at the beginning and end of The Rescuers. He complained that Disney was trading good animation techniques for cheap ones and eventually left together with others. The last straw for them was that Disney denied production of their animated project The Secret of NIMH, which is the animated version of Robert C. O’Brien’s Newberry Prize winning novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, one of the finest pieces of modern literature out there along the Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers series. Don Bluth and his henchmen made an independent animation studio in a garage and produced The Secret of NIMH with scanty budget. Ironically, of all his films, The Secret of NIMH is Bluth’s best piece of work and about the only thing he made that’s worth watching. (Chapter apart is the animated video game Dragon’s Lair, which is a beautiful piece of work and introduced the use of FMV (Full Motion Video) in video games, but that’s another story.)

 

Back to our subject. What killed Disney and made pulp out of its reputation was the Pixar, those sons of bi***es that now strut around like they own the market, which unfortunately they do. Now has gone so low as to buy series that otherwise would be utter failures (and even so, they are) if they don’t have the Disney stamp on them, such as Recess, Pepper Ann and several others.

Adult animation is another story. Series such as Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, the more mild and hilarious Beavis and Butt-head, and the downright vulgar South Park and other works were produced greatly thanks to the predecessor of mature animation, Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi who originally worked with Terrytoons to animate Mighty Mouse and the Talking Magpies, later producing The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse, which those with good memory will remember. Ralph Bakshi’s first work was the animated version of the underground comic book ‘Fritz the Cat’ in the mid seventies, which was very criticized, especially by Disney. His greatest work, perhaps, if the film Coonface, which is available on DVD if you look for it.

The true denigrators of animation are found in Cartoon Network, though even they do a better work than the people of Disney. They traded good animation for low frame-rate, copied-from-Japanese-anime style, computer assisted, cheap animation that has a low cost and can be produced in mass for marketing purposes. Mind you, they have several pieces of work that are actually very good, such as the Star Wars: Clone Wars series produced by Genndy Tartakovsky.

 

The decline of traditional animation began in 1980. It was the transition of good to disgusting. Heathcliff and Archie and several other comic book characters made their short but solid debuts before being cancelled heartlessly. Disney made its final good works with the four Disney Afternoon series: Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (Based on Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers but later denied any connection), The Adventures of the Gummi Bears, inspired greatly by Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron, DuckTales, based on Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge comic book works in the 1950s (published in hardcover by Avril Publicaçoes in Brazil), and TaleSpin, based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books novel and retwisted into another setting. These were the last good pieces of work.

 

Ironically, 1983 became the beginning of the more solid and memorable animation in Japan, with works based on manga such as bestselling Takahashi’s Captain Tzubuza (translated in many countries as The Super Champions), Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball and Masami Yuki’s Patlabor The Mobile Police. The most notable works from that time to this are The Ghost in the Shell, an earlier work named Hiroshima: the Story of Barefoot Gen, the series Ruroni Kenshin, the animated film Vampire Hunter D, and several other masterpieces. The current most popular and stunning animation is Fullmetal Alchemist, which is about as good as serial animation can get.

 

Computer animation is a different story, and it just gets worse in what regards of Disney and better in what regards of DreamWorks. Ironically, Disney sucks badly at computer animation because of their ass-wipe Pixar division, while it excels in traditional cel animation. DreamWorks, however, sucks at cel animation but is incredible in computer animation. But the best is always the Japanese company, and Square Films takes the grand prize with its Final Fantasy movie renditions. (Chapter apart, Final Fantasy is among the most beautiful interactive works that ever existed. And to think that it’s called ‘Final Fantasy’ because the creator was going to make his last game before the company went broke, and he ended up earning millions.)

 

In resume, animation has stopped being and art and has become a business, like so many other good things like movies and video games.

It is up to us future animators to make a good thing about this all. Learn and do something to salve the sanctity of the art of moving drawings.

Personally, I’ll try my best in my future rendition of ‘The Lantain Chronicles’ trilogy, but that’s a story yet to be decided by fate

Well, that's all I can say. Thanks for reading this section.

Hyaku-Legger