Many critics see the Saturday morning cartoon era (1957–present) as the true demise of the American cartoon tradition, but arguably, especially in the pioneering efforts of the Hanna-Barbera studio, it was the very versatility of animation as an expressive vocabulary that made its continuation possible at a time when its cost might have caused its demise. Though predicated on "reduced animation"—limited and repeated movement cycles—and prioritizing witty scripts and vocal performances by key figures like Daws Butler and June Foray, working in the tradition of Mel Blanc, Hanna-Barbera's output, including The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958–1962), Yogi Bear (1958–1961), and the first prime-time cartoon sitcom, The Flintstones (1960–1966), saved and advanced the American cartoon.
In many senses, too, it liberated other cartoon traditions elsewhere from the shadow of American animation and its standards. No longer did animation studios have to aspire to the "full animation" aesthetic of the Disney style, but could call upon their own indigenous graphic design and illustration traditions to create new kinds of work, expressed in different ways and with more progressive subject matter. Consequently, new animators emerged with fresh approaches. The hand-drawn cartoons of Frédérick Back (b. 1924) in Canada, for example, with their impressionist styling and ecological themes (e.g. Tout Rien , 1979); the cartoons of Bruno Bozzetto (b. 1933) in Italy, featuring Mr. Rossi, a little everyman figure, (e.g. Mr Rossi Buys a Car , 1966), and the surreal indictments of totalitarianism, created by Alexsandar Marks (1922–2002) and Vladimir Jutrisa (1923–1984) in Zagreb, Croatia (e.g. The Fly , 1966), all deserve mention as progressive works breaking new ground in the cartoon short. Such work effectively responded to other kinds of tradition in the sense that Back, for example, drew upon the impressionist painting of Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, as well as the indigenous French-Canadian canvases of Horatio Walker and Cornelius Krieghoff, regional artists painting local and historically specific scenarios and events, in order to create a different,
Also, during the 1960s the Japanese animation industry expanded its production specifically for the television market, and series like Astro Boy (1963–1966) debuted on US television. Echoing the popularity of manga —mass-produced Japanese comic books and graphic novels—animé of all kinds emerged in the post-war period. By the early 1980s Japanese studios were producing some four hundred series for the global TV market, and by the early 1990s over one hundred features were produced annually. Katsuhiro Ô tomo's Akira (1988) was the breakthrough animé, introducing Western audiences to the complex, multinarrative, apocalyptic agendas of much Japanese animation. The works of Hayao Miyazaki (b. 1941) (e.g., Nausicaa, Valley of the Wind , 1984, Tonari no Totoro , 1988 [ My Neighbor Totoro ], Princess Mononoke , 1999), Mamoru Oshii (e.g., Mobile Police Patlabor , 1989, and Ghost in the Shell , 1995), and Masamune Shiro (b. 1961) (e.g., Dominion Tank Police , 1988, and Appleseed , 1988) that followed competed with Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar in the global feature marketplace. The work of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli has been particularly lauded for privileging female heroines, complex mythic and supernatural story-lines, and moments of spectacular emotional epiphany while still remaining accessible and engaging to the popular audience. Japanese television animation, though cruder in style and execution, has nevertheless had a great impact. Pokemon , Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh! have all proved popular, and their attendant collectibles, including computer games and trading cards, have prompted near moral panic, as children have invested considerable time, energy, and money in them.
Animation production houses Filmation and Hanna-Barbera continued to produce cartoons for American television, and Disney, perhaps inevitably, initially consolidated its place in the new medium with Disneyland (1954–1958) and later variations like Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1961–1972), which recycled Disney cartoons, showing them on television for the first time. In the United States, where the television cartoon became increasingly characterized by its relationship to other forms of popular culture—for example, series about pop stars like the Jackson Five or the Osmonds, or sitcom spin-offs like The Brady Kids (1972–1974) and My Favorite Martian (1963–1966)—the cartoon lost its capacity to shock or innovate. A reinvigoration of the form came with Ralph Bakshi (b. 1938), who explored adult themes and the spirit of the late 1960s counter-culture in his sexually explicit and racially charged feature films Fritz the Cat (1972), Heavy Traffic (1973), and Coonskin (1975). In effect, this was the first time that animation in America—with the possible exception of UPA's early effort, Brotherhood of Man (1946)—addressed adult issues. While Bakshi has been criticized for some aspects of racial and gender representation in these films, it is important to remember that they effectively recovered the subversive dimension of the cartoon so valued, for example, by the Fleischer brothers, and later by John Kricfalusi in The Ren and Stimpy Show (1991–1996), Mike Judge in Beavis and Butthead (1993–1997), and Trey Parker and Matt Stone in South Park (b. 1997), as well as in Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation.
Bakshi's influence may also be found in Sally Cruikshank's Quasi at the Quackadero (1976); Jane Aaron's In Plain Sight (1977); Suzan Pitt's extraordinary Asparagus (1979); and George Griffin's anti-cartoons. It was actually the departure of Don Bluth (b. 1937) and a number of his colleagues at the Disney Studio, in protest of declining standards, that properly represented where American cartoon animation had gone. Bluth's The Secret of NIMH (1982) did little to revise the fortunes of traditional 2-D cel animation, as it was clear that computer-generated imagery would eventually dominate.
Jimmy Murakami's adaptation of Raymond Briggs's When the Wind Blows (1986), like Animal Farm , Yellow Submarine (1968), and Watership Down (1978), represented attempts in Britain to innovate in the traditional 2-D cartoon, but it was Hayao Miyazaki's Tenku no Shiro Laputa ( Laputa, Castle in the Sky , 1986), My Neighbor Totoro , and Kurenai no buta ( Porco Rosso , 1992) that sustained and enhanced the quality of the animated feature, while the partnership of Ron Clements and John Musker for The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), and Hercules (1997) revived Disney's fortunes. The Lion King (1994), clearly drawing upon Osamu Tezuka's television series, Janguru taitei (1965–1967; Kimba the White Lion ) and Shakespeare's Hamlet , proved to be phenomenally successful, showcasing songs by Elton John and a spectacular sequence of charging wildebeests. While the cartoon short enjoyed continuing innovation in the work of Paul Driessen ( Elbowing , 1979), Richard Condie ( The Big Snit , 1985), Cordell Barker ( The Cat Came Back , 1988) at Canada NFB, it was clear that the impact of digital technologies would revise the animated feature and production for television.
Matt Groening's The Simpsons (1989–) has become a national institution, and feature animation essentially changed with the success of Pixar's Toy Story (1995), the first fully computer-generated animated feature. It is clear, though, that the "cartoon" remains the core language of the animation field. Joe Dante's films, Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Small Soldiers (1998), and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), all reference the classic Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons. While Maurizio Nichetti's Volere Volare (1991) and Bakshi's Cool World (1992) also combined live action and cartoon figures, Robert Zemeckis's film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1989), featuring the animation of Richard Williams, best epitomizes the respect for the American cartoon: it celebrates the major studios, and specifically recalls movies where cartoon stars guest with live action counterparts, like Tom and Jerry in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Dangerous When Wet (1953).
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