Let’s talk about Animation

It’s been at least a week since I posted my first entry, and I’ve been scanning my brain for what to write. I do realize I can write anything I want, but I want to transition into it, and find my voice. It’s a process for me, and I want to be as fluid in these posts as possible. I want to provide context for my writing and I want one entry to precede the next. For this reason, I came to realize I wanted to expand on my goals and write my perspective of animation and television/film in general, along with why I want to study these things specifically.

Many of the topics in my Intro to Film textbook were things I already knew as a fan of cinematic production. I quite enjoyed picking out symbolism, themes, and narratives in films, though my analyses were always sub-par and mildly immature. I eventually found my way to the communities of reviewers on YouTube. I felt at home, and I felt I finally found my niche, these YouTubers enlightened me with their perspectives and helped me grow as an analyzer. I learned to put things into different contexts, and though I’m still learning, I can say I’ve improved much since my first thoughts on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It’s important to note that the animation industry has also improved a lot since The Nightmare Before Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, it was and still is a great film capable of enthralling audiences of all ages. Progress doesn’t always mean going from bad to good, sometimes it can mean going from good to great and sometimes it even means going two steps forward but one step back. In the history of animation, I feel as though it experiences the latter of the three.

Take Cartoon Network, for example because it’s the only one I have knowledge of. Cartoon Network was a hit, right off the bat. Debuting in the early 1990s as the very first all animation all the time channel was thought as a risky move, but became a success nonetheless. In their early days, CN only broadcast cartoons produced by other studios such as Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera (since they didn’t have their own studio just yet) and relied more heavily on the ownership of rights to these other cartoons. By the end of 1994, CN had become the 5th most popular cable channel in the United States. That same year, Hanna-Barbera’s new division, Cartoon Network Studios, was founded. Beloved Cartoon Network series came to fruition at the time as the network tried to keep its spot as a nationwide channel. Eventually, CN started uhh experimenting with different blocks on their channel. Most of these things failed or were cancelled or even ended prematurely. By the late 2000s, the cartoon network wasn’t making many cartoons. “CN Real” soon dominated the channel, abandoning their all animation all the time personality, dooming its entire existence in the process. By the early 2010s, CN saw its mistake and abandoned most of it’s live action shows. Luckily, the bright new star that was Adventure Time shone for the first time on April 5, 2010. If I sound biased toward AT, it’s because I am. I, and many other viewers, were instantly captivated by this fun, new series. While there were some great cartoons at the time of Adventure Time’s premiere, like the Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Chowder, which were unappreciated in their time, they weren’t quite as successful as Adventure Time. The advent of this fun, new series kick started the Cartoon Network renaissance and cartoon creators rediscovered what cartoons were all about.

In my opinion, Adventure Time was a huge turning point for all of animation, not just Cartoon Network. Later that year, Regular Show aired and three years later so did Steven Universe. These shows had something different about them. They didn’t assume the audience was immature, nor unintelligent. No. These cartoons relied more heavily on serialization, continuity, as opposed to episodic, one-off cartoons, which is what most cartoons (and let’s be honest, all children’s programing) at the time were. I strongly believe Adventure Time paved the way for animation to up its demographics. Cartoons were for children, they just didn’t have the appeal to an older or even a teen audience. After watching something like Johnny Test, which wasn’t as bad as others, my young fourteen year old self felt patronized, I felt belittled. While it wasn’t all bad, most animation was cartoons aimed at young children. Even major movie productions had that demeaning, “whimsical” tone.

Eventually, Bob’s Burgers and Rick and Morty graced the world with their presence, to further open the floodgates to teen and adult oriented animation. Just today, I think, J.G. Quintel dropped a trailer at SDCC for his new TBS cartoon Close Enough, a slice of life cartoon that follows a young married couple and their transition from their 20s to their 30s. Immediately after it was announced, which was actually at least a couple months ago, fans of Regular Show (also a show by J.G. Quintel) called it the adult Regular Show, because it wouldn’t have to be as censored or restricted as RS was due to it being on CN.

In the future, I hope animated story telling will find its way into every genre, as opposed to it being its own genre. I think making animation its own genre really detracts its potential. A cartoon can be a one person job, albeit it may take a lifetime for one person to accomplish everything needed to be done. And anything a person can imagine can be drawn and brought to life without restrictions placed by CGI or actors’ capabilities or even restrictions of the location. This is why I want to tell my stories in drawing. It feels as though so many more things can be done with this medium than it is given credit for, and I want to prove it.

– Opal

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