long existed on the periphery of broadcast television, consigned
to the shadowy regions of weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings.
The networks' evening programming has been remarkably empty of
cartoon series. Indeed, there have been only a pair of prime-time
series that have lasted more than two seasons: The Flintstones
and The Simpsons. Many of the "television" cartoon characters
with which we are the most familiar (Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse,
Daffy Duck, Popeye, et al.) were not actually designed for television,
but, rather, were initially exhibited in cinema theaters. On any
given day one may view a short history of theatrical film animation
on television--as cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s are juxtaposed
with more recent offerings. This results in some odd cultural
gaps, such as when a viewer born in the 1980s watches cartoons
making jokes about 1930s movie stars and politicians.
evolved in the teens, but their development was slowed by their
prohibitive cost. After all, 24 entire pictures had to be drawn
for every second of film. Animation became more economically feasible
in 1914 when Earl Hurd patented the animation cel. The cel is
a sheet of transparent celluloid that is placed on top of a background
drawing. By using cels, the animator need only re-draw the portions
of the image that move, thus saving considerable time and expense.
The acceptance of the cel was slowed by legal wrangling, however,
and comparatively few silent cartoons were made.
At the same
time that sound and color film technologies were popularized,
studios also found ways to streamline the animation process by
using storyboards (small drawings of frames that represented different
shots in the cartoon) to plan the cartoon and departmentalizing
the steps of the process. Thus, something resembling an assembly
line was created for animation, making it much more cost effective.
Producer Walt Disney was a leader in using these technologies
and devising an efficient mode of cartoon production. Steamboat
Willie (1928) was the first significant cartoon with synchronized
sound and Flowers and Trees (1932) was the first to use
the three-color Technicolor process (which became the cinema's
principal color process in the late 1930s). Disney was so protective
of these new technologies that he negotiated an exclusive deal
with Technicolor; for three years, no other animators could use
key to the success of the cartoon was an effective distribution
system. During the silent era, cartoons had been created by small
studios with limited access to cinema theaters. In the 1930s,
major studios such as Paramount, Warners, Universal, and MGM each
signed distribution deals with the cartoon studios, or they created
their own cartoon departments--the output of which they then distributed
themselves. Since the studios also owned the preeminent theaters
and since the standard way of exhibiting films at the time was
two feature-length films separated by a newsreel and a cartoon,
the animation studios and departments had a steady, constant demand
for their product. The late 1930s to 1950s were a "golden era"
for the cartoon and it is from this era that most theatrical cartoons
on television are drawn.
their emigration to television in the late 1940s when one of the
smaller studios (Van Beuren) began marketing their catalogue to
early children's programs such as Movies for Small Fry.
Other, larger studios were slower to take advantage of the electronic
medium. In 1948 the major studios were forced by the U.S. Supreme
Court to divest themselves of their theaters--which greatly weakened
their ability to distribute their product. In this weakened state,
they also had to compete with television for viewers. Disney,
however, was among the first of the major cartoon studios to develop
a liaison with television networks. Its long-running programs,
Disneyland (later known as, among other things, The
Wonderful World of Disney) and The Mickey Mouse Club,
included cartoons among live action shorts and other materials
when they premiered in the mid-1950s. The other studios soon followed
suit and, by 1960, most theatrical films and cartoons were also
available to be shown on television.
with these critical and, for the film studios, disastrous changes
in the entertainment industry were significant transformations
in the aesthetics of animation. Up until the 1950s cartoonists,
especially those with Disney, had labored under a naturalistic
aesthetic--striving to make their drawings look as much like real
world objects as was possible in this medium. The apotheosis of
this was Disney's Snow White which traced the movements of dancer
Marge Champion and transformed her into Snow White. But post-World
War II art movements such as abstract expressionism rejected this
naturalistic approach and these avant-garde principles eventually
filtered down to the popular cartoon. In particular, United Productions
of America (UPA), a studio which contained renegade animators
who had left Disney during the 1941 strike, nurtured an aesthetic
that emphasized abstract line, shape, and pattern over naturalistic
figures. UPA's initial success came in 1949 with the Mr. Magoo
series, but its later, Academy Award-winning Gerald McBoing
Boing (1951) is what truly established this new style.
The UPA style
was characterized by flattened perspective, abstract backgrounds,
strong primary colors, and "limited" animation. Instead of using
perspective to create the illusion of depth in a drawing, UPA's
cartoon objects looked flat, like the blobs of color that they
were. Instead of filling in backgrounds with lifelike detail as
in, say, a forest scene in Bambi, UPA presented backgrounds
that were broad fields of color, with small squiggles to suggest
clouds and trees. Instead of varying the shades and hues of colors
to imply the colors of the natural world, UPA's cartoons contained
bold, bright, saturated colors.
for the development of television cartoons, UPA used animation
that was limited in three ways. First, the amount of movement
within the frame was substantially reduced. Rather than have a
cartoon woman move her entire head in a shot, a UPA cartoon might
have her just blink her eyes. Second, in limited animation figure
movements are often repeated. A character waving good-bye, for
instance, might contain only two distinct movements which are
then repeated without change. Full animation, in contrast, includes
many unique movements. Third, limited animation uses fewer individual
frames to represent a movement. If, for example, Yosemite Sam
were to hop off his mule in a movement that takes one second,
full animation might use 24 discrete frames to represent that
movement. Limited animation, in contrast, might cut that number
in half. The result is a slightly jerkier movement.
in animation appear to have been aesthetically inspired, but they
also made good business sense. Flattened perspective, abstract
backgrounds, strong primary colors, and limited animation result
in cartoons that are quicker and cheaper to produce. When animators
began creating programs specifically for television, they quickly
adopted these economical practices, jettisoning UPA's aesthetics
in the process.
successful, designed-for-television cartoon was not created for
a TV network, but rather was released directly into syndication.
Crusader Rabbit, created by Jay Ward (of Rocky and Bullwinkle
fame) and Alexander Anderson, was first distributed in 1949. Network
television cartooning came along eight years later. The networks'
first cartoon series was The Ruff and Reddy Show, which
was developed by the most successful producers of television cartoons,
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. The Ruff and Ready Show was also the
first made-for-TV cartoon show to be broadcast nationally on Saturday
mornings; its popularity helped established the feasibility of
Saturday morning network programming. Hanna-Barbera was also responsible
for bringing cartoons to the prime-time network schedule--though
its success in prime-time did not result in a trend. Hanna-Barbera's
The Flintstones (1960) was prime-time's first successful
cartoon series. It was also prime-time's last successful series
until the premiere of The Simpsons in 1989. With Crusader
Rabbit, The Ruff and Ready Show, and The Flintstones,
the characteristics of the made-for-TV cartoon were established.
UPA-style aesthetics (especially limited animation) were blended
with narrative structures that developed in 1950s television.
In particular, The Flintstones closely resembled live-action
situation comedies and was often compared to Jackie Gleason's
The Honeymooners. One final characteristic of the made-for-TV
cartoon that distinguishes it from the theatrical cartoon is an
emphasis on dialogue. Often dialogue in The Flintstones re-states
that which is happening visually. Fred will cry out, "Pebbles
is headed to the zoo" over an image of Pebbles' baby carriage
rolling past a sign that reads, "Zoo, this way." In this way,
television reveals its roots in radio. There is an reliance on
sound that is missing from, say, Roadrunner cartoons in
which there is no dialogue at all. Made-for-TV cartoons are often
less visually oriented than theatrical cartoons from the "golden
the early 1960s, when cartoons became an established television
feature, they have been the source of two major controversies: commercialization/merchandising
and violence. These two issues have taken on special significance
with the cartoon since so many of its viewers are impressionable
and merchandising have been a part of cartooning since comic strips
first began appearing in newspapers. The level of merchandising
increased in the 1980s, however, as several cartoon programs were
built around already existing commercial products: Strawberry
Shortcake, the Smurfs, He-Man, etc. Unlike the merchandising
of, for instance, Mickey Mouse, these cartoon characters began as
products and thus their cartoons were little more than extended
commercials for the products themselves. It became more and more
difficult for child viewers to discern where the cartoon ended and
the commercial began. The degree of cartoon merchandising did not
lessen in the 1990s--as the popularity of the Mighty Morphin
Power Rangers attested--but broadcasters did add short intros
to the programs to try to better distinguish cartoon from commercial.
complicated issue of violence on television and its potential impact
on behavior has yet to be resolved, but in response to critics of
cartoon violence broadcasters have censored violent scenes from
many theatrical films shown on television. Oddly enough, scenes
that were considered appropriate for a general audience in a theater
in the 1940s are now thought to be too brutal for today's Nintendo-educated
cartoons in the 1990s were dominated by the phenomenal success of
Matt Groening's The Simpsons, which thrived after its series
premiere in 1989 (first appearing in 1988, in short form, on The
Tracey Ullman Show). Its ratings triumph was largely responsible
for establishing a new television network (FOX) and launching one
of the biggest merchandising campaigns of the decade. In 1990, Bart
Simpson was on T-shirts across the U.S. declaring, "Don't have a
cow, man!" And yet, despite the trappings of success, The Simpsons
was often a sly parody of popular culture, in general, and television
cartoons, in particular--as was to be expected from Groening, who
established himself as the artist of the Life in Hell comic
strip. The recurrent feature of The Itchy and Scratchy Show,
a cartoon within The Simpsons, allowed the program to critique
violence in cartoons at the same time it reveled in it. And in one
episode, The Simpsons retold the entire history of cartooning
as if Itchy and Scratchy had been early Disney creations.
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