CartoonsTHE GOLDEN ERA
THE TELEVISION ERA
Cartoons both amuse and engage; they are able to point out the foibles and complexities of humankind in direct, illuminating, and original ways. From humble beginnings, the cartoon has progressed to address social, cultural, and religious taboos in provocative and amusing ways. It is the most subversive of mainstream arts. Though often intrinsically bound up with the Disney tradition, the cartoon has a variety of histories worldwide, and diverse practices reflecting the cultures of the nations in which it has been produced.
The animated cartoon emerged out of the early experiments in the creation of the cinematic moving image. As early as 1798, Etienne Robertson constructed the Phantasmagoria, a sophisticated magic lantern to project images. It was followed by Joseph Ferdinand Plateau's Phenakistascope in 1833, William Horner's Zoetrope in 1834, Franz Von Uchatius's Kinetoscope in 1853, Henry Heyl's Phasmatrope in 1870, and Émil Reynaud's Praxinoscope in 1877, devices that in some way projected drawn or painted moving images. With the development of the cinematic apparatus came the first intimations of animation, at first accidents or trick effects in the work of figures like Georges Méliès (1861–1938), and the emergence of lightning cartooning—the accelerated movement of drawings by manipulating camera speeds—particularly in the British context, where Harry Furniss, Max Martin, Tom Merry, and Lancelot Speed defined an indigenous model of expression related to British pictorial traditions in caricature and portraiture. It was also the Britons J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith, working in the United States, who saw the potential of a specific kind of animation filmmaking in The Enchanted Drawing (1900) and Humourous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), though these were essentially little more than developments in lightning cartooning.
While stop motion 3-D animation progressed in a number of countries, it was only with the creation of Émile Cohl's (1857–1938) Fantasmagorie (1908), a line-drawn animation influenced by French surrealism, that the 2-D animated film was seen as a distinctive form. Cohl was later to work in the United States, animating George McManus's comic strip The Newlyweds (1913), one of a number of popular comic strips that characterized early American cartoon animation, others being Krazy Kat, The Katzenjammer Kids, and Mutt and Jeff. Winsor McCay (1871–1934), an illustrator and graphic artist, made Little Nemo in Slumberland (1911), based on his own New York Herald comic strip, and one of the first self-reflexive cartoons, the aptly titled Winsor McCay Makes His Cartoons Move (1911). McCay's influence on the history of animation cannot be overstated. He created one of the first instances of the horror genre in The Story of the Mosquito (1912); "personality" animation in the figure of Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), which was featured in an interactive routine with McCay in his Vaudeville show; and "documentary" in an imitative newsreel-style depiction of The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918).
As early as 1913, Raoul Barré and John R. Bray were developing systematic, "industrial" methods for the production of animated cartoons using variations of what was to become the "cel" animation process, where individual drawings (later, cels) were made, each with a slight change in a character's position, and then aligned with backgrounds that remained the same, using a peg-bar system. By replacing each drawing in a sequence of movement and photographing it frame by frame, the illusion of continuous movement occurred. As well, a production system was emerging that echoed the hierarchical organization of the Taylorist production processes characteristic of industrial America, as in the production of Model T Fords. Though the Fleischer brothers (Max [1883–1972] and Dave [1894–1979]), Paul Terry (1887–1971), and Pat Sullivan (1887–1933) with Otto Messmer all emerged as viable producers of cartoons, it was Walt Disney (1901–1966) who effectively took the Ford model and created an animation "industry." Disney's dominance has meant that Terry's Aesop's Film Fables of the 1920s, Sullivan and Messmer's hugely successful and graphically inventive Felix the Cat cartoons (1919–1928), and the Fleischer brothers' work in sound synchronization and the use of rotoscoping—the tracing of live action figure movement to achieve animated characters drawn frame by frame—have been largely forgotten. In his initial work in the early 1920s, Disney created Laugh-O-Grams, which were distinctive in featuring his own animation, and Alice comedies, which reversed the conceit of the Fleischer brothers' "Out of the Inkwell" series. The latter featured a cartoon clown in a live-action environment, while Disney placed a live-action Alice in a cartoon world.
In 1923 the Fleischers made the groundbreaking four-reel educational film, Einstein's Theory of Relativity. In the face of increased competition from the technically adept Fleischer Studio, Disney created the first fully synchronized sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), introducing animation's first cartoon superstar, Mickey Mouse. Nine years later, Disney made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the first full-length, sound-synchronized, Technicolor animated film, along the way making the seminal Silly Symphonies, including Flowers and Trees (1932), the first cartoon made in three-strip Technicolor; Three Little Pigs (1933), famous for its Depression-era rallying cry of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"; The Country Cousin (1936), which established a definitive design for cartoon mice; and The Old Mill (1937), using the multiplane camera. All of these made aesthetic, technical, and narrative strides in the field. Many of early Silly Symphonies were drawn by Ub Iwerks and based on a "rope" aesthetic of elongated faces and limbs. Fred Moore's use of the "circle"-based "squash 'n' stretch" animation in Three Little Pigs, however, essentially prompted the change in Disney's aesthetic that led to an advance in "personality" animation and an increased realism in the films that was to characterize the studio's signature style. The multiplane camera, which made its debut in The Old Mill, facilitated this style further by ensuring that all the moving figures and changing environments stayed in perspective and maintained a depth of field. At this point, Disney effectively defined animation and created a legacy that all other producers have sought to imitate or challenge.
As Disney continued its development with what were arguably the studio's two masterpieces, Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940)—films that consciously strove to define the "art" of animation in aesthetic and cultural terms—the Warner Bros. studio established itself through the work of Hugh Harman (1903–1982) and Rudolf Ising (1903–1992) and the presence of Bosko, the studio's first animated star. Much of the Warner output was based on music already owned by the studio, and the early cartoons—the Looney Tunes series and, later, the Merrie Melodies—may be seen as prototypical music promos, as these films reinvigorated the market in sheet music and recordings. Following the Disney strike of 1941 (which essentially ended the first Golden Era of animation) and the purchase in 1944 of Leon Schlesinger Productions by Warner Bros., a new house style emerged, first under director Friz Freleng (1905–1995), then through the major creative impact of Tex Avery (1908–1980), which saw Chuck Jones (1912–2002), Frank Tashlin (1913–1972), Bob Clampett (1913–1984), and Robert McKimson (1911–1977) become the new heirs to the animated short. Altogether more urban and adult, the Warner Bros. cartoons were highly inventive, redefining the situational gags in Disney films through a higher degree of surreal, self-reflexive, and taboo-breaking humor.
The Fleischers had the highly sexualized Betty Boop, with her cartoons' strong embrace of African American culture and underground social mores; the blue-collar hero, Popeye; and the outstanding Superman cartoons of the 1940s. Hanna-Barbera had the enduring Tom and Jerry; Walter Lantz (1899–1994) had created Woody Woodpecker; and Terrytoons had debuted Mighty Mouse, parodying Mickey Mouse and Superman. But Warners had the zany Daffy Duck, the laconic wise guy, Bugs Bunny, and gullible dupes Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd, who became popular and morale-raising figures during the war-torn 1940s and its aftermath. The cartoons continued to be innovative and developmental. Their soundtracks also progressed to enhance the dynamics of the more surreal narratives. Former Disney stalwart Carl Stalling (1891–1972) and effects man Treg Brown combined short pieces of music and a bizarre range of inventive sounds to "mickey mouse" the movement (follow the action on screen with exactly matching sound) or to create comic counterpoint to the dramatic events. And Mel Blanc (1908–1989) continued to supply the vocalizations for all the Warners' cartoon characters.
Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, in particular, revised the aesthetics of the cartoon, changing its pace and subject matter, relying less on the "full animation" of Disney and more on different design strategies and thematic concerns such as sex and sexuality, injustice, and the inhibiting expectations of social etiquette. In many senses, the innovation in cartoons as various as Jones's The Dover Boys of Pimento University or the Rivals of Roquefort Hall (1942), Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), and Bob Clampett's Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943) anticipate the more formal experimentation of the United Productions of America (UPA) studio, a breakaway group of Disney animators (Steve Bosustow, Dave Hilberman, John Hubley, and Zack Schwartz) wishing to work more independently and more in the style of modernist art (actually pioneered at the Halas and Batchelor and Larkins Studios in England during the war) than in comedy. Though now remembered for popular characters like the short-sighted Mr. Magoo, UPA made Gerald McBoing Boing (1951) and The Tell-Tale Heart (1953), which used minimalist backgrounds and limited animation and was clearly embracing a European modernist art sensibility that was emerging in the "reduced animation" of the Zagreb Studios in then-Yugoslavia, and particularly in the work of its leading artist, Dušan Vukotic (1927–1998).
In this work, as in work by studios in Shanghai, the National Film Board of Canada, and even at the short-lived GB Animation Unit, a desire existed to embrace the art and technique of Disney while ultimately rejecting its aesthetic and industrial model in order to privilege different notions of the cartoon. It is pertinent to remember that progressive conceptions of the cartoon had occurred in Britain as early as 1934, when Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin had lyricized the form in Joie de Vivre, and later, when Halas and Batchelor made their short Poet and Painter films for the Festival of Britain in 1951,
b. Spokane, Washington, 12 September 1912, d. 22 February 2002
Chuck Jones has become rightly revered as one of the true masters of animation. While Tex Avery sought to extend the art and language of animation by interrogating its boundaries and possibilities, Jones was responsible for fully integrating animation with other disciplines, in particular by drawing upon classical music and literature as touchstones to structure his cartoons and to extend their thematic concerns.
A high school dropout, Jones attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1931 he became a cel washer (cleaning the transparent cels the animated characters were painted on) at Pat Powers's Celebrity Pictures, but soon became an in-betweener (drawing the "in-between" movements between two key positions of the character action chosen by the lead animator) under the supervision of Grim Natwick, later the designer of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). In 1933 Jones joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made shorts for Warner Bros. He thereby became part of the legendary unit employed by Schlesinger after Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising left his studio, taking with them Bosko, Warner's first cartoon "star." With Friz Freleng as their initial director—followed by the more experimental Tex Avery—Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones all defined the Warner Bros. cartoon, each enjoying the collaborative inventiveness of the unit but also defining his own distinctive vision.
Jones's first cartoon was The Night Watchman in 1938, followed quickly by his first series (ultimately twelve cartoons) featuring the mouse, Sniffles, who debuted in Naughty But Nice (1939). These gentle, Harman-Ising-style cartoons would be a far cry from his dozen Snafu (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up) cartoons for the Army-Navy Screen Magazine, made during World War II and featuring Private Snafu, an inept recruit who implicitly taught young servicemen how to do everything right by constantly getting everything wrong. The more knowing, adult, urbane approach to such cartoons was to be the staple of the Warner's output. But it was a cartoon like The Dover Boys of Pimento University or the Rivals of Roquefort Hall (1942) that properly signaled Jones's interest in aesthetics with his innovative use of smeared, "jump cut"-like, pose-to-pose movements for his characters.
Jones was instrumental in developing all the studio's major stars, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, but several of his own creations, Pepe Le Pew and Roadrunner and Coyote, have become enduring figures, each characterized by Jones's thematic concerns with compulsion, obsession, and failure. His three late masterpieces, One Froggy Evening (1955), Duck Amuck (1953), and What's Opera, Doc? (1957), all extended the parameters of the cartoon before the closing of Warner's Animation division in 1962. Jones enjoyed further success as head of MGM's Animation Department from 1963 to 1971, revising Hanna-Barbera's Tom and Jerry cartoons to be more literate and lyrical adventures and making the perennially popular How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). As CEO of Chuck Jones Enterprises from 1962, he continued to make highly successful cartoons until his death.
The Dover Boys of Pimento University or the Rivals of Roquefort Hall (1942), The Rabbit of Seville (1950), Duck Amuck (1953), One Froggy Evening (1955), What's Opera, Doc? (1957), The Dot and the Line (1965), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Furniss, Maureen, ed. Chuck Jones: Conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Jones, Chuck. Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989.
——. Chuck Reducks: Drawings from the Fun Side of Life. New York: Warner Books, 1996.
Kenner, Hugh. Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Peary, Danny, and Gerald Peary, eds. The American Animated Cartoon. New York: Dutton, 1980.
and in their adaptation of George Orwell's novel in Animal Farm (1954), which addressed serious subject matter and represented animals in a more realistic and less Disneyfied way. There is some irony to the fact that Halas and Batchelor recalled the "animal" to the animal cartoon by going beyond the standardization of cartoon technique, the caricatured rather than realistic representation of animals, and the comic imperatives of the short film. Animal Farm had to be more realistic, given the seriousness of Orwell's theme and its allegory of the Russian Revolution.
As the Disney studio entered a period of decline, Chuck Jones created three masterpieces: Duck Amuck (1953), deconstructing the codes and conventions of the cartoon and filmmaking in general; One Froggy Evening (1956), satirizing the idea of celebrity and commercial exploitation in the figure of a performing frog who refuses to demonstrate his unique talents for its owner in front of potential entrepreneurs and audiences; and What's Opera, Doc ? (1957), a seven-minute compression of Wagner's Ring cycle. All three exhibited Jones's ability to reinvent the cartoon, work with literate and complex themes, and create what can only be called art. Also significant was the contribution of designer Maurice Noble, whose backgrounds, color scheme, and lighting all add to the sense of operatic grandeur. Jones's cartoons were the last great works of the theatrical era in the United States as the major studios closed their short cartoon units—Disney (1954), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1956), Warner Bros. (1962), and Terrytoons (1967)—and the television era began. Jones was to be highly critical of what was to follow, arguing that at best it was "illustrated radio," but nevertheless that period of cartoon history is an important one for the form.
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, more culturally appropriate, aesthetic to his films. Marks and Jutrisa, though, like many artists working in Eastern Europe, looked to the spareness and clarity of modern graphic design, creating a maximum of suggestion with a minimum of lines and forms.
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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