The Millennium Age of Animation

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      /wiki/The Millennium Age of Animationwork
      A sample of influential animation from this era.[1]

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      "We're waiting for the pendulum to swing back again, which I am absolutely confident it will."
      —An exceedingly optimistic Don Bluth, speaking about hand drawn animation

      This is the Age of Animation we live in now, starting from the early 2000s--with the end of The Renaissance Age of Animation--and continuing to the present day. The usage of traditional 2-D animation methods that thrived in the previous eras is now seemingly all but abandoned, at least when it comes to American works; CGI animation is the rule, not the exception--just as Limited Animation ruled the Dark Age during the '60s and '70s (especially animation not coming from the USA or Japan). A lot of these shifts resulted from the constant deterioration of the global recession, which came to a head in 2008 and resulted in cheaper production procedures like outsourcing, studios taking safer bets, higher competition, bankruptcy, and massive layoffs. It did not help that any fan of content from the Renaissance Age could not get any decent work in the field by the time they were finally grown up and out of college by 2005. Studios hired unpaid interns by the hundreds, and veterans from the past eras were either out of work, doing their own thing, or dead.

      Disney began to experience its first box office failures since the early '80s. Treasure Planet is often cited as the film where the downward spiral began, though some might say it began earlier with Pocahontas. The company's next three films would each do worse than its predecessor; after the failure of Home on the Range, Disney announced that it would discontinue traditional animation for good (blaming the medium itself instead of, perhaps, the Misaimed Marketing that went on for most of these movies). For the next five years, they certainly tried to kill 2-D animation; their second attempt at producing a CGI film of their own, Chicken Little, had a mediocre showing (but ended up making a profit)--then there was a two year gap before their next canon entry, Meet the Robinsons, was released. That film was followed in 2008 by Bolt, which achieved (at least) critical success in spite of having languished in Development Hell after a much-needed Executive Meddling by John Lasseter.

      While this was going on, Disney was undergoing a shake-up in upper management. Since the release of Toy Story, Disney had been the distributor for all of Pixar's films, which were making much more money for them than most of their in-house fare. There was prolonged wrestling between the two companies over creative control, IP rights, and financial stakes over the films. In 2004, Pixar announced that they would be seeking other distribution partners when their contract with Disney was up--despite this, the two companies continued to negotiate in an attempt to patch things up. While this was going on, Michael Eisner left Disney in 2005--some say "pushed out", as Disney was struggling across the board and Eisner was one of the main obstacles to cooperation with Pixar. Ultimately, Disney bought Pixar outright in 2007, though Pixar was allowed to remain a separate entity; as part of the deal, Pixar co-founder John Lasseter became Disney's Chief Creative Officer and Pixar studio president Edwin Catmull also became president of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Allegedly, one of Lasseter's first executive actions was to discontinue the rampant Direct to Video sequels of Disney's back catalog and put that specific animation division - DisneyToon Studios - to work on new properties (such as the current CG Tinkerbell series). Under Lasseter's watch, traditional animation also got a second chance with The Princess and the Frog. The movie was successful enough to make Disney agree to greenlight a new traditionally animated film every two years, starting with a reboot of Winnie the Pooh. Around this time, a number of Disney classics got converted to the 3D format using the same process as Winnie the Pooh and were re-released in theater in short runnings, the first title of which - The Lion King 3D - has been met with rave success. Their next 2D release was to be an adaptation of Mort; however, the film was canceled due to rights issues, most likely because of the upcoming Discworld live action TV series. Their other originally planned hand-drawn movie, based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, has been taken off the shelf and is now in production under the title Frozen and is now a CG feature, slated for release in 2013, thanks to the death of Mort. On March 23rd, 2012, 38-year-Disney-animator and producer Glen Keane officially resigned, signalling proof that Lasseter has yet failed to bring hand-drawn animation back to the forefront, and proving that despite his efforts, Disney still has no hand-drawn animation on the pipeline!

      Network Decay has had a devastating effect on television animation. Many channels have jettisoned their Saturday morning cartoons and after-school cartoon blocks due to cable competition and increasing restrictions on advertising, and 4Kids! Entertainment has created a monopoly over what's left (and even they're facing financial problems). Cartoon Network is pushing increasingly towards live-action kids' shows in order to compete with Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, which are in turn becoming increasingly dependent on their respective Cash Cow Franchises (live-action kid coms for Disney and SpongeBob SquarePants for Nick). Toon Disney was consumed by Jetix and eventually scrapped altogether to make way for Disney XD.

      Overall, thanks in large part to economic woes mentioned above, animation as a whole is widely considered to have suffered, though there are exceptions. Avatar: The Last Airbender started a growing trend of high-budget animated action series for TV, and is one in a long list of popular shows that are pushing against the walls of the Animation Age Ghetto. On a different but related front, the phenomenally successful My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is creating a stir because it has taken great steps to blur the line between "Girl shows" and "General Audience Shows" thanks to defying many of the "Girl show" cliches, and using clever writing to attract audiences of all ages and both genders. It airs on The Hub, which replaced Discovery Kids in 2010 and is run by Hasbro, who intend to make it a fourth competitor to the big three kid's networks. The influence of anime on American shows is largely the reason for the rise of shows with continuous, overarching story lines such as the aforementioned Avatar: The Last Airbender, which may be a Trope Codifier in this regard. Further examples of shows of this type include Star Wars Clone Wars (the Tartakovsky cartoon), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the Lucas CG show), Samurai Jack, The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Batman, Sym-Bionic Titan and Young Justice, a number of them becoming smash successes in their own right. Shows with looser continuity are still the norm, however, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, which rose to the position of Nickelodeon's Cash Cow Franchise. This era also saw "Adult aimed" cartoons, which started their comeback with The Simpsons in the 80s, reaching mainstream status with the ongoing success of shows like South Park, Futurama, Family Guy, as well as The Simpsons itself, along with many others.

      Cartoons from previous eras are either shoved onto Boomerang or not shown at all, relegated chiefly to DVD releases. While home video releases of classic cartoons initially thrived during the early-to-mid 2000s, this trend eventually came to a crawl when a combination of piddling sales, the high cost of restoring the cartoons, and the general state of the economy caused many companies to pull back or scale down future releases of old cartoons, much of the chagrin of many collectors. [2] Fortunately, older cartoons are starting to see more of a comeback, with future DVD releases lined up for Warner Bros. (including an all new and improved Tom and Jerry collection and, to the delight of animation purists everywhere, the first official home video release of The Censored 11). Columbia has also began reairing many of its old cartoons on Antenna TV, with plans for DVD releases in the works; Fox is also planning to release a Mighty Mouse collection in a couple of years, and Jerry Beck has been attempting to get the classic cartoon anthology program "Totally Tooned In" to finally air in the US--but the real highlight of all of this is that the original Looney Tunes have finally returned to air on Cartoon Network! Sadly, its successor, Tiny Toon Adventures, has not been returned to air on any channel. Many fondly-remembered Saturday morning cartoons during the Renaissance Age such as the aforementioned Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Jonny Quest the Real Adventures or Centurions have yet to receive this revival, much to the cry of the young adult demographics.

      Anime dubbing has struggled too; Geneon and ADV Films both folded from poor sales, Network Decay resulting in disappearing anime blocks on television, and competition from internet subtitled episodes (which could be posted shortly after their Japanese premieres). FUNimation is probably the only dubbing studio to remain prosperous--it acquired a number of Geneon, ADV Films, and 4Kids' titles--but even they have financial issues. After its fold, ADV eventually formed Section 23 Films, and along with Funimation, Aniplex, the recent newcomer NIS America and (who else?) Disney, are currently holding licenses to the majority of essential anime titles on this side of the Pacific (though NIS America is not actually dubbing them). Around New Years Day 2012, Bandai Entertainment announced their end releasing prints and DVDs of manga and anime, focusing on digital distribution, broadcast and merchandising instead.

      Despite all of that, there are more theatrical feature films coming out every year, with more major American companies becoming viable, sustained competitors than any time in history. The opening signal could be considered when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) introduced the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film starting in 2001, indicating a new level of respect and vibrancy for the art form; it could also be considered an aid to encourage more films, since they now have an Oscar of their own to shoot for. This presented a problem, too: with animation in its own category, there is an implication that an animated film will never be considered for plain old "Best Picture". This trend was reversed thanks to Pixar--Up and Toy Story 3 got nominated for Best Picture in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

      Now we can get to the big American companies in the field. For starters, there's Pixar; while the studio's roots are planted deeply in The Renaissance Age of Animation, it still flourishes and finds success to this day, thanks to a solid track record in regards to the quality of their films. Dreamworks Animation (the spiritual successor to Steven Spielberg's earlier animation studio, Amblimation) began making its own waves with great films once it found its footing, first in partnership with Aardman Animations (with features like Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit), and then with its acclaimed computer animated films (the Shrek series, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon). There are also the efforts of production studios like Blue Sky Studios (for Twentieth Century Fox) and their Ice Age series, Warner Brothers' Happy Feet, Sony's Open Season, and Universal/Illumination's Despicable Me. Blue Sky Studios were later shut down after Disney brought Twentieth Century Fox, citing financial difficulties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even ILM got in on the action with its debut film, Rango, a film so successful that distributor Paramount has decided to get into the animation game with their own department 40+ years after they fired Ralph Bakshi in closing their old one in 1967. (Incidentally, Avatar isn't listed here because--despite the fact that the bulk of it involves a handful of live-action actors in a CGI setting--it is generally considered a live-action film.)

      On the Direct to Video market, the fans of the now-deceased DC Animated Universe franchise found a new source of sophisticated Superhero animation with the DC Universe Original Animated Movies--and, to a lesser extent, the Marvel Universe videos. All of these films were explicitly produced for the formerly Periphery Demographic of teens and adults.

      European traditional animation, meanwhile, has made a comeback with the development of several new studios and directors who have produced critically acclaimed films, including The Secret of Kells and The Triplets of Belleville. These films tend to address serious or artistic subjects in an avant-garde style (influenced by John Hubley and lost animated classics such as The Thief and the Cobbler) while still going out of their way to appeal to families with small children. Hayao Miyazaki and his colleagues at Studio Ghibli have carried the torch for traditional, movie-plotted, fully-animated films in Japan, returning to hand-drawn films which Disney (and especially John Lasseter, a Ghibli fanboy) has taken it on to promote in the US, with mixed results.[3] The result has been a series of art films that didn't do well financially in the US, but were critically acclaimed enough to grow their studios and gather a small cult following. It is during this period that Miyazaki dropped Spirited Away, widely considered to be the best Ghibli film and one of the best, if not the best animated film ever made. The film is notable for being the only traditionally animated and non-American film to win the Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature. It's clear that the Academy has a heavy bias towards American produced films, however Spirited Away managed to overcome that bias and snatched a win against Disney's own Lilo & Stitch and Blue Sky's Ice Age. The challenge, of course, will be to determine how long the backers of such films insist on making art films restricted to families with children, especially since Ghibli has shut down (and later reopened) their department in 2014.

      Adult aimed animation found a new home on Cartoon Network's nighttime block, Adult Swim, which turned out to be responsible for Family Guy and Futurama both getting Uncancelled. After the fall of Toonami, Adult Swim continued airing adult-oriented anime as well, while 4Kids still aired watered-down dubs of anime on Saturday mornings for the kiddies. Syfy showed Anime for a period, but was short lived, ending in 2011 as part of the network's shift from Sci-Fi in general. MTV revived their Liquidation animation block since the 90's in 2011 and kicked it off by bringing back Beavis and Butthead! Anime continues to be popular among teens and young adults, although the effects of the Animation Age Ghetto polarize it just as it does Western Animation, with an extra spoonful of All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles. Meanwhile, adult Western Animation tends to rely a bit much on pop culture references and Black Comedy, but at least the Animation Age Ghetto is gradually weakening.

      On the Internet, a huge amount of Adobe Flash animation (most of which can be viewed for free) arose in various genres, with fewer restrictions on creativity than commercial releases. Leading the way here was the popularity of the Flash site Newgrounds. While the early 2000s saw a rise of ultraviolence genre series like Madness Combat and Happy Tree Friends, more sophisticated series also appeared as time went on. When Adobe stopped supporting Flash in 2017, Flash animation became a relic of the past... but 3D-modeling software such as Blender and Daz Studio strengthened their support for animation at the same time, so CGI animation continued to be something that even a hobbyist could do with only a computer and a lot of 3D art.

      Despite all the success, it appears many American studios became antagonistic towards 2D animated TV shows in the 2020s. Animated shows such as Final Space became tax write offs for major studios, and was cancelled. Other shows, such as Infinity Train suffered the same fate. Inside Job, a show with a positive reception, was cancelled on a Cliff Hanger. If you get lucky, you get The Owl House, which was cut short. Although the third twenty-episode season was shortened to a 3 specials, it at least got to finish its story.

      Series/Films that are associated with this era:

      Real life people who are associated/are directly involved with this era:

      Tropes that are associated with this era:

      1. Clockwise from top left: Coraline, Spirited Away, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Wolfwalkers, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the first Shrek.
      2. This is the reason why the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series and the Woody Woodpecker collections were discontinued.
      3. This dates back to 1996 when Disney and Tokuma Publishing inked a deal for Disney to distribute Ghibli's catalog, but after Princess Mononoke had a disappointing box office run, it took Lasseter's intervention (while he was still at Pixar) and Spirited Away‍'‍s 2001 Oscar win for the rest of it to see the light of day.