The Renaissance Age of Animation

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

    The return of animation to a point of artistic respect. At first The Dark Age of Animation persisted -- Limited Animation was still the rule on television. The Disney Animated Canon came close to ending for good when The Black Cauldron, intended to be the stunning debut of a new generation of animators, didn't impress just-arrived company executives Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg; they recut it and it proceeded to tank at the box-office. Merchandise-Driven shows/specials such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, and The Transformers ruled 80s television animation and had parents' groups up in arms about children watching glorified toy commercials (commercials that were extremely split between gender lines at that).

    Fortunately, things got better.

    As early as 1980 a Japanese Animation studio called Tokyo Movie Shinsha (Presently TMS Entertainment) sowed the first seeds that would eventually lead to the full-blown renaissance of animation when they teamed up with French company DiC in order to fund Ulysses 31. The show worked, and it served as a precursor which eventually led to the start of this age of animation (TMS did try to get out of The Dark Age of Animation as early as 1971 with Lupin III series 1 but nothing worked until Ulysses 31. Lupin III series 2 did do well, but it did not bring the industry out of the dark ages). TMS continued working with Dic until 1984 when two of their staff members, Tetsuo Katayama and Shigeru Akagawa, left TMS to found KKC and D Asia; but even after that TMS was still making the industry better, with their own productions like The Blinkins, Mighty Orbots, and Galaxy High, and with shows like The Wuzzles, Adventures of the Gummi Bears and DuckTales which were done in collaboration with Disney, ultimately bringing quality animation to television for the first time ever. TMS were practically the sole producer of quality animation (and to a lesser extent, Studio Ghibli) until a man named John Kricfalusi teamed up with Ralph Bakshi to produce Mighty Mouse the New Adventures, a show that helped bring back old school, insane "cartoony cartoons". This team up did not last long as John K went solo to do The Ren and Stimpy Show for Nickelodeon. TMS stopped working with Disney after Motoyoshi Tokunaga founded Walt Disney Animation Japan, and then came TMS's golden age, when the studio was working with Warner Bros to produce shows like Tiny Toon Adventures, Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs. TMS's last major production in this era was Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

    Outside of TMS, Disney defector Don Bluth started making movies with 1982's The Secret of NIMH, pushing for a return to the rich classical style of The Golden Age of Animation; while it was not a blockbuster, it quickly became a Cult Classic. It attracted the attention of no less than Steven Spielberg, which led to Bluth's directing the successful An American Tail and The Land Before Time for Amblin Entertainment. Don Bluth would both rise to prominence and fall during this period, but his collaboration with Steven Spielberg proved to be the first real challenge Disney had ever faced in the animated film department, at least since the Fleischers were in business.

    The Disney animation unit was not shuttered after all after the failure of The Black Cauldron, mainly due to the modest success of The Great Mouse Detective. After the threat from Bluth and Amblin though, Disney frantically stepped up its game and rallied with Oliver and Company, which was another modest success. Their newly-established, adult-oriented Touchstone Pictures label co-produced—with Amblin Entertainment, as it happened -- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a live-action/animated fantasy that also served as a Massive Multiplayer Crossover of Golden Age characters and was the box-office sensation of 1988. And starting with The Wuzzles but busting loose with DuckTales, Disney launched many successful animated TV shows (first, as mentioned, alongside TMS). This successfully raised the stakes for the format with dramatically improved production standards in both animation and writing, eventually prompting Disney's rivals to improve their own to compete, to the medium's benefit.

    In 1989, Disney brought out their first animated canon film based on a fairy tale in 30 years. The Little Mermaid, a musical that refreshed the old formulas of yore, was a surprise sensation at the box office—at last, they were well and truly back in the game. While the following year's The Rescuers Down Under was a financial disappointment, Beauty and the Beast (the first animated film ever to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination), Aladdin, and The Lion King were even bigger hits than Mermaid. In fact, some people argue that this era should have been called the Disney Renaissance, since they were the most successful animation studio during this era and had the most consistent track record in terms of hits.

    By the end of The Nineties, rival studios had launched their own feature animation units, most notably DreamWorks. However, most of them found that the market was still largely trapped in the All Animation Is Disney in terms of traditional animation and most of the attempts failed miserably, or fell victim to Disney's aggressive marketing such as rereleasing The Lion King so it could crush the rival, The Swan Princess, in 1994. Even Don Bluth was forced to ape Disney with films like Anastasia, though his attempt to break out with Titan A.E. failed and sunk his career. However, Dreamworks Animation, after enduring the underperformance of their traditionally animated films like The Prince of Egypt, noticed that their small computer animated film, Antz did fairly well and suggested that other animation techniques could be the answer. So, they made a deal with the hailed British Stop Motion company, Aardman Animations, who helped show DA that the way forward is to find their own voice and style in the next age.

    Warner Bros. had its own revival, via television. Several Spielberg and TMS produced efforts brought Looney Tunes-style comedy into the 1990s; Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs were the most successful. Much of the crew from these shows went on to launch the DC Animated Universe with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. This time, Disney eventually aped them with a cult dark action series of their own, Gargoyles, created by Greg Weisman, even if they eventually mishandled it badly.

    All things considered, the renaissance of television animation in North America did not really begin until 1987 with Mighty Mouse the New Adventures and didn't truly take off until the early '90s (the relatively few quality animated series of the '80s were the expection, not the rule), as opposed to animated movies which had a general rise in quality already during the late 1970s. However, in all fairness, it should probably be mentioned that many of the decried television cartoons of the '80s, that adult animation fans viewed as suffering from a general lack of quality (especially in regards to the writing department), were obviously still very entertaining to their kid demographic. This is evidenced by the fact that several of them proved so popular among juvenile audiences that they became huge pop culture phenomenons that are well remembered to this day. Examples of these includes the aforementioned '80s commercial shows as well as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Jem, Thundercats and many more. Another trend of '80s TV animation besides "toy commercial shows" were that many established franchises received Animated Adaptations, including Dragon's Lair, The Real Ghostbusters, ALF, and Beetlejuice.

    Adult aimed animation finally came back to television during the renaissance age. The Simpsons became a full-fledged series in 1989 and went on to become probably the most critically acclaimed television cartoon series of all time, and MTV caused a stir with Mike Judge's Beavis and Butthead. MTV, of course, was cable—and from here came the last great progress that cemented the renaissance: the rise of cable television.

    Kid-centric cable networks such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network started with reruns and repackagings of cartoons from earlier eras, as well as syndicated fare (as did the USA Network's Cartoon Express block; this was also the modus operandi of the emerging home video market) but moved on to create their own quirky shows during the '90s. The former launched the "Nicktoons" brand with Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren and Stimpy Show, while the latter had hits like Dexter's Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls that went by the moniker "Cartoon Cartoons". The latter's name was eventually dropped, however, as 2002's Codename: Kids Next Door was the last show to use the Cartoon Cartoon label.

    All in all, this era did a good job of at least brushing away the worst aspects of the Dark Age. Parental Bonus was back, quality had soared, and profits were high. Anime also found headway in the U.S. in this period with Robotech becoming a cult favorite with its audacious flouting of contemporary North American TV animation conventions to present a sweeping military SF saga that made homegrown fare like G.I. Joe look so timid and vapid. After that Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Pokémon began to make their presence on TV and home video. In theatres, anime made its own splash with the harrowing cyberpunk ultraviolence of Akira and while the Western world finally was presented with the genius of Hayao Miyazaki with his classic films like the intelligently charming Kiki's Delivery Service and the grand, profound fantasy drama Princess Mononoke.

    This is also the era that began the rise of computers in animation, riding the wave of the digital revolution that brought affordable PCs to the masses in the 1980s. Disney employed CG for major parts of their films starting with The Rescuers Down Under, and by Beauty and the Beast had refined it considerably (the backdrop of the ballroom scene was very much Conspicuous CGI, as are the stampede from The Lion King and the crowd scenes in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). In 1994, the first completely 3-D CG TV series, ReBoot, came out of Canadian studio Mainframe Entertainment and premiered on ABC in the USA. And 1995 brought the first all 3-D movie and the one that launched Pixar into the spotlight and a position to drive the future of the animation industry: Toy Story.

    Depending on who you ask, the deterioration of this era began somewhere towards the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s. The seeds may have been sown in 1995, when Disney distributed Pixar's Toy Story. It was a huge hit both critically and commercially...but Disney's traditionally animated entry for the year, Pocahontas, did well enough financially but also disappointed many viewers. Disney's increasingly formulaic approach to feature storytelling -- "I Want" Songs, wacky sidekicks, pop culture jokes, etc. -- in the wake of its early-'90s hits, resulted in films that strived to include more adult themes/stories yet couldn't lift themselves out of the worst aspects of the Animation Age Ghetto when it came to content. Disneyfication became a dirty word as critics accused them of whitewashing/dumbing down history and classic literature/mythology. (The increasing amounts of merchandise tied into these films didn't help matters.) That said, while these films were considered inferior to their predecessors, only one, the aforementioned Pocahontas, was a critical failure - at a mediocre 56% on Rotten Tomatoes, it's the only real critical failure of the Disney Renaissance. Meanwhile, the entries that were relative box office failures - The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules - were modestly well-received by said critics (at a decent 73% and a good 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively), who considered them improvements over the preachy and pretentious Pocahontas - Hunchback has even been Vindicated by History recently to the point that it's a Dark Horse candidate for the Magnum Opus of the Disney Renaissance. Mulan and Tarzan were even viewed as coming close to the earlier works (at 86% and 88%, respectively). Rival studios' Disney-esque efforts were usually pale imitations at best—consider Don Bluth's work post-All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Swan Princess, etc. -- and often even worse when it came to Disneyfication, culminating in two Italian animated features that turned the Titanic disaster into Happily Ever After musicals. The absolute nadir of the trend, at least as far as wide release animated films go, was Warner Bros. Quest for Camelot - sadly, this film outdid far superior works by Warner Bros. such as the Ghetto-busting The Iron Giant and Cats Don't Dance financially, even as critics savaged it. One could even pin Quest For Camelot as being one of the films that led to the eventual downfall of the Renaissance Age.

    Perhaps worst of all, Disney started producing direct-to-video sequels, prequels, and/or interquels to most of their Modern Age films via their television animation units, which sold well but didn't touch the quality of the real things. The sales were so good that even Golden Age and Dark Age efforts were given this treatment, to the increasing horror of adult Disney fans. It can be argued that the "cheapquels" led to a fatal dilution of the Disney brand name, causing audiences to take less interest in their newer animated canon efforts. And when rival studios (particularly MGM and Universal Studios) started doing the same thing with films they owned the rights to, video stores were glutted with unwanted, unworthy sequels to everything from The Secret of NIMH to The Swan Princess. Before this era sequels were rare if not non-existent. It's one reason the Renaissance, like every other period in animation history, is a bit of a mixed bag.

    Also, in an ironic twist, the successes of animation and children's programming on cable helped to wound animation on broadcast TV, killing the weekday animation block outright. As animation was an expensive medium at the time, increasing competition led to a greater fragmenting of the audience. With smaller audiences for each network, plus increasing restrictions on advertising content in children's programming (daytime animation still got redlined into the Ghetto), animation blocks became increasingly less profitable. The twin developments of a fracturing audience and animation's move to cable (and needing to make do with cable's smaller budgets), led to declines in animation quality. Work was outsourced to overseas studios. computer coloring eventually replaced ink and paint, and soon Flash made inroads as an animation tool.

    For this era's successor, see The Millennium Age of Animation.

    Characters/Series/Films that are associated with this era

    Real Life People Directly Involved With This Era

    Real life people who are directly influenced by this era

    • Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi. Animation historians, writers on 'Art Of' and other animation novelty books, and bloggers of the industry-popular Cartoon Brew.
    • Doug Walker, aka The Nostalgia Critic. Much of what he reviews exposes the somewhat worse aspects of some of the animation to come out of this era, and frequently includes gags referencing such cartoons.

    Tropes Associated With This Era

    1. In order: Fievel from An American Tail, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Butthead and Beavis from--take a guess--Beavis and Butthead, Buster Bunny and Babs Bunny (no relation) from Tiny Toon Adventures, Unit 01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Buzz and Woody from Toy Story.
    2. around the time DBZ was getting dubbed - 1995/1996