Sunday, March 3, 2013

10 Most Important Events of the Theatrical Animation in the Television Era of Animation

It is difficult to identify exactly where the television era of animation began or ended.  I would label The Secret of NIMH in 1982 as the official start of the renaissance, but it would take animation several years to take off.  It is easiest to look at the sixties and seventies as the TV era, with some overlap in the fifties and eighties.  Theatrical efforts during this period was dwindling and sporadic, with few features and most studios closing their animation departments.  These are the few memorable events that eventually led to the renaissance.
10. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Disney's adaptation of Winnie the Pooh was released as three shorts in 1966, 1968 and 1974 before being packaged together in 1977.  Winnie the Pooh has become one of the most beloved franchises in animation.  Disney's adaptation really immortalized Milne's stories and these cartoons hold up better than almost any other cartoons of the sixties and seventies.  This simple, lovable cartoon was one of the few worthwhile efforts from Disney animators of the time.

9. Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
This short is a minute and a half including opening and closing credits and is composed of only one gag.  But it is a really good gag.  The timing and simplicity is perfect.  This represents the rise of independent animator's succeeding outside of the weak studio system.  This short had a large enough impact to earn the 39th slot in the book the 50 Greatest Cartoons.

8. Yellow Submarine (1968)
I have only been including American cartoons in these blog posts, and I suppose technically this is an American movie as it was made for the Beatles to finish their contract with United Artists.  Yellow Submarine was one of only a handful successful non-Disney animated features to succeed in theatres before 1985.  It is still commonly seen as a head trip, but the artistry is unique and iconic.  This movie represents one of the few times of the TV era that animation was able to tap into the zeitgeist.  This is one of the best animated features in history and remains a strong part of pop culture and the visuals are just as memorable as the Beatles' songs.

7. Pink Phink (1964)
Animation studios began closing or moving to television in the fifties.  By the sixties the grand tradition of the studio theatrical short was almost extinct.  However for a short while DePatie-Freleng, a new studio that was cofounded by legendary Termite Terrace member, Friz Freleng, brought the art form back.  DePatie-Freleng had animated the memorable title sequence for the Peter Sellars' movie and the sleek feline spun off into his own series in this fun short.  With its accent on music and almost minimalist style, Pink Panther cartoons were well animated and enjoyable.  DePatie-Freleng animated a few other characters and even took over Looney Tunes with forgettable new characters before going exclusively to television.  But starting a new animation studio that specialized in shorts at this time was a risk and DePatie and Freleng should be commended for it.  Their initial cartoon is still one of the most memorable shorts of all time.

6. Walter Lantz Calls it Quits (1972)
Walter Lantz is an interesting luminary in animation.  He did not innovate like his peers Walt Disney and Max Fliescher.  His cartoons did meet the artistic heights of Warner Bros., MGM or UPA in their heyday.  But Walter Lantz did not cut corners like Paul Terry or Famous Studios.  He was a good person that made good cartoons and was respected among in his field.  He gave a home to legendary animators Shamus Culhane, Dick Lundy, Tex Avery and others when they longed for a better working environment.  Probably the most notable accomplishment of this great man was that he outlasted all of his competitors.  He loved animation and did it longer than anyone.  In 1972, the man who had been creating animated shorts since 1929, closed his long running studio.  It may have closed without much fanfare, but the legacy and longevity of Lantz deserves acknowledgement.  His 43 years in the business is a testament to the power of passion.

5. Mary Poppins (1964)
Mary Poppins was a masterpiece.  Everything Walt did in animation, music and live-action led to this iconic feature and he was certainly recognized for it.  This is primarily considered a live-action movie, but the animation is what makes it a great fantasy.  Mary Poppins feels like a fantasy because she enters a world that is clearly animated and she interacts believably in it.  The combination of live-action and animation still holds up and has really only been matched by Roger Rabbit.  Mary Poppins has the heart of an animated feature.  It is one of the movies that can get stodgy critics and audiences to appreciate animation.  Animation can be used anywhere in any way.  This movie is a true testament to the art form.

4. Production of Thief and the Cobbler (Started Production in 1964, Still Kind of in Production)
Also a testament to passion is Richard Williams' unrealized magnum opus.  The failure for this movie to complete under its creator is one of Hollywood's greatest travesties.  Williams intended this to change the animated feature and had it been released in the sixties it likely would have.  Williams took many commercial projects such as A Christmas Carol, Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventures and Who Framed Roger Rabbit for which he won an Oscar to fund it.  However after losing control of the film after 28 years in production, it was shoddily completed and quietly released failing to live up to its creator's vision.  Williams, devastated, gave up on ever finishing his dream or even discussing it.  There is a cut on YouTube, edited by a fan utilizing test footage along with completed scenes.  The world never got to fully witness what Richard Williams had wanted to share, but the fact that during the sixties an animator was able to take that much of a risk was unheard of.  In a time when animation was strictly relegated for Saturday mornings this amount of effort and passion was incredible.

3. Don Bluth's Exodus (1979)
Disney's Nine Old Men were getting older and less active in the studio.  Disney animation had not been good in years.  One of the only highlights of Disney in the seventies was the work of Bluth which stood out in The Rescuers, Pete's Dragon and his directorial debut of Small One.  He was a leader at Disney, but he had grown frustrated with the legendary studio.  He took comrades Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy and sixteen other animators on an exodus to create his own studio and try to save the art form of animation.  The audacity and ambition of Bluth was almost unheard of in the seventies.  It took and his animators time to find success, but gradually they animated Banjo the Woodpile Cat, animation in Xanadu and finally Secret of NIMH which was the first important event of the renaissance.  After Land Before Time Bluth definitely lost his way and never really returned to the quality or influence of his first three features.  However leaving Disney in that fashion got people's attention and was something that needed to happen for things to change for the better.

2. Fritz the Cat (1972)
The most influential figure in animation during the TV era was Ralph Bakshi, a Terrytoons animator that changed the way people saw animation.  His features were controversial and shocking.  The first feature was the X-Rated Fritz the Cat, which was a huge box-office success.  The first cartoon that was really intended for adults without requiring accessibility for children.  From Fritz Bakshi went on to direct more adult features such as Heavy Traffic and American Pop as well as high fantasy features such as Wizards and Lord of the Rings.  Bakshi's features have not maintained popularity outside of the seventies, they were really products of their time.  However this was one of the most ambitious and risky moves an animator had ever made.  The influence of Bakshi is still with us today and he remains one of the most important, well-known names in animation history.

1. Death of Walt Disney (1966)
Animation had never suffered as much of a blow as when its spokesperson passed away.  His own studio which was the driving force in the industry for decades took almost 25 years to recover.  Now Walt's ambition had moved on from animated shorts and features as his focus shifted to live-action, television and theme parks.  But the spirit of animation spilled into every project he undertook.  With Mary Poppins being released two years prior to his passing one can only imagine how he might have followed it up or even topped it.  There has never been anyone like Walt Disney and the animation industry benefited immensely from his involvement and guidance.  His death really represented the end of the old guard and animation pioneers.

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