Disposable Animation: More Prevalent Than Ever?

Art is always held in high cultural esteem, yet only the best and most widely acclaimed retain any kind of longevity. The rest is quite literally disposable as any dumpster behind a library will happily attest to. Animation is no different than any other art, and just like them, the internet has brought about an even greater degree of disposable animation and produced a real struggle to create cartoons with any sense of quality, and timelessness.

Via:  Traflaz

Via: Traflaz

Watch any Van Beuren cartoon and the title of this post will never ring more true. Cheap, repetitive animation has been around since the very beginning and over the years its popularity has waxed and waned as the economic cycles that plague entertainment in general hold sway over the industry. If it wasn’t Van Beuren in shorts, it was Hanna-Barbera in TV, or many of the countless outfits that have popped up on YouTube and other places in the last few years.

So it’s always existed, and likely always will. The credo behind it will remain as well; cheap cartoons make for a quick buck, and the public will lap them up regardless. Shorts, features, TV shows, and web animation are all afflicted, both in the past and the present day. Little attention is paid to the art or the craft because, well, they’re irrelevant aren’t they? Profit needs to be made now not later, and nobody has the patience to wait any length of time for a picture to recoup its costs.

One studio boss became famous for eschewing such an approach and instead put as much effort as was possible into his shorts. Walt Disney was no fool, and he knew the value in making something with timeless appeal. His company survives today, but more importantly even if it did not, his shorts and features would still be well known and well liked because they can hardly be seen as ‘disposable’.

Hanna-Barbera and others faced severe financial pressures to control costs in the early days of the televised medium, yet they were still able to innovate and conceive hits like The Flintsones. It was only when the effort to create innovative art was stifled by regulation that their output rapidly declined into the malaise of the 1970s and 1980s. Formulaic, repetitive shows ruled, and although they retain a degree of cult status, they are not exactly considered true classics.

TV by its very nature emphasises the new over the old, but even its business model is keenly aware of the value in great animation: the Warner Bros. and MGM theatrical shorts found a new lease of life on the small screen because they were cheap to broadcast, but they were also good enough to attract and retain audiences for decades.

Which leads us to the web; a place even more vapid and flippant than television. The sheer explosion of content may be constrained by similar forces to the early days of TV animation, but, that has also resulted in an even more disposable culture surrounding animated web series’ and shorts.

The reasons are the same as early theatrical shorts: there’s not enough money to devote expensive resources, audiences don’t care for added quality, and they can’t be released fast enough.

The end result is that we have an awful lot of animated content, but very little that could be said to be ‘good quality’ or anything even close to it. ‘Serviceable’ is probably a good a description as any, but such animated content is instantly forgettable; it is consumed and discarded. It is art, but it merely exists within the cultural environment; taking nothing, contributing nothing.

Having read Bob Thomas’ biography of Walt this past week while on holiday, what struck me was Walt’s resolute dedication to achieving the best quality permissible. He knew he was innovating in numerous areas, and he also understood that in order to gain acceptance of his developments, he had to make them as polished as possible.

Looking around the internet today, it’s really hard to see any sort of similar dedication to the art. While animation in general is growing in popularity, it is doing so at the expense of timelessness. Almost every webseries currently being distributed will have very little commercial value in even five years time.

Given the similarities between today’s web landscape and that of the early part of Hollywood’s Golden Age, where is our modern-day Walt Disney? Where is the animator striving to push the art in new directions with new technology? Where is the person who is looking at the formulaic, lowbrow, anaemic style of storytelling of the web and saying “the audience deserves better!”? Where is the ambitious artist who recognises that the animated entertainment that rises above the crowd will do so forever?

In a sea of disposable, forgettable animation, we cry out for the the fearless individual that is not content simply making animation for the sake of making animation, but produces great animation for the sake of making great, timeless art.

5 Comments on “Disposable Animation: More Prevalent Than Ever?

  1. Interesting article and true points about not just animation, but Fiction in general.

    It’s refreshing to read someone as you explaining the merits of animation not just was were greatly done in the pseudo-Hollywood’s Golden Age but to a man like Walt Disney have contributing hard to make the Animation on a Global Artform and put the impossible… Possible. I look to any TV Animation and newer contents any day and i barely find anything who look worth to what i remember of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, the Disney animated features and shorts or even my personal favourites TV shows from i having 7 to 20. And by some conclusion and despite their merits, most of the MGM cartoons (Outside of Tex Avery obviously) are easily forgettable and that proves well enough.

    That kind of disposable and garbage material seem to happen too much in the Fiction Novel as well. In the wake of Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, Divergence and others fashionable long stories, what will be their impact in the next five years? Twilight was fooled by a mediocre movies series and 50 Shades of Grey was claim in one of the worst full-length features ever. Do their authors have actually read a Novel from the greatest authors ever as Victor Hugo? Where they find their inspirations outside of those copious Fanfics online? Did in a time to be translate, their translators invented some dialogues because they don’t care of what the writer actually trying to say? Or did the authors themselves live nowadays in their comfort zone and isolated from the real world? As a author and cartoonist myself, it’s like said most consumers don’t care if it’s quality or not, as long they sells well for put profits for the next movie release who is probably the real reason why this Fanfics things comes to life.

    As animation, Fiction Novel came now as a very lucrative business who is no longer put an effort to understand what they trying to say but expose on a land where the pleasure to read something for change to glue from our Tablet is morphed to a land where characters are no longer peoples but puppets. When the places remains the same, no matter what you read and the stories look similar even if it goes from different locations. The comics-books from the 60’s were great and still do today because their authors having really care of their readers and fans but was snubbed by egocentric peoples who vaunted good literature to repetition by claims THIS modern novels as good reading. We need authors who know how make a captivate story, knows the subject they writing out and care to contribute on their development without wait a reward back.

    • Great points Martin!

      I’m actually in the middle of reading ‘Fangirl’ (by Rainbow Rowell), where the protagonist is a pretty devoted fanfic writer that has to grapple with the first year of university.

      It’s been a pretty interesting read, and echos some of your thoughts; namely that the part of the beauty of artistic creation is coming up with something truly original and personal. Needless to say, the protagonist in the book struggles with this.

      I would say that disposable culture is an easy path for many creators to take, and for consumers to follow. My hope is that as our culture continues to develop work its way through the digital transformation, we will start to see a new emphasis on the contribution to the greater good that art can accomplish.

  2. One thing I’ve really been pushing is the idea that animation, especially in the realm of family-oriented entertainment, is much more apt to cross generations in its appeal and the effect that it has on the people who watch it. If you really think about it, it makes absolutely no sense that commercial suits see this medium and the genres that comprise the bulk of its content as “disposable” because it should logically be bad business sense as well. Think of it this way; you are hooking potential customers in when they’re young, but if the quality is good enough, not only will those kids will gain more appreciation of it as adults, but you will open up the franchise’s marketing potential to future generations who will be introduced to it by the older generations, and also hook in a potential enthusiast market with spending power and brand loyalty. It’s these executives who rely on market research and trying to be the “in-thing”, without a creative bone in their bodies, that allow this “disposable” work to be cranked out.

    What’s wrong in this case is that these kinds of people are not thinking long-term. They want the most benefit in the least time with the least effort.

    Believe me, if I had the money, the time, the experience, and the manpower, I would make sure I make memorable things, because forgettable things aren’t worth making. What’s so wrong with making an impact?

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