10 More Important Moments in Animation History

Over on Neatorma today, it a list of ten landmark moment in animation history. I can’t disagree with any of them, but I could not help but wonder whether there were more that are just as significant but not mentioned in the list. As it turns out, there is. Here are 10 more important moments in animation history

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs

As far as landmark moments go, this is the biggie. Not only was it the first feature length animated film, it also had numerous technical achievements, became the highest grossing film up until that point and legitimized animation as a serious form of entertainment and art. Suffice to say, it is still a magnificent film almost 80 years later and the fact that it is should be proof enough that it was a significant moment in animation history.

Hanna-Barbera Move To TV

The venerable MGM duo of William Hanna and Joe Barbera suddenly found themselves out on the ear in the early 1950s and through near desperation were forced to consider TV as a potential outlet for their creativity. Overcoming many obstacles including severe time and budget constraints, they managed to create a successful studio that made animation efficiently enough for the small screen. Needless to say that animated TV landscape could be very different today if Hanna-Barbera had not succeeded or even tried. True, UPA may have been the first, but H-B made it their bread and butter and made a rather decent living from it for many decades. (Obligatory link to Yowp, your definitive online repository for early Hanna-Barbera information)


As much of an influence as Hanna-Barbera had on televised animation, Massachusetts housewife Peggy Charren had an even greater one. Under the guise of the Action for Children’s Television organisation, she successfully eliminated many of the staple concepts of animated TV shows; namely cartoon violence and slapstick. In conjunction with downsized budgets in the 1970s, animated TV fare changed from the likes of Johnny Quest to the likes of Scooby Doo. Such changes were not necessarily the worst that the technique endured in that decade, but they did create a malaise in animated TV for much of the 70s and 80s that is still etched in many memories.


TRON was Disney’s first attempt at a full CGI-rendered feature film. Although it wasn’t as critically acclaimed as Star Wars, it did usher in the modern era of CGI animation that unfortunately remained dormant within Hollywood for over a decade. It also proved to Disney that computers could play a role in animation production, and through a long and complicated road, would eventually lead to CAPS, Disney’s computerized colouring system.

Cable TV

As mentioned above, ACT had a rather negative impact on TV animation. Thankfully, cable TV had just the opposite effect. Although both the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon were created in the early 1980s, it was not until the very early 90s that the power of the platform was realised. The original Nicktoons (Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy) were a blast of fresh air in the otherwise staid and predictable world of kids cartoons. Being creator-driven, they emphasised content and characters over brands and toys. Being so much funnier than the competition meant that Nickelodeon ran laps around competing broadcast networks and sold many millions of pieces of merchandise as a result. Although the concept has been in danger at times, the quality that creator-driven shows provide continues to set the bar for animated kids shows. Just look at the current crop (Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and SpongeBob) and how well they are doing.

The Simpsons

Yes, The Flintstones may have been the first, but The Simpsons took it all the way to eleven. Still limping along after 24 years, this show utterly changed the face of both animated television and television itself. Showing up the banality of contemporary shows, the Simpsons set the comedic and quality bar so high, it cannot reach it itself any more. Not only that, the Simpsons dragged animation back into the mainstream consciousness of the world and led directly to many imitators, stablemates (Futurama, Family Guy, King of the Hill) and erstwhile ‘mature’ shows (Adult Swim, Archer, etc.) Although it doesn’t shine nearly as bright as it used to, the Simpsons has and will be noted in the history books as the defining moment of televised animation around the world.

Beauty and the Beast Gets Nominated for Best Picture

Oh sure, animation had been showered with Academy Awards before (Snow White being the prime example) and a category for shorts had been in existence for many years. However animated films as genuine, dramatic entertainment was still shunned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences until Beauty and the Beast managed to get nominated for Best Picture. It sadly lost, but the effect was immense. Suddenly theatrical animation was no longer the sole preserve of those too young to drive, it could be enjoyed by adults just as easily. The nomination ultimately led to the creation of a category solely devoted to animated features whose effect on animation’s stature remains debatable.

Toy Story

The first wholly 3-D CGI animated film is entirely worthy of mention and has been ever since it came out in 1995. Much more than that though, Toy Story also ushered in a strikingly new form of animated film that shared much more in common with live-action films than animated ones up to that point. There were no musical numbers, a distinct lack of magic, cute sidekicks and a basis on existing stories. Yup, Toy Story was all-new, adult-friendly and a damned good film to boot. It’s influence has been cast over CGI films for well over 15 years and looks set to continue for the foreseeable future too.


Why does YouTube merit a mention here? The answer is simple. Until it was launched, if you wanted to see an animated short, you had to either: A) be near a big city where a screening might be held, B) work at a studio or C) make it yourself. The advent of YouTube meant than anyone anywhere could create, upload and watch animated shorts. Combined with the dramatic drop in the cost of computer power and you have an explosion of animated content (both good and bad) that has had an unfettering effect on how the public views the technique. What are the ultimate results of this explosion? It’s still too early to tell, but it is certain that they will make large waves in the 10 years or so to come.


Defining moments can be both good and bad and James Cameron’s Avatar merits a mention because it was, in all reality, an animated film albeit with human-powered movements. It completely blurred the line between what was animation, motion-capture and VFX and has set a defining moment for all three. Again, it is too early to tell what the ultimate effects will be, but even now, it is accepted that the bar has been raised. Now we just have to see what happens next.

8 thoughts on “10 More Important Moments in Animation History”

  1. One cannot underestimate the effect of “Steamboat Willie” on the industry. After its success, everyone wanted to release animated sound shorts.

  2. Slight inaccuracy here: Snow White was not the first animated feature film, even by a decade. The oldest surviving animated feature is ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ by Lotte Reiniger (1926), and the oldest known animated feature is an Argentine film called ‘El Apostol’ from 1917 (unfortunately, El Apostol has been lost).

  3. I think it’s a good breakdown. Personally, I wouldn’t give the final medal to Avatar as much as I would Terminator 2. It provided or attempted, to blur that line . Cameron had been working on it for a long time. I think T2 would have been one of the first genuine attempts to make a character interact with reality. But then I’d need to do more research.

    1. I agree, T2 was a great experiment. However that was largely an animated character interacting with a live-action environment whereas Avatar was the opposite; live-action characters interacting with an animated environment. For the purposes of this list, I plumped for the latter because of its influence on animation specifically.

      Live-action filmmaking will surely change too, but animated VFX has been a feature of that technique for decades now. Incorporating live-action into animation stretches back to the 30s and Avatar represents the next big step for that technology.

  4. Pingback: Page 2: Star Trek, Sesame Street, Gremlins, Toy Story, Terminator 2, Totoro, Wizard of Oz, Looper, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Hitchcock | Music Movie Magic

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