Monday, June 2, 2014

Animation & Me

My history with animation goes all the way back to childhood.  Like most children of the seventies, I grew up with Disney films and Television.  The Disney shorts were fun when I was younger, but around the age of 8 or 9 they were not really my thing.  The Feature films, I still enjoy most of to this day. I have fond memories of watching various animated shows with my brother, and sometimes with my uncle, Bob.  In the Seventies and Eighties Saturday mornings were king for animated fare.  Also anyone who grew up prior to the eighties remembers that feature Films were preceded by animated shorts. Today that seems to be limited to Disney and Pixar.  In the seventies and prior each of the studios had its animated stable:  Warner Brothers had the Looney Tunes, Universal had Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy, United Artists had The Anteater and the Ant as well as the Pink Panther, MGM had Tom & Jerry, Droopy Dog and Screwy Squirrel, Paramount had Popeye, Betty Boop, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Baby Huey, 20th Century Fox had Terrytoons, and so on.  By the mid seventies new shorts were no longer in production like they used to be and by the eighties you rarely saw them at all.  Instead of covering things in a chronological order, I am going to cover things in more a genre or Studio based format.

Warner Brothers: 

Let’s start with a studio whose work I still admire to this day.  Originally Warner Brother was all about the Looney Tunes.  In the Seventies the old shorts were seen on both network and syndication.  They were everywhere.  These shorts have always been targeted to a broader audience.  They had jokes that would go right above the heads of kids.  Going back and re-watching them is fun, one finds jokes one did not get when younger.  Even after the production of the shorts slowed down they were still presented on Television.  In the Nineties Warner Brothers started to produce their own animated shows as opposed to repackaging older material.  This started with Tiny Toons and Batman: The Animated Series.  Now Warner Brothers Animation seems limited to DC Comics properties and Looney Tunes.  With the Batman Animated Series, Warner Brothers started a long string of DC superhero animated shows that led to direct-to-video DC Universe Films. All of these I have been a big fan of.  I have not hidden the fact I prefer DC to Marvel.  The Direct-to-Video films have been targeted to a more mature audience with a PG to PG-13 rating.  Warner Brothers Looney Tunes properties led to Animaniacs, Histeria!, Freakazoid, and Pinky & the Brain. Most of those were produced by Steve Spielberg prior to his starting Dreamworks.  They tried to resurrect the Looney Tunes philosophy with modern sensibilities.  In most cases they were very successful.  As a kid watching the old Looney Tunes shorts I noticed Director and their specific styles: Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Robert McKimson.


As a kid growing up in the Seventies there was one animation studio that was all over Saturday Morning.  That is Filmation; their last big work was He-Man and She-Ra.  For me it started with the 60’s DC Superhero shows, Superman, Aquaman and Batman.  These included the Atom, The Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Superboy and the Teen Titans.  As a DC Comics fan I loved these.  I ate them up, funny thing is they started before I was born.  In the Seventies through syndication quite a few show remained in circulation long after their original air dates.  Filmation did a number of TV and Film adaptations into 30 minute animated shows.  This included Star Trek, Fantastic Voyage, Brady Bunch, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, My Favorite Martian, The New Adventures of Gilligan, and Gilligan's Planet.  They also did Shazam/ Captain Marvel, Archie, Flash Gordon, Zorro, Tarzan, the Lone Ranger, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and more licensed shows.  They produced a few live-Action kid shows as well, including Shazam.  They tried a few original concepts including their show the Ghostbusters; their version pre-dates the Film by a decade.  Their animation style seems by the early eighties a bit clunky.  The studio was also notorious for re-using certain scenes in multiple episodes, this was not unheard of in other studios.  They seemed to do it more often with more shows.  One of their most famous shows was Fat Albert and the Cosby kids.  The studio went out of business in 1989.  By that time He-Man’s popularity had waned.  Filmation was fun for me because of the Action Adventure shows they produced.  As I got older their roughness of their animation styles grated against me.


Hanna-Barbera Cartoons were everywhere during the Seventies and early Eighties.  When I was little it was the comedy shorts with Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound Snagglepuss, Hong Kong Phooey, Wally Gator, Suiddley Diddley and so on.  Later I got interested in their action shows lick Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Bird Man, the Herculoids and more.  The big kicker was the introduction of the Super Friends in 1973.  It was Justice League lite, for a 5 year old Superhero and DC Comics fan it was pure gold.  Super Friends lasted till 1986, and yes I watched it till then.  The Hanna-Barbera shows were everywhere in the 60’s and 70’s.  They started to wane in the 80’s.  When they were acquired by Turner Broadcasting in the 90’s they began a resurgence.  They produced new shows for Cartoon network and old shows were re-run there and on Boomerang. By 1999, they became Cartoon Network Studios. Their legacy still shows.

Walter Lantz Productions:

Walter Lantz Studios, later Productions, produced Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, and other shorts for Universal Studios. I was never a big fan.  My brother looped the laugh from an old Woody Woodpecker children’s 45 record as a form of torture.  There has been a revival, but the character looks more like his 40’s version.  The Lantz Productions work was good, but I seemed like a pale version of Disney or Looney Tunes. 

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises:

Director/Producer Friz Freleng and executive David H. DePatie started this studio in 1963.  They did quite a few shorts for United Artists including Pink Panther, The Ant and the Aardvark, The Dogfather and MisterJaws.  They did a few Television series and specials then sold their studio to Marvel.  The Pink Panther shorts were good, but highly stylized.  They did a few Dr. Seuss specials, I enjoyed them.  Their Marvel Superhero work prior to becoming Marvel was good for its time. 

Marvel Animation:

This section is not one studio but many.  Marvel animated series were produced by several different studios over the years.  Now with their own Film and Television studios, Marvel keeps everything in house.  This is more evident after their Purchase by Disney.  As said before, I am more of a DC Comics fan.  Many of these shows were fun and at the time some of the best on Television.  Spider-man (1967) with its famous song was a great show for its time.  It captured the Silver Age exploits well.  The 1981 Spider-man show and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends were fun for their time.  By the time the X-Men, produced by Saban, came out I was in my twenties.  During this period I drifted from some Animated Television shows.  Recently I have enjoyed the shows shown on Disney Channel and the Direct-to-video Films from Marvel. 


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM were known for their Shorts from 1937 to 1957.  Fred Quimby and later Hanna-Barbera ran the Cartoon Studio.  The Studio was known for Droopy Dog, Screwy Squirrel, Barney Bear, Tom & Jerry, Spike & Tyke, and George and Junior.  Tex Avery and Hanna-Barbera are the stand out animators coming from this studio.  Avery did most of his most famous work here.  In 1957 the studio shut down.  MGM sub contracted various studios to make Tom & Jerry shorts up until the 1960’s.  Personally I love these shorts including the Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry cartoons from the 1960’s.  Avery and Chuck Jones are two of my favorite animators.  Avery’s work for MGM was phenomenal.  In the 1980’s MGM Animation was created it mostly handled Don Bluth Productions except those handled with Steven Spielberg. Since 2000, the studio has not been that active.

Ruby-Spears Productions:

In the mid late 1970’s this studio was started by two former Hanna-Barbera employees.  They operated till 1996.  They were known for a style very similar to Hanna-Barbera’s.  Their well known shows were Fangface, Plastic Man, Thundarr the Barbarian, Superman (1988) and various licensed properties.  They were decent productions I enjoyed them till the late 1980’s.  By that time, I was not as much into what was happening in animated shows. 


Terrytoons was one of the original Animation studios it existed from 1929 to 1968.  It was known for Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, Gandy Goose, Sourpuss, Dinky Duck, Luno, Hector Heathcote, Deputy Dawg, and The Mighty Heroes.  This is the studio were Ralph Bakshi got his start.  As a kid I loved Mighty Mouse and the Mighty Heroes, the rest of the Terrytoons characters fell flat for me.  I was especially not fond of Heckle and Jeckle.  Other than the two Superhero themed works I found Terrytoons not the greatest in character or animation.

Fleischer Studios/ Famous Studios/ Paramount Cartoon Studios:

Fleischer Studios were distributed by Paramount they were famous for Popeye, Superman (1941-1942), and Betty Boop.  The Fleischer Studios work was the chief competitor of Disney.  The studio closed in 1942.  Paramount in 1942 started Famous Studios (Paramount Cartoon Studios 1952).  Paramount Cartoon Studios closed in 1967.  They continued the Popeye and Superman Cartoon and added Little Audrey, Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Honey Halfwitch, Herman & Katnip, Barney Google & Snuffy Smith, Krazy Kat, Little Lulu, Beetle Bailey and Baby Huey to their line-up of shorts.  I grew up on Popeye cartoons, but the ones not made by Paramount from the 1960’s.  They seemed primitive in animation style.  The Casper, Baby Huey and I others I loved.  Funny thing I never saw the old Superman shorts till I was an adult.  I grew up with most of these cartoons.  They were not my favorites, but when I re-watch them I have fond memories.


My experiences with Anime go way back.  As a kid I watched Kimba the White Lion. Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets AKA G-Force, Star Blazers and as a pre-teen Robotech.  These examples of Japanese Animation or Anime were not exactly what was found in Japan.  They were many times re-scripted and the storylines were changed when dubbed in English.  Robotech took 3 different Anime series and unified them.  Those original shows were The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA.  It was not till 1988 when I saw Akira in the Theater did a see an unmolested version of Anime.  This was dubbed so it may have altered things to make it understandable to English speaking audiences.  In the Early 90’s Anime still was not coming to the U.S. without being re-written and re-edited.  There were folks making their own subtitled versions from bootlegged Japanese shows and movies.  Soon that changed, companies saw that there was a demand for Japanese Anime that was not re-edited or re-written.  My local video stores did not carry many anime before 1996.  I used to go to Tigard or Beaverton and rent Anime.  I also used to accompany the viewing with Sushi.  I have seen many movies and shows up until 2000.  When I was with Barbara she hated anything Japanese.  Gone were my Sushi and Anime nights.  I have not tried that since I left.  I may need to restart that tradition.  I know I have seen Vampire Hunter D, Appleseed, Ranma1/2, Captain Harlock, Grave of the Fireflies, Ninja Scroll, Crying Freeman, Blood the Last Vampire, The Fist of the North Star, Project A-ko, The Big O, and Dirty Pair.  There have been more, but those are what I can remember.  Since my life change I caught up with Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra.  Although they were American produced and written shows, they are heavily styled and influenced by Anime.  I enjoy the art and the difference in cultural perspective that Anime gives me. 

Here is what I feel about the various Animations studios and Anime.  That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.  

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