Will the “CalArts Style” eradicate all originality on television forever? Is there a dark conspiracy afoot by a monopolistic academic institution to control the look and feel of every animated TV series?
Of course not, don’t be THAT guy. But if you need convincing otherwise, this excellent video from Channel Frederator summarizes where animation has been, where it’s going, and why “the CalArts Style” is an insult founded on nothing.
A more general term for what people are concerned about is The Dork Age, a period when a studio or network’s output just isn’t very inspired, for some reason. Is that what’s happening now? Not even close.
Have a seat, kids…I’m gonna tell you about a REAL Dork Age, one that took place when I was about as tall as you are right now. The 90s were full of innovative, smart, creative toons that played to both adults as well as children. Then, somehow, as the decade came to a close a shift started occurring…bolstered by the “success” of Disney’s Doug and Recess, kids’ TV makers started to focus on “relatable” concepts set strictly in and around school, with dumbed-down dialogue and jokes to match. These shows were no longer respecting the intelligence of children; they were writing down to children in a condescending way. They weren’t just unfunny, they were boring.
Cartoon Network was still evergreen with its hip Cartoon Cartoons lineup, but as the 2000s went on even that network turned rotten as the animation got cheaper and the concepts got less inspired. As a result, the Internet was overflowing with outrage about “kids these days” and how 90s cartoons were so much better (much of that ranting can be found on the forum archives of this very website). A lot of the outrage was directed not at just Rocket Power but cartoons that, it turned out, no kid was actually watching, such as Super Duper Sumos, Teamo Supremo or Fighting Foodons (a 4Kids-dubbed anime).
But some of the outrage WAS deserved. There were exceptions like Avatar and Kim Possible, but the 2000s were a dim period for kids’ TV and it didn’t let up until Adventure Time premiered in 2010. There may be an overemphasis on humor right now, but today’s cartoon makers enjoy more creative freedom, better animation, less censorship, and are generally allowed to have more FUN than at any previous time in TV history. And it shows in the witty, hilarious toons they put out. If you complain about Thundercats Roar simply because of what it looks like, you’re missing the point and you lack the life experience to know what a bad reboot truly looks like. I lived through Loonatics Unleashed, people. This is nothing.
And the people before me had it even worse! Imagine growing up with Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry, and then turning on the TV in your twenties and seeing nothing but cheap toyetic shows. Imagine living through the 70s and having absolutely nothing to watch except Scooby Doo clones. You wanna talk about a Dork Age? The worst show on today is better than the best show from back then.
Things could be so much worse than they are. Everything could be Flash-animated or cheap imports. Parental watchdog groups could still be strong enough to hold their thumb down and wash everything funny or interesting from every kids’ show. Poser cartoons about Totally Cool Dudes with bad one-liners could come back. Computer animation could take over TV the way it has movies and ACTUALLY homogenize how every show looks. The universe is constantly changing…sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. You could very well be staring at an uninspired CN lineup in the year 2028 and whining out loud for shows like Thundercats Roar again.
Cartoons are far less insulting today than they have been in the past…they just express it with lots of rounded corners and goofy expressions. And if that’s all we have to worry about in our modern age, we have it pretty good.