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"TV is such a monster. It swallows up all this animation so fast that nobody seems to care whether it's good or bad. These kids shows are badly done technically; it seems as though nobody really looks at them but the kids...the networks don't look at the show, they just look at the ratings. If the ratings are good, to heck with the show. They don't care whether it's just a bouncing ball."
The unfortunate successor to The Golden Age of Animation, slowly setting in at the late 1950s and slowly fading out at some point during the '80s . Limited Animation was the rule, not the exception during this time. Its start coincided with the Fall of the Studio System in Hollywood. The theatrical short slowly died off, and cartoons moved to television. Naturally, this era would leave a lasting impression on the American culture, for better or for worse, as the primary target audience for cartoons became children.
To start with, Limited Animation was primarily an artistic choice for animators like Chuck Jones and John Hubley who were tired of Disneyfication. With the death of UPA and MGM animation studios, it became primarily about saving time and money. Hanna-Barbera was very prominent during this time, thanks to how cheaply produced and rushed their television cartoons were. Filmation also got its start during this time, although it wouldn't hit its stride until much later during the '80s. In the meantime, it did give us shows like Star Trek the Animated Series (which was a continuation of the original show after it was canceled). However, like Hanna-Barbera, they also relied on notoriously low budget animation (possibly even more so than the other company) and corner cutting to get their cartoons out as quickly and cheaply as possible. Hanna-Barbera writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears also formed Ruby-Spears around this time and churned out a number of properties based on celebrities, toys, and other Animated Adaptations of sitcoms, mimicking their former employer's animated style to a T.
However, this does not mean everything from this era was bad. Disney's output remained generally respectable and generally well animated early on, although Walt Disney's continual lack of involvement with his films due to his focus on television and theme park projects at the time had a noticeable effect in quality on the '60s Disney films, and the inevitable death of the man hit the company extremely hard, sending their studio into a hard slump post-The Jungle Book. Although they would eventually begin to recover with their short adaptations of the Winnie the Pooh stories (which were later made into a feature) as well as The Rescuers, which was something of a throwback to the style of the older Disney films, thanks in part to a Mr. Don Bluth... mind you, he was an employee of Disney at one point in the past. However, Disney would still continue to struggle until the '80s.
Looney Tunes was still producing some decent and entertaining shorts late in The Fifties, as some of its most memorable shorts were from this decade. Animation quality was down, but the writing along with the direction of Chuck Jones managed to produce some timeless classics in spite of that. However, due to budget problems the Warner Bros. company forcibly shut down their animation studio for good in this era. (Although a brief revival was unsuccessfully attempted late during the 60s) But, the characters would get a revival in the form of the smash hit anthology repackaging series The Bugs Bunny Show, which reaired many of their old theatrical cartoons and, exposed to new generations, ultimately helped to immortalize the characters as pop culture icons. (And not just Warner Brothers, either; if any motion picture company had a theatrical short to their name, animated or not, they would be on the bandwagon.) The surviving Golden Age players were about to get back into the game, in a big way.
Limited Animation pioneer Hubley did his best work at UPA in the '50s, with shows such as Gerald McBoing-Boing. Later he left UPA and became a noted independent animator, producing a series of distinctive and personal films with his wife Faith. And this was a booming period for trippy, avant-garde European animation such as Fantastic Planet and Yellow Submarine. In Canada, the National Film Board of Canada encouraged exploration in all kinds of Deranged Animation techniques, most famously with the work of Norman Mclaren who produced wildly creative shorts like Begone Dull Care (Drawn On Film animation set to Oscar Peterson's jazz music), Neighbours (Pixiliation) and Pas Ex Deux (Ballet dance with optical printing enhancements).
Animator Ralph Bakshi, who got his start in this era working in the twilight years of Terry Toons, rose to prominence during this era thanks to Fritz the Cat. This film, along with Watership Down, challenged the idea that cartoons were solely "kids' stuff", an idea that was becoming increasingly popular at the time due to the diminishing quality of the cartoons of that time period, as well as people becoming overly familiar with the Disney style of family oriented entertainment coming out.
Bakshi would also go on to make an animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which despite extremely mixed critical reaction was ultimately a box office success. Heavy Metal would create its own cult interest late in the game (1981). Even Hanna-Barbera brought a respectable adaptation of Charlotte's Web to the big screen in 1973. And though Your Mileage May Vary on which, some cartoons from this era may have had mediocre to poor animation but were ultimately saved by good writing; shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle would be a particularly good example of that.
Also, Anime was making its first impact in North America with such imports as Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Star Blazers and Battle of the Planets. While it often was crudely Bowdlerized, the form's distinctive look and content created a cult following that would eventually grow into much more.
The Soviet Russia reversal, however, is still at its dirty job. Behind the "iron curtain", many USSR cartoons saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Some are dark, some are educational, some are just damn fun. And not only were successful inside the country (we're not even speaking about a huge amount of fans who loves them even today and makes English translations of these cartoons for you)... one even got a ton of awards. Considerably, the animation cut was not an option for Ivanov-Vano's cartoons made in this era, every one of which made you feel like you're back to Disney's times of rise when hand-drawn people and animals moved as smooth as never before (and after). However, Eastern European Animation also brought us Gene Deitch's Tom and Jerry shorts in the 1960s, which were...interesting to say the least.
Animation Age Ghetto is a trope that has its roots firmly planted in this era. Check it out to see the full impact of this era on the typical viewer's idea of a cartoon nowadays.
For this era's successor, see The Renaissance Age of Animation (which lasted from the 1980s through the '90s).
Characters, films and series that are associated with this era
- Alvin and The Chipmunks: The original 1960s series.
- American Pop: A drama film by Ralph Bakshi that came out at the end of the Dark Age.
- The Atom Ant Show
- Bambi Meets Godzilla: One of The 50 Greatest Cartoons.
- The Banana Splits
- Banjo the Woodpile Cat: Don Bluth's first solo project, which showed some light at the end of the very dark tunnel this era of animation was. A few years later, he would quit Disney and form his own animation company, which would fuel the animation renaissance.
- Beany and Cecil
- The Beatles
- Birdman (more notable for Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, its Millennium Age spoof than the actual show)
- Charlotte's Web (1973)
- Clue Club
- Coonskin (1975)
- Disney Animated Canon: This is known to some as Disney's "sketchy" period, referring to the style of animation these movies employed. Don Bluth got his start here as well, as anyone with a good eye for animation will be able to tell just by watching these. With the death of Walt Disney, the dark age of animation hit the company particularly hard. It wouldn't recover until the 1980s.
- One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
- The Sword in the Stone (1963)
- The Jungle Book (1967): The final film made while Walt was alive.
- The Aristocats (1970)
- Robin Hood (1973)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
- The Rescuers (1977)
- The Small One (1978): Shown in theaters with the re-release of Pinocchio.
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
- Felix the Cat: In the very late 1950s, Felix managed to snag himself a decent TV series, and even introduced his iconic magic bag of tricks, even though his character was still using the flanderized portrayal similar to the ill-fated 1930s Van Beuren Felix revival.
- The Flintstones
- Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles
- Fritz the Cat: Don't expect this one to be like any of the others on the list.
- The Funky Phantom
- Gerald McBoing-Boing: The popularity of UPA and its Limited Animation in The Fifties can be seen as the beginning of the 'dark age', though it would take a while for the cartoon studios' output to decline in quality. Nevertheless, it should be noted that it was the excellence of several UPA shorts, such as this one, that made Limited Animation acceptable.
- George of the Jungle
- The Godzilla Power Hour
- Goober and The Ghost Chasers
- Golden Book Video
- Harold and The Purple Crayon shorts: A Picture for Harold's Room (1971) and Harold's Fairy Tale (1974)
- Heavy Metal: Came out at the end of the Dark Age.
- Heavy Traffic
- The Hobbit and The Return of the King: Surprisingly good animation for its time, co-produced by Rankin/Bass Productions and Japan's Topcraft (which would later become an important contributor to Studio Ghibli).
- The Return of the King became noticeably darker in content and production quality, though.
- Hong Kong Phooey
- Hokey Wolf
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- The Huckleberry Hound Show
- Inch High Private Eye
- The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964): A Roger Rabbit Effect driven film.
- Jabberjaw: Pretty much Scooby Doo UNDER WATER with a shark that sounds like Curly.
- Jana of the Jungle
- The Jetsons
- Jonny Quest
- Josie and the Pussy Cats
- Laff a Lympics
- Looney Tunes in the Sixties: This era covers the final days of Termite Terrace before they closed the studio.
- Looney Tunes in the Seventies and Onward: Post-Termite Terrace.
- The Lord of the Rings: Specifically, Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation of it.
- Magilla Gorilla
- Mary Poppins: Had an animated segment which made use of the Roger Rabbit Effect.
- The Mighty Heroes
- Mighty Mouse
- Mr. Magoo
- The New Adventures of Superman
- The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat
- The Night the Animals Talked: An early '70s TV Christmas Special directed by Shamus Culhane.
- Peanuts (the various TV specials, The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, and feature films) — a high point of Limited Animation from the period, not so much for the graphics which were lifted directly from the newspaper comic as for the mature storytelling and jazzy soundtrack.
- The Perils of Penelope Pitstop
- The Pink Panther: Created by Friz Freleng, after he left the Warner Bros animation studios. Has strangely little to do with the live action films.
- The Plague Dogs by Martin Rosen, a followup to Watership Down which proved to be a Genre Killer for dark adult Western Animation due to its content. It's basically Grave of the Fireflies with puppies. Brad Bird worked on the film.
- Quasi at the Quackadero: One of The 50 Greatest Cartoons.
- Quick Draw McGraw
- Raggedy Ann and Andy A Musical Adventure
- The Robonic Stooges, as well as the earlier The Three Stooges cartoon that included live action segments.
- Rocky and Bullwinkle
- Roger Ramjet
- Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies
- Schoolhouse Rock
- Scooby Doo and its many clones
- Sealab 2020, (more notable for its Millennium Age spoof Sealab 2021)
- Secret Squirrel: The original incarnation.
- Space Ghost
- Speed Buggy
- Star Trek the Animated Series
- The Thief and the Cobbler was produced during this period. By which we mean the entire thirty-year duration of the period, before its creator Richard Williams lost control of the project after briefly obtaining funding to distribute it following the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, one of the films that definitively ended The Dark Age of Animation.
- Tom and Jerry: Revived three times during this era. First by Gene Deitch (the less said, the better), then by Chuck Jones (generally considered the best produced theatrical cartoons of the 1960s, though that isn't saying much), and finally as a Hanna-Barbera TV series (which Flanderized the characters beyond recognition, ironically by the very people who created them in the first place).
- Top Cat
- Wacky Races
- Wait Till Your Father Gets Home: The Ur Example of the animated dysfunctional family (think All in The Family if it were a cartoon series), which would later inspire all the FOX animated sitcoms about dysfunctional or quasi-dysfunctional families (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show).
- The Wall, with its animated segments.
- Watership Down by Martin Rosen. Concept drawings by John Hubley for the dream sequences. Hubley wanted to do the whole film in Limited Animation using Aboriginal-style 60s-70s primitive expressionism. He left the film over "creative differences" with Rosen, who wanted detailed and bloody naturalism. You decide which parts of the film are more disturbing.
- Winky Dink
- Woody Woodpecker: His theatrical cartoons would keep going up till 1972, and he also had a hit TV series appearing during this era.
- Yellow Submarine: featured a whos-who of British animation from the period. And The Beatles.
- Yogi Bear
Animators who are directly associated with this era
- David DePatie and Isidore "Friz" Freleng
- Norman Prescott and Louis Scheimer
- William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
- Ralph Bakshi: Got his start early in this era as a worked at Terrytoons during its late years, later became the most prominent independent animator in this time period.
- John Kricfalusi got his start late in this era as a worker at Filmation. He does not have fond memories of the place.
- Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, producers of most of the classic Christmas Specials
- Chuck Jones
- John Hubley: helped pioneer Limited Animation as high art during his tenure at UPA studios before being shown the door; died prior to release of Watership Down.
- Gene Deitch
- Don Bluth
- June Foray: Did a lot of the voice acting she was famous for during this era.
- Osamu Tezuka: Started doing animation in this era.
- Osamu Dezaki: Started at Mushi (Osamu Tezuka's studio) in this era.
- Hayao Miyazaki: Started at Toei Animation in this era.
- Ken Ruby and Joe Spears, who founded Ruby-Spears around this time.
- Isao Takahata: Yet he came from Nippon Dogasha during The Golden Age of Animation of the 1940s (Post World War 2), He did many things when Nippon Dogasha became Toei Animation in this era.
- Yasuo Otsuka
- Yoichi Kotabe
- Bob Clampett
Tropes that are associated with this era
- Animal Superheroes: Mighty Mouse, Atom Ant, Underdog, Batfink...
- Animated Adaptation: for example, The Three Stooges cartoons, Star Trek the Animated Series, Filmation's adaptations of Batman, Superfriends, The Beatles, etc.
- Animation Age Ghetto
- A notable aversion is Star Trek the Animated Series, which remains the only Trek series to earn an Emmy Award in a non-technical field.
- Band Toon
- Conspicuously Light Patch
- Deranged Animation: It was The Sixties after all. Many people mistakenly think this trope started during this era, which is not the case.
- Dork Age: In full swing with many established franchises at this point in time.
- Everybody Do the Endless Loop
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending
Scooby Doo: Scooby-dooby-doo!
- Expy:If a character was popular and successful during that era another cartoon show will make a character very similar to that character .
- Five-Man Band
- Follow the Leader:If a cartoon was successful during that era you can expect another new cartoon series that will have the same style and be very similar to that show .
- Gratuitous Animal Sidekick / Team Pet: Moptop, along with two pandas.
- Half-Hour Comedy
- Humans Are White
- Laugh Track: Why they'd need it in animation, who knows. But many of the shows were basically sitcoms on lower budgets than live action.
- Lazy Artist
- Limited Animation
- Limited Wardrobe
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Hanna-Barbera, which owned most of the popular cartoon characters on television at the time, was able to do this a lot.
- Motionless Chin
- Narm Charm
- Nostalgia Filter: Chances are if you grew up in the 1960s or '70s, you probably have fond memories of the cartoons of this era. Or if you grew up from '90-'95 and watched a lot of Cartoon Network when these old shows were most of their programming.
- Offscreen Crash
- Prime Time Cartoon: This trend lasted until the late 1960s (save for numerous animated specials), though it has been revived during the beginning of The Renaissance Age of Animation.
- Recycled in Space: A recurring theme (Jabberjaw is Scooby-Doo under water, The Mighty Mightor was Space Ghost as a caveman, Gilligan's Planet LITERALLY had the Castaways in space, etc.), particularly for the Sat AM Hanna-Barbera and Filmation cartoons.
- Ring Around the Collar
- Saturday Morning Cartoon: Saturday Morning cartoons experienced their heyday during this period. Not only were Hanna-Barbera cartoons regular airings, but cartoons from The Golden Age of Animation would be exposed to a new generation, and in some cases, become even more widely popular than they were originally.
- Scooby-Dooby Doors
- Speech-Impaired Animal
- Team Pet
- Unmoving Plaid
- Wacky Racing
- Wraparound Background
- You Meddling Kids: In all the Scooby-Doo-esque shows.
- the Dark Age ended for animated movies some time before the change would spread to television as well, not fully disappearing until Disney and Warner improved television animation standards in the late '80s and early '90s
- Much like the debate over Flash Animation quality today.