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Deader Than Disco: Western Animation
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    General 
  • Western Animation in general for much of its existence. See Film.
  • The onetime staple of Saturday morning cartoons became this in The New Tens. Many TV stations/network affiliates sold off their Saturday time slots for more lucrative infomercials and sports blocks. Fox went the infomercial route, CBS, ABC, and NBC switched to E/I (Edutainment) fare to meet federal mandates, and the last holdout, The CW, dropped its cartoon block in favor of E/I fare in 2014. The edutainment shows on CBS, ABC, and The CW are live-action efforts produced by Litton Entertainment, while NBC has a few cartoons in an otherwise live-action block repurposed from PBS Kids Sprout.
  • On the same note, the day of daily cartoons is long over, with a season of 60+ episodes like most of the toy-driven series of the 1980s and early 1990s being unthinkable and unfeasible.
  • The concept of programming blocks in general, since networks can just create a niche channel like The Hub or TV Land to run those sort of shows 24 hours a day.
  • Any kid-oriented cartoons where human adults are the central main characters. Protagonists are now almost always kids, usually tweens or younger (teenage protagonists older than 14 are becoming rarer although both Ben Tennyson and Finn the Human have aged past this line) with adults as background supporting characters (if they are present at all). Even in anime expys such as Voltron Force, the original adult characters are now supporting characters with the preteen/teen protagonists as the main focus. Cartoons such as G.I. Joe, however, revolve exclusively around adult characters. This is one of the reasons why a cartoon series revival is doubtful. The only notable exceptions are Marvel and DC superhero based cartoons, but even shows like X-Men: Evolution and Legion of Super Heroes choose to de-age the characters and make them teens instead of 20 or 30-somethings. There is a general consensus that adult characters leave little room for character growth or development. Also, kids generally prefer protagonists that they can relate to. Currently, the only cartoons (not counting FOX's prime time shows or superhero adaptations) featuring adults as protagonists are Dan Vs. and Uncle Grandpa (though the main characters on Regular Show and The Looney Tunes Show are adults, they're not human and therefore not really adults, don't ask).
    • Let's note that the Legion of Super Heroes started out as teenagers, and only became "20 or 30-somethings" over time in a rare case of actual (if slow) passage of time for characters in superhero comics.
  • Slice-of-life cartoons such as Doug, Hey Arnold!, and Rugrats, featuring plots that could conceivably happen in real life. Most cartoon comedy shows now are heavy on slapstick and increasingly crazier plots (e.g., Uncle Grandpa). This is for the sake of the success of Sponge Bob Square Pants and because of that, shows became more centered around how surreal you could make a cartoon and focusing on the jokes instead of characters. The few exceptions to this — and they are generally adult-oriented, as opposed to the kid-aimed above-mentioned shows — are arguably American Dad!, The Cleveland Show, Ugly Americans (although that's in an Alternate Universe) and King of the Hill.
  • Independent companies that produce cartoons and other childrens programming have also all gone defunct in the U.S. Some may now still exist solely on paper as acquired properties of larger corporate entities such as Disney. This was the fate of Marvel Productions (The Transformers, G.I. Joe), for example. Others such as Filmation (He-Man, Fat Albert) have long since folded, its library having become the property of a progression of corporations before finally being acquired by Dreamworks. DIC (Inspector Gadget) has also folded, its properties assimilated into the Cookie Jar Group, which itself was merged into DHX Media. After the deaths of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Hanna-Barbera now exists in name only, having been absorbed into the Cartoon Network. DVD releases of older cartoons tend to preserve the logos of the original production company in the interest of artistic integrity. Animation is actually expensive. Although most companies (except Filmation) attempted to cut costs by outsourcing their animation to Asia, there is an even more underlying reason for the 80s animation renaissance. Chiefly there were toy company tie-ins (toy companies being a major source of capital at the time) and the heavy advertising support, most of the advertising targeting children. There are now heavy government sanctions against these. Now, most American cartoon shows are created under the corporate umbrella of large networks or studios such as Disney (or subsidiaries like Pixar), DreamWorks Animation, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon.
  • Animated adventure/action series: The underlying reason may be the moral guardians backlash against cartoon violence, even though a majority of these series were bloodless (a notable exception for its time being Jonny Quest). Other shows featured characters solving mysteries (Scooby-Doo and its clones) or seriocomic romps featuring Punch Clock Villains ,other types of second string villains, or antagonists that just need to learn An Aesop of the week (Many Filmation shows). With the current trend of younger protagonists, (see this page's entry about adults in cartoons), it became less plausible for them to go about unsupervised, getting embroiled in exciting adventures away from home, especially when they aren't old enough to even hold driver's licences.
  • Trippy Children's shows: Many live action and animated children's shows of the 1970s and 80s were very flamboyant, kaliedoscopic and sometimes bordered on hallucinogenic in their visuals and designs. The Kroffts started with their seeming drug references in shows like H.R. Pufnstuf. Lidsville was also pretty out there. It may have started in The Sixties with Gene Deitch's bizzare output which includes a brief stint on Tom and Jerry. Filmation, while notorious for limited animation did have beautifully drawn landscapes as well as some very trippy special effects for some of their shows. The Brown Hornet segments of Fat Albert were decidedly madcap in their design and execution. Doctor Snuggles embraced a visual style that is noticeably similar to Yellow Submarine and had several plots involving Alien Catnip. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) frequently depicted Eternia as a place that had a little of about everything. One episode, The Search For He Man included a scene that was clearly said in DVD liner notes to be directly inspired by Steve Ditko art for Doctor Strange (yet another entity that got posed the question quite often). Through The Seventies and The Eighties, there was a prolific flow of trippy animation that appeared in television commercials and even film (Fantastic Planet and Light Years)). The 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon Kidd Video even convinced cast members that the animators were on something. In most cases, the writing was as equally trippy as the visuals and sometimes contained adult references that kids would not pick up on. The rise of political correctness of The Nineties, the waning of the psychedelic influence from The Sixties, the "Drug Free workplace and lifestyle" attitudes of corporate studios (originally, such companies apparently didn't care what you indulged in on your own time) and finally, the fact that we are still asking this question decades later, all conspired to put an end to this kind of content and execution in children's shows.
  • Grossout cartoons were absolutely HUGE in the early-mid '90s. At a time when the more saccharine cartoons of the previous decade were starting to phase out, the surprise success of shows like The Ren & Stimpy Show and Beavis And Butthead had networks scrambling to get their own piece of the pie. This led to a large amount of similar shows; In fact, it was hard to think of a major channel that aired cartoons that didn't have at least one show of this variety. As the decade wrapped up however and some of these shows ended, the appearance of newer cartoons of this ilk became much rarer. When John Kricfalusi tried his hand at two new shows in the millennium (Ren And Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon and The Ripping Friends), they were rather big duds and soon cancelled. Although some modern cartoons have the grossout element intact (such as SpongeBob), it's doubtful that this genre will be as heavily popular as it was years back.
  • Animation in the form of television commercials or educational shorts. Countless breakfast cereal commercials were animated (Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Monster Cereals (ex: Frankenberry and Count Chocula). Also memorable were prolific animated commercials for Levis jeans, Crest toothpaste, Hawaiian Punch, Charms Blowpops, and the Keebler Elves. Many tie-in toy commercials featured newly animated appearances by characters (such as The Transformers and G.I. Joe) even in some cases where they didn't actually have a cartoon show yet. Educational shorts are remembered especially in the form of Schoolhouse Rock, Bod Squad, Zack of all Trades, and Time For Timer. There were many other such shorts by independent, non-profit organizations. They typically served as non-commercial filler between childrens shows. The Seventies was an ideal time for cheaply produced animation due to the heavy glut of American animators who found themselves unemployed after the early sixties due to the closing of the great Hollywood animation houses that produced much classic animation (Warner Bros, MGM) and the dormancy of Disney at the time. The popularity of limited animation in the following decade meant that smaller production companies could have smaller staffs as well as farm off the labor overseas. Today, hand drawn animation has become a lost art and that generation of animators has by now retired. Animation is actually even more expensive and time consuming than it used to be due to the high production values placed on CGI productions. For these purposes hand drawn limited animation was possible to do for small companies with very minimal staffs (sometimes as few as 3-4 people). Not only has advertising for children all but dissapeared due to heavy government restrictions, but so has most children's entertainment for that matter due to it being considered un-profitable. And today, there isn't much of any not-for-profit filler material on television other than the 30 second Public Service Announcement. For-profit infomercials have taken their place.
  • Contrary to popular belief, classic cartoons themselves have not really become this. However, classic cartoon themed merchandising certainly has. As recently as the early-2000's, it was very common to see Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse themed merchandise (from watches to frozen dinners). In fact, during the mid-90's, it was actually trendy to wear a Looney Tunes tee-shirt, due in no small part to the series' cross-branding with the Chicago Bulls. Classic cartoon themed merchandising, however, came to an almost screeching halt after 2003's Looney Tunes: Back in Action flopped at the box office. The consensus was that kids and teens were no longer interested in older cartoonsnote  , putting an end to classic cartoon themed merchandising.
  • Children's cartoons that are based on R-Rated film properties. The Eighties and The Nineties had several of them: Police Academy, Rambo, Highlander, Robocop, Toxic Avenger, and Conan the Barbarian all had heavily watered down and sanitized children's animated versions. This will not gain them viewers with the audience old enough to see the film versions. And children will only get too confused about why they aren't allowed to see the films these cartoons are based on.

    Specific 
  • The Shmoo, an Al Capp cartoon creature that became independently popular in the 1940s as an expression, caricature, etc., has since become completely forgotten. See Let's Meet the Meat for details.
  • Mr. Magoo seems to have fallen into complete obscurity despite winning Oscars for Best Animated Short Film, appearing in a popular at the time - if forgotten later - Christmas Special, and being an advertising mascot for brands like General Electric. Disney attempted to give him a new lease on life in 1997 with a Live-Action Adaptation, but it flopped both critically and financially, possibly due to Values Dissonance - modern audiences are rather turned off by the apparent mockery of someone with a vision impairment.
  • From approximately 1991 to 2003, Klasky-Csupo pretty much ruled over Nickelodeon's animated landscape, most notably with their breakout show Rugrats (Which ironically gave us the quote on the main page). Seeing how successful Rugrats was (which was, outside of The Simpsons, arguably the most popular animated TV series of the 1990s) and having to endure the rather nasty breakups with the majority of their other creators such as John Kricfalusi and Jim Jinkins (while at the same time retaining a healthy relationship with Klasky-Csupo), Nickelodeon kept ordering more Klasky-Csupo produced shows in an attempt to find the next Rugrats.

    Therefore, after Rugrats came Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, As Told by Ginger, Rocket Power, and The Wild Thornberrys. Rugrats itself didn't really take off, so to speak, until it was Un-Canceled after a three year hiatus and the success of the 1998 motion picture, which was the first non-Disney produced animated film to gross $100 million domestically at the box office. In return, Klasky-Csupo released a show each year (one for every '90s trend, be it an animated soap opera in As Told By Ginger, action/extreme sports in Rocket Power, or environmentalism in The Wild Thornberrys) in their continuing attempt to create the next Rugrats. While these shows wound up having otherwise respectable, cult-sized fanbases, they weren't exactly megahits like Rugrats. Because of this, Nickelodeon resorted to turning the highly rated All Grown Up! special from 2001 into a spinoff series.

    With the massive success of SpongeBob SquarePants (With its popularity taking off during its own un-cancellation) and the popularity of Rugrats declining by the early 2000s (with the additions of new characters Dil and Kimi, as well as the box office underperformance of Rugrats Go Wild!), Klasky-Csupo shows no longer made enough money to warrant the high production and promotional budgets. Because of this, Nickelodeon decided to clean house of all of their Klasky-Csupo inventory except All Grown Up, which was kept because it was still relatively new and because Nickelodeon wanted to keep the Rugrats franchise around in some shape or form. When Nickelodeon's new managerial regime came into place in 2006, All Grown Up became a victim of the new regime's programming purge, and that effectively ended Klasky-Csupo's Nicktoon dynasty.
    • Their art style may have also had something to do with it, as some found it outdated and grotesque in comparison to the animation of most other non-Klasky Nicktoons productions.
  • While the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit itself is still very well-regarded, there was a time when it looked like Roger Rabbit would be taking a permanent place alongside classic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Goofy. He was certainly treated as such at the Disney Theme Parks in the early 1990s. The Roger Rabbit Shorts came out of this period as well, but the three-year gap between Roller Coaster Rabbit and Trail Mix-Up reveals how fast the luster faded. Due in part to legal problems between Disney and Amblin over the rights to the character, plans for a sequel or prequel have long been in Development Hell, and a quarter-century later it's unlikely that they could come to fruition, audiences having moved on. Roger is still well-remembered, but as an icon of The Eighties rather than with the timeless appeal which once seemed so certain.
  • Many of Butch Hartman's shows that aren't Danny Phantom have suffered this badly. The Fairly OddParents started out extremely popular, with only the popularity of Sponge Bob Square Pants and Rugrats standing in the way of the show becoming Nickelodeon's third breakout hit. Around 2004-2005, when Butch Hartman left The Fairly OddParents to do work on Danny Phantom, The Fairly OddParents began to lose ratings to the point of a sudden cancellation (With Danny Phantom getting the axe a year later). The show resurged in ratings numbers and Nickelodeon decided to renew The Fairly OddParents and give it another chance. Alongside the revival, only the show's premiere episode has managed to reel in huge ratings and the show has lost so much popularity to the point of hardly anyone watching anymore and even SpongeBob manages to reel in bigger ratings than The Fairly OddParents. T.U.F.F. Puppy started out well in the ratings but has declined to the point of where it has ended up on Nicktoons and The Fairly OddParents has only been granted another season because of fan requests. To make things even worse for him, Hartman released two shorts in 2013 in hopes that Nickelodeon would pick them up as new shows; the shorts were called Knight and Dave and The Buglys. Neither one was picked up. Suffice to say that Butch Hartman's own dynasty is coming to an end.
  • Believe it or not, Johnny Test was actually fairly popular during its first few years (having a higher budget and completely different production team probably helped). Now it's one of the most hated cartoons of all time. The only reason it's still running is apparently because of a Canadian law forcing Canadian animation to be constantly churned out (the show's ratings are abysmal). It's very telling that its season boxsets are sold solely in bargain bins.
  • Phineas and Ferb. When it debuted, it was fairly popular and received nothing but positive reviews from critics. People were often comparing it to the likes of SpongeBob and Family Guy and it had a cult fanbase. In 2009, the show had hit its stride and it got so popular to the point of Disney Channel trying to turn the show into their equivalent of SpongeBob and in addition to ordering a fourth season, a theatrical movie was greenlit into production as well as two spin-offs (With only one of them getting made but that's likely due to the fact that it was made at the highlight of the show's popularity) due to the success of Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension. However with the massive success of shows like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Gravity Falls and many other cartoons, as well as many people hating the show because of its "repetitive" formula and the show itself suffering from Seinfeld Is Unfunny, Phineas and Ferb is no longer a ratings hit and has begun to wane in popularity and doesn't make as much money for Disney Channel as it once did. Disney Channel started to hardly air new episodes as often as it used to, has taken merchandise out of stores, and shelved the proposed theatrical movie and the proposed Fireside Girls spin-off idea. They also seem to have appeared to be phasing out their cartoons for their live action shows likely solely because of this. It's telling that they hardly air new episodes of their cartoons and their treatment has gotten so bad that Gravity Falls and Wander over Yonder have both been shipped off to Disney XD. In hindsight, the popularity of Phineas and Ferb could likely have been the only reason why Disney Channel even started to care about animation again.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) was one of the first toy-driven cartoons of the 80s, and easily one of the biggest. It was regularly shown in syndication, its spinoff She-Ra: Princess of Power proved an Even Better Sequel, the toyline was enormously successful and stuck around for a good decade, and it even saw a live-action adaptation. However, while its peers (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) have stayed fairly active, He-Man has fallen off the grid. Both The New Adventures of He-Man and the 2002 reboot series vanished from the airwaves largely unmourned (though the latter was admittedly Screwed by the Network), and the toyline survives solely as Masters of the Universe Classics, a collector-focused and entirely online series aimed strictly at diehard fans of the 80s cartoon. Rob Bricken of Topless Robot suggested that the franchise's lack of a real identity beyond "things that boys like", coupled with laughable naming conventions and a cornucopia of Ho Yay, condemned the franchise to Snark Bait by the 90s - and unlike Transformers or G. I. Joe, which have managed to shake off some of their campy past through reinvention, He-Man's most famous portrayal is still by far the silly 80s toy ad. DC is currently doing their best to bring about a Darker and Edgier comic revival, but the viral success of this video leaves their work very much cut out for them.
  • The Shrek series is no longer held in the warm light that they were in their heyday in the mid 2000's. The backlash against the Shrek franchise coincided a lot with Dreamworks Animation's own negative reputation during the same period. After the first Shrek became a surprise hit, Dreamworks and many other studios attempted to replicate the formula. The first film in particular, and the hype around it, was so popular that it even won the inaugural "Best Animated Film" at the Academy Awards. Its followup, Shrek 2, was an even bigger commercial success becoming, at the time, the highest grossing animated film and still remains the highest grossing animated film in the U.S. After this point however, people became more and more openly critical of Shrek. Shrek the Third received horrible reviews and a lower gross. After this, Dreamworks scrapped plans of expanding the franchise further and pulled the plug after the fourth film. Now, while the first two films still have a following (largely due to the Memetic Mutation of the video "Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life" and the phrase "Play Time is Ogre"), they are no longer safe from ridicule and Dreamworks themselves have tried to distance themselves from the brand.
  • Beavis and Butt-Head is nowhere near as popular as it used to be, mostly due to Seinfeld Is Unfunny. A 2011 reboot managed to reignite some interest, but it sadly got Screwed by the Network after a very short run. The fact that a good portion of the original show's masters are most likely Lost Forever due to heavy censorship doesn't help.
  • While it was pretty popular in the day to either children who were exposed to this version first or old-school fans who liked the extension of a beloved show from their youth in an different light, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) is considered this, much to the immense chagrin of its respective fans. This is due to its basebreaking Fast Forward and Back to the Sewers sub-seasons and the Turtles Forever movie, which many view as openly mocking the original turtles (and, by extension, their fans), the obscurity/expense of the show's DVDs and the fact that 4Kids have since lost the TMNT rights to Nickelodeon, who refuses to even acknowledge this version.

    In fiction 
  • A special shout-out to Marvel/Sunbow's G.I. Joe cartoon, which actually used the line "Deader than Disco" in one of the episodes.
    Cobra Commander: As of now, your little project is deader than disco!

Web ComicsDeader Than DiscoReal Life

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