Deader Than Disco: Western Animation

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  • Western Animation in general for much of its existence. See Film.
  • Cartoon violence like it existed in The Golden Age of Animation has gotten under scrutiny since the 1970s. While the older cartoons are still available there has been a significant disappearance of bad and violent behaviour that children can imitate in cartoons. A lot of scenes where characters explode, get shot, commit suicide, jump off cliffs, etc., are absent in cartoons aimed at children nowadays.
  • Racial stereotypes and caricatures were very prevalent in old cartoons made in the 1920's through the 1950's. However, starting in 1968, these were increasingly censored in TV reairings (or the cartoons were banned altogether, like the Censored Eleven) – first to go were gags about Black people, then one by one jokes about Asians, Native Americans, and Mexicans received informal bans. Today, the only cartoons that still use racial jokes, albeit under a satirical hood, are adult cartoon series.
  • 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. Now you have to go to premium-cable outlets (Boomerang, for example), if you want to see marathons of the classic animated shows.
  • 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 cartoon (not counting FOX's prime time shows or superhero adaptations) featuring adults as protagonists is Uncle Grandpa (though the main characters on Regular 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.
    • PBS' Wild Kratts is another rare modern American TV instance of the stars of a children's cartoon being adults (who aren't superheroes). Children occasionally turn up (as fans of the Kratts), but otherwise, the heroes and villains are all adults.
    • The cast of Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants are also almost all adults, even if Funny Animals. Granted, SpongeBob is a childish adult, but...
    • The Legend of Korra defied this by its fourth season. Although the main characters are teenagers throughout most of the first three seasons, in the fourth season (which happens after a Time Skip), all of them are in their early 20's, with Korra herself being at the drinking age. That season premiered online.
  • Slice-of-life kids' cartoons – like Doug, Hey Arnold!, and the Klasky-Csupo shows, featuring plots that could conceivably happen in real life – which enjoyed a heyday in the 90's, became this for a time after the industry (and kids) proved to be more influenced by The Ren & Stimpy Show and its imitators. Today, particularly on Nickelodeon, cartoons aimed solely at children are mostly centered on the slapstick and the surreal. Adult-oriented cartoons had never been big on slice-of-life, preferring to mix zaniness into the stock sitcom format – King of the Hill was the sole holdout of the genre until its cancellation.
    • This genre might be enjoying a small revival. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, behind its fantasy veneer (and occasional adventure episode), is pure slice-of-life; its success proved that there was still an audience for non-zany animation. Littlest Pet Shop (2012), made by many of the same team as MLP, is another example. So is Clarence.
  • Independent companies that produce cartoons and other children's programming have all gone defunct in North America. Some may still exist solely on paper as acquired properties of larger corporate entities like 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. Hanna-Barbera exists in name only, having been absorbed into Time Warner (via Cartoon Network) shortly before the deaths of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. 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.

    The reasons for this consolidation are myriad. First, animation is really expensive; although most companies by the 80's (Filmation being the exception) attempted to cut costs by outsourcing their animation to Asia, it's still not a cheap medium. Back in the day (still the case today, but especially true back then), most cartoons were created to push The Merch, thus there were tie-ins with toy companies (a major source of capital at the time) and with that came the heavy advertising support, most of that targeting children; today there are heavy government restrictions against this. With that change, independent studios lost a lot of their operating capital and died out. The second factor in killing independent animation studios was the rampant media consolidation of the mid-90's†  and the death of syndication. Independent studios, already strapped for cash, could not make headway with media gatekeepers that very likely already had another animation studio in their portfolio, and companies that were not bought out died off.

    Despite all this, DVD releases of older cartoons tend to preserve the logos of the original production company in the interest of artistic integrity.
  • 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. It became equally unacceptable for adult mentor characters (who often intentionally remained away from the main action) to allow children to be embroiled in dangerous situations.

    Another thing to be taken into account is the fact that there are nowadays plenty of sprite-based action series on the internet (with notable aversions from Sturgeon's Law such as Super Mario Bros. Z) that can both show off heavy doses of action while keeping a good plot, making it difficult for animation companies to convince that particular demographic that their action/adventure show is worth spending time on. Plenty of animation companies would prefer to now invest in people interested in comedy, due to being overall a larger demographic and nowadays require much less budget to impress than people interested in action shows.
    • The genre is getting a revival with shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Regular Show shows a lot of action with REAL GUNS and epic adventures, mixing it the Slice-O-Life elements.
    • Belgian Network 2BE is a network that has averted this from happening in Belgium. Due to a lot of their audience being teenagers they decided to still air action shows such as Max Steel 2013, Sym-Bionic Titan, Voltron Force, Transformers Prime, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, Ben10 and G.I. Joe Renegade. The amount of action oriented Western animation on their network accounts for 3 hours of airing time. They however still say that those shows will probably not have any new seasons anytime soon.
  • 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 during the early 2000's. 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. 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 disappeared 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. During the new tens animated commercials have risen again in popularity in a few parts of Europe (most notably France). This is mainly due to the rise of Adobe Flash and CGI-engines, which allow for a fast and cheap way to create commercials.
  • 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 (The Animated Series), 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.
  • Cartoons focusing heavily on Lampshade Hanging and Breaking the Fourth Wall-style humor are becoming harder and harder to come across. A lot of it probably has to due with less talented writers using them as a lazy way to address or explain away flaws, or to snipe at detractors.
  • The Animated "Holiday Special" has all but disappeared. It remains marginally known to new generations thanks to nostalgic parents who grew up on them. A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Frosty the Snowman (Rankin/Bass) probably remain the best known icons of animated holiday shows. There have also been numerous animated versions of A Christmas Carol, including a still memorable Mr. Magoo adaptation. Decades ago, there were also prolific cartoon holiday specials for Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, and even occasionally Hanukkah. Generally, they were back to back reruns of the same holiday specials making them classics of a sort. Occasionally, new ones were introduced, but this was rare after The Nineties and the newer ones generally failed to become classics in their own right. This may be attributed to the timelessness of the older classic specials such as the ones by Rankin/Bass. Additionally, they would be pre-empting more profitable reality shows and such (today, children's entertainment is not as profitable). The extreme increased commercialization of the Christmas season also directly conflicts with the message behind most of these older shows. Today, nostalgic parents generally have to seek out DVD or YouTube for these shows.
  • Not entirely dead, but at least diminished since the 1990s are the fastpaced "cartoony" cartoons with gimmicky sound effects, weird body transformations and chase scenes. A lot of cartoons nowadays have more realistic action in the style of The Simpsons, which resembles live-action TV more closely.

    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. (Defenders of the character point out that we're not supposed to laugh at him because he's nearsighted; we're supposed to laugh at him because he's nearsighted and he's too stubborn - or just too stupid - to get a new pair of glasses.)
  • From 1991 to 2003, Klasky-Csupo dominiated 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 (outside of The Simpsons, it was 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.

    Thus, after Rugrats came Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, As Told by Ginger, Rocket Power, and The Wild Thornberrys. Oddly enough, Rugrats itself didn't really take off until it was Un-Canceled in 1997 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 nearly all of these cartoons ended up having 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 (its popularity taking off during its own un-cancellation) and the popularity of Rugrats declining by the early 2000s (due to the additions of unpopular 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 SpongeBob SquarePants and Rugrats standing in the way of the show becoming Nickelodeon's third breakout hit. Around 2004-2005, when Butch Hartman left to work on Danny Phantom, 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 OddParents and give it another chance. However, only the premier episode of FOP's revival managed to pull in stellar ratings, with the series diminishing in popularity year by year to the point that it ended up in production limbo by 2014. T.U.F.F. Puppy started out well in the ratings but declined to the point of where it 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 greenlight at least one as a full series – 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 grocery store bargain bins.
  • When Disney Channel debuted Phineas and Ferb in 2007, it received praise from critics and did extremely well in the ratings from the get-go, to the point that Disney ordered additional episodes before its first season even finished production. By 2010, the show's popularity with children and adults was enough for Disney to consider turning the show into a Cash Cow Franchise (in the vein of Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants) with merchandise, theme park attractions, and spinoffs all on the drawing board. The 2011 TV Movie "Across The Second Dimension" scored high enough in the ratings – better than any other TV-movie of an animated show – that a fourth season and theatrical movie were both greenlit. Even with the encroachment of other popular cartoons in The New Tens (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Adventure Time, Regular Show), the show seemed unstoppable.

    That all changed by 2012. After airing over a hundred episodes (beating out Kim Possible's record for longest-running Disney cartoon), people began to tire of the show's Strictly Formula, declaring it had lost its novelty. Also hurting it, albeit unintentionally, was Gravity Falls – a cartoon made in the wake of Phineas & Ferb's success, but gaining far more critical acclaim (to the point some critics would praise it in direct contrast to P&F). By 2013, the Hype Backlash had grown to the point that "Mission Marvel" was universally panned before it even debuted. That was enough for Disney to not only cancel it's theatrical movie shortly after Mission Marvel premiered, but to move all 3 of their (then) cartoons to Disney XD, and barely promoting the Star Wars crossover… and for the writers to put a disclaimer at the beginning assuring viewers it was not canon to the Star Wars universe). By the end of 2014, P&F was put on Indefinite Hiatus, and has become one of the least discussed shows of the so-called "Second Modern Animation Renaissance". While the backlash has died down as of 2015, Dan Povenmire and Jeff Swampy Marsh are still working for the Disney Channel (producing new concepts and having their hand of a Perry and Doofenschmirtz spinoff), and the series still makes money out of merchandise, the idea of the Phineas and Ferb brand being a cashcow for the Disney Channel is long in the past.
  • 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.
  • While it was pretty popular its heyday to either children who were exposed to this version first or had never heard of the 1987 cartoon or any other incarnation or old-school fans who liked the extension of a beloved show from their youth reworked in an different light (or to anyone who was a fan of the original comic book seeing an animated series more faithful to the franchise's original content), 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 seasons and the Turtles Forever movie, which many view as openly mocking the original animated series (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 as existing.
  • Chicken Little was fairly popular when it came out, and did very well at the box office. Now it's regarded as one of the worst (if not the worst) animated films Disney ever made, and is an Old Shame for the company and nearly everyone involved.
  • Felix the Cat was one of the most popular cartoon characters during The Silent Age of Animation, to the point of inspiring imitators like Mickey Mouse. He even stuck around into the 50s and 60s, with the Joe Oriolo TV series. However, the popularity of Funny Animals waned heavily over time, being viewed as retro and insipid. Characters like Mickey stuck around thanks to being backed by the Disney merchandising machine, but Felix, lacking such backing, increasingly lost ground. This wasn't helped by the fact that most Felix material following the TV series wound up being terrible. The character is mostly remembered by animation historians, and though you can still find Felix-themed merchandise, usually clothes, few of the people owning it could actually name something that Felix was in.
  • Woody Woodpecker: Once one of the most famous cartoon characters of all time, but since many old cartoons are no longer shown on television he is basically unknown to today's younger generation, except perhaps as the mascot of Universal Studios Theme Park.

    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!

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