Dork Age / Western Animation

  • When you see Mickey Mouse fully dressed with a hat and long pants, and it's not a costume trying to invoke a certain setting or role, you know he's not going to be any more interesting than your neighbor. Disney historians fully admit the increased emphasis on Donald Duck and Goofy was partly caused by Mickey's iconic fame making him slightly inflexible and too 'sweet' to put in funny cartoons or as anyone's foil. Earlier, he was a mischievous adventurer (Kingdom Hearts, ironically, is fairly close to this depiction). Dork Age Mickey sits at home and gives Pluto orders like a bossy, boring parent. Another indication of Dork Age Mickey is if he had eyebrows on him (as in, eyebrows below face bordersnote  that normally function as eyebrows). Lampshaded in the Disney Vault TV Funhouse sketch ("You're supposed to be funny?"). That line came about from Robert Smigel's puzzlement of Mickey Mouse being such an iconic kids character when most kids can't actually name a defining trait or characteristic for him.
  • What happened to Betty Boop, who used to be a sexy chanteuse, was that the Moral Guardians forced her to be Bowdlerised. This led to a serious drop-off in the quality and popularity of her shorts, since her character is a sex symbol (yes, even with her big, giant head). When you see Betty dressed like a businesswoman, you are in for a boring cartoon. More specifially, pre-Hays Betty would often go on exciting and surreal adventures, where she was sexy but also had a place in the plot and was an active character. Post-Hays, her shorts can be summarized as "Betty sings, Betty has a problem, Grampy comes to fix it."
  • Popeye had this happen as well, after the shorts became headed by Famous Studios. Granted, it didn't get too bad until 1950 or so, when Seasonal Rot set in and the writers just didn't know what else to do with Popeye, ending up resorting to Recycled In Space plots.
  • Woody Woodpecker fell into this during the 1950s—apparently, Walter Lantz wanted Woody to appeal more to kids, so he slimmed down Woody's design into a pointy, stiff-looking "cute" design. On top of that, Woody was completely derailed as a character - whereas earlier he was a selfish heckler who only stood for himself, this Woody was watered down into a bland hero-type character. On top of that, from the mid-1950s onward (when Woody's eyes became black rather than green - another tell-tale sign, by the way), Paul J. Smith took the directorial reins and brought the series down even further with sloppy animation, not to mention lousy jokes and timing (surprising, considering his earlier efforts such as "Hot Noon (or 12 o'Clock for Sure)" were among Lantz's best cartoons). It's a wonder the series was able to last through 1972 in theaters.
  • Looney Tunes suffered this trope, as well:
    • This show suffered in the Sixties (you know something has gone terribly wrong when they have Daffy Duck chasing Speedy Gonzales around for some reason) after the original animation unit was shuttered and work was turned over to De Patie Freleng Enterprises. Fortunately, this Dork Age comes with fair warning: if you catch a cartoon that opens with a weird version of their theme song set to trippy graphics spinning around, and the cartoon is not Chuck Jones's Now Hear This (or possibly Norman Normal), you're going to get to see their Dork Age.
    • "The Larriva Eleven" is the name given to a series of eleven Coyote & Road-Runner cartoons produced by Rudy Larriva – who had animated for Warner Bros. in the 1940s (but hadn't worked on anything Looney Tunes-related for about 15 years) – after he took over the series from Chuck Jones. Larriva's character designs were very Off-Model, the loss of artist Maurice Noble robbed the desert landscapes of all their scale and range, and the less said of William Lava's music, the better. The complex schemes of the Jones shorts were replaced with sluggishly-paced crude gaggery, and to accommodate them the Roadrunner was completely derailed into actively fighting back against the Coyote, firing cannons at him and so forth. Watch "The Solid Tin Coyote" for a good look at how far off-base the series got. Better yet, don't (and just so that you know what we're dealing with here, keep in mind that "The Solid Tin Coyote" is pretty much universally regarded as the best of Larriva's efforts in this series).
    • If you ever see a cartoon with the opening described above, except with a company credit that reads "Warner Bros.-Seven Arts" instead of just "Warner Bros." and with an even stranger version of the opening theme, then you should run for the hills. Because in most cases, there is absolutely nothing good that will result from the cartoon that you are about to watch. It'll be a REALLY bad cartoon, or in the case of Korean redrawn Porky Pig cartoons, a good formerly black-and-white cartoon ineptly and amateurishly reanimated in color.
    • In 2003, Warner Bros. Animation produced several new Looney Tunes cartoons intended for theatrical release. Because the current crew had no experience with the characters, the cartoons had such problems as over-the-top violence, Flanderization of existing characters, amateurish jokes and more. They wound up never being released theatrically after Looney Tunes: Back in Action failed miserably.
    • Ironically, In contrast to the Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop examples above, Porky Pig actually managed to avert this. Though he was pretty decisively upstaged by Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny and never regained the star power he had in the 1930's, he was repurposed as a sidekick to Daffy, Sylvester and others and continued to appear in very funny cartoons (i.e. Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, Robin Hood Daffy) until the end of his career.
    • And then, there was Loonatics Unleashed, in which the descendants of the Looney Tunes characters are Animesque superheroes in the far-future akin to Teen Titans, though with a less clear direction on what they were doing, given the radical Tone Shifts from previous incarnations of the Looney Tunes franchise.
  • Tom and Jerry: The Tom and Jerry Show via Hanna-Barbera's television studio in The '70s. In other words, whenever Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera didn't directly make them. Basically, if you see Jerry wearing a red bowtie.... you should definitely run away from it.
  • The 1996 Flash Gordon animated series, in which Ming was green and Flash and Dale rode hoverboards.
  • The second season of the 1979 Filmation Flash Gordon animated series, also known as The New Animated Adventures of Flash Gordon. The first season is frequently considered to be both the best screen version of the character and the best Filmation cartoon. The second season gave us Gremlin the Dragon.
  • Someone at Turner Broadcasting must really dislike the 1980s episodes of The Jetsons and Jonny Quest, because Boomerang's rerun rotation of the shows go up to the last episodes of their first seasons, but then goes back to the beginning like nothing happened afterwards. Yet they still show the Jetsons' Christmas Episode every December. Thankfully, though, this contempt for the later years of The Jetsons and Jonny Quest isn't shared by the rest of Time-Warner, because the episodes are being made available in every other place where one can watch the show.
  • While each new incarnation of the Transformers franchise has its detractors, the Beast Wars sequel Beast Machines is almost universally loathed by the fandom. For one, the writers were told to not actually continue any story threads from Beast Wars because they wanted Beast Machines to be its own story. They also brought in the idea of Cybertron as an originally organic planet, a state that the Maximals were fighting to return it to (never mind that the dominant race of Cybertron has been robotic for millions of years), horribly uncharacteristic derailment of several beloved characters, and a number of spiritual aspects that were never present in any of the previous series. This was compounded by the fact that Beast Machines supposedly exists in the same continuity as Generation 1.
  • Scooby-Doo:
  • The Flintstones has that show where they get new neighbors – the Frankenstones, who were basically a prehistoric version of The Addams Family or The Munsters – only with an unsympathetic Frankenstein's Monster as a head. Most of the episodes were about Fred having a fight with Mr. Frankenstone. Yes, in the original cartoon some monstrous neighbors were mentioned, but only episodically and never as major characters. It didn't help that the show also featured shorts that were ripping off other shows, so we could watch Captain Caveman imitating Superman (he was even Clark Kenting) with Betty and Wilma as two Lois Lanes, teenage Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm solving Scooby Doo Hoaxes with Dino, as well as Fred and Barney in a Buddy Cop Show, patrolling the streets with a goddamn Shmoo, which was constantly molesting Fred.
  • The My Little Pony cartoons had a Dork Age that lasted for nearly two decades (1992-2009). It started with the divisive My Little Pony Tales series, and continued with the Lighter and Softer Generation 3 and Generation 3.5, which is considered to be the worst part of it. Generation 2 didn't even get a show. It finally ended with Generation 4 and the rise of bronies.
    • Friendship is Magic has seen its own share of arguable dips. The initial one was the reaction to the departure of Lauren Faust following the first season, though this was brief and the second season was widely regarded as a good torch carrier by the end. The second (and most prominent) was during the third season, which was shorter than the rest and didn't feel as well-written (with various fandom theories accusing the decision to make main character Twilight Sparkle an alicorn princess at the end or the introduction of the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls franchise as the main culprits). The show managed to redeem itself with a stronger (and lengthier) fourth season. Finally the sixth season has been targeted as another weak point due to an almost complete change in writing staff, a preponderance of episodes that were divisive at best, and the presence of new cast member Starlight Glimmer, the central antagonist of the previous season and argued to be a Spotlight-Stealing Squad. The seventh season seems to be allaying those concerns with some highly praised episodes like "Parental Glideance", "A Royal Problem" (which has also helped Starlight Glimmer's appeal in the process), and "The Perfect Pear" and is generally agreed to have returned to it's previous quality.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars plunged into one during Season 1 and its movie (and took the Star Wars franchise in general with it). However, it had a good last impression with the introduction of Cad Bane in the season finale, which gave the show a boost in quality that it generally managed to keep.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man is considered this to the Spider-Man franchise on the animated plane – this series bears no similarities to the comic of the same name, or, for the matter, with any incarnation of the character. The tone is Denser and Wackier with a lot of comedy slapstick while all drama and dark aspect is removed, Spider-Man is a SHIELD agent learning how to be a superhero with Nick Fury as The Mentor, he is part of a team of annoying sidekick superheroes, and most villains from Spidey's actual Rogues Gallery are dropped in favor of other comic villains. Not at all helped by the fact it replaced The Spectacular Spider-Man which was largely considered to be epic, and despite the fact Ultimate had no control over Spectacular's fate, people are pretty upset.
  • The Simpsons has two dork ages in their history
    • Many fans agree that the first Dork Age spanned from Season 9 to Season 12, a four-season period lead by showrunner Mike Scully. Although Seasons 9-10 were mostly well-received, they still featured several episodes that never became popular with fans. Season 11 and, to a degree, season 12, on the other hand, are infamous for being two of the worst in the history of the Simpsons. The show's humor became far darker, cruder and more self parodying in these two seasons, with episodes that were considered overly wacky and cartoonish and featured an overabundance of guest stars. This resulted in many fans deciding that the show had Jumped the Shark, and refused to continue watching.
    • After Mike Scully's tenure as showrunner ended, the quality of the show improved - thus, the first Dork Age ended. From Seasons 13 to The Simpsons Movie, many fans who hadn't yet stopped watching noted that the writing and humor became more consistantly enjoyable, with the good episodes outnumbering the bad ones again. Also, the promise of a theatrical Simpsons film in 2007 allowed older, golden-age fans to become interested in the show again, giving writers good reason to try extra-hard to create solid new episodes. However, up to and after The Movie's DVD release (Season 19 onwards), the second Dork Age of the show began. This was because the hype of the first theatrical Simpsons film had been lost, giving viewers little reason to continue watching the show. This Dork Age has continued up until the present.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants fell into one of these after the first movie's release in 2004. After the creator Stephen Hillenburg left, fans began to notice that episodes were becoming either bland and unfunny or violent and mean-spirited. Characters also became flanderized to unbelievably high levels, and when they weren't acting like parodies of themselves, they were being tortured miserably by the world around them. Alongside the overabundance of over-hyped specials, it could easily coincide with Nickelodeon's dork age. While Season 4 didn't have much of this, seasons 5-7 are usually reviled among the fanbase for these reasons. Season 8 was a slight improvment and season 9 had a lot of episodes that were really liked by the SpongeBob fanbase, but the Dork Age had officialy ended in the eyes of many with the second SpongeBob movie, Sponge out of Water, when Stephen Hillenburg returned to the helm of the series in general.
  • The Real Ghostbusters, following extensive Executive Meddling which included making Janine quote "less slutty," making all of the characters far less sarcastic and more 'wholesome,' and centering the entire show on Slimer. Phelous associates this change with the period where Dave Coulier took over the role of Venkman.
  • Many Regular Show fans believe that the series entered one of these in Season 5 when writers began to add more focus to a Love Triangle between Mordecai, Margaret and CJ which took up large portions of Seasons 5 and 6. Things were toned down after the TV movie and as of Season 7 the show got back on track with the love triangle subplot being minimized if not completely absent.
  • Any sequel to Ben 10note  can be considered as either a Dork Age, a Contested Sequel or suffering from Sequelitis by fans (but not all fans):
  • Warner Bros. Animation has been said to be stuck in one since the 2000s, particularly with the end of the Steven Spielberg presents line of cartoons and the demise of their "Feature Animation" theatrical film division.note  Aside from original cartoons being shoved to the side in favor of more adaptations of existing cash cows, the studio seems to have no real idea of how to handle WB's vault of animated properties; with their handling of Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, and Tom and Jerry (as mentioned above) criticized for either being trotted out in polarizing new directions or being stale rehashes of the original shows/shorts. WBA has also garnered notoriety for being a factory with a unending stream of annual Direct-to-Video low-quality "Original Movie" films for their properties not seen since the era of DTV Disney Cheapquels; not helped by recent DTV films shoehorning their characters into crossovers with either the WWE or other unrelated properties WB owns (like The Wizard of Oz, Jonny Quest, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in the case of Tom and Jerry). While their DC animated films and shows are considerably more acclaimed, they have repeatedly been thrown under the bus following Cartoon Network's Network Decay and respective dork ages. Moreover, if this lengthy account by one of the former creators for Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! is anything to go by, studio management is set to full ineptitude, with executives blamed for the show's behind-the-scenes Troubled Production.
  • It's safe to say that DC Comics' animation unit has been experiencing this for their TV stuff for CN (averted for their DTV line of animated films and their CW Seed animated shows for the Arrowverse) when Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series got cancelled by Cartoon Network, which marked the downfall of the DC Nation block. While Beware the Batman got a good reception from critics and fans, it was Screwed by the Network and eventually aired its remaining episodes on [adult swim], it's widely agreed that Teen Titans Go! is responsible for this happening in addition to CN's overexposure of the show and to the point that Justice League Action (which has gotten a better response than Go!) was largely ignored by CN. That being said, the unit has regained some goodwill when in 2016, it was confirmed that Young Justice would be Un-Canceled for a new season in 2018 but it remains to be seen if this will end the current dork age or not.
  • DC's competitior Marvel Animation has suffering from this from 2012 onwards, following after the premiere of Ultimate Spider-Man (see above) and a year later, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! was cancelled to make way for Avengers, Assemble!, which has garnered flack for similar reasons as Ultimate in addition to Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) soon after. While Ultimate ended and was replaced by Marvel's Spider-Man in addition to the announcement of Big Hero 6: The Series and the end of Agents of SMASH, it remains to be seen on when the dork age will end, given that the Guardians of the Galaxy cartoon has caused some major continuity problems in addition to making the cartoons to be more like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/DorkAge/WesternAnimation