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Dork Age / Western Animation

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  • What happened to Betty Boop, who used to be a sexy chanteuse, was that the Moral Guardians and The Hays Code 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."
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  • 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:
    • The first example actually came quite early on, between around 1933 and 1935. After directors Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising stormed out and took the studio's first star, Bosko — a fairly dull character by modern-day standards, but one who still has a certain appeal — with them, their replacements created a new lead character called Buddy, who went on to star in some of the most utterly bland and insipid cartoons ever made (not helped by having even less personality than Bosko did); his first replacement, Beans the Cat was a little better-received, but not really much of an improvement (he had a bit of a rebellious streak early on, but this eventually faded). It wasn't until the arrival of Tex Avery, and Porky Pig being turned into their headline star, that things really started looking up.
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    • A lesser one hit during World War II, due to Avery quitting after a fall-out with the studio management, Chuck Jones taking a few years to find his feet as a director, many of the studio's top staff being drafted into the military, and a good chunk of their output in this period being racist propaganda cartoons. Fortunately, this era does have one big saving grace in that Bob Clampett was on top of his game and producing arguably the best work of his career, with Friz Freleng's output also being generally quite solid (if not quite in the same league as his post-war cartoons).
    • The more major Dork Age set in during the Sixties (You know something has Gone Horribly 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 features the familiar characters but the opening sequence is a bunch of trippy shapes in a black background rather than the familiar rings (keep in mind this opening was originally made for Chuck Jones' Now Hear This and other experimental one-shots prior to Termite Terrace’s shutdown), 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 Road Runner 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, just don’t. Because in most cases, there is barely anything 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. The exceptions being Norman Normal (1968), which can be found on the sixth Golden Collection DVD (and was the first Seven Arts-era cartoon to even be released on any form of home media) and to a lesser extent, Rabbit Stew and Rabbits, Too!, which is accessible on HBO Max.
    • 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, weak animation, weak plots, characters like Daffy and Porky coming across as Unintentionally Sympathetic, characters' voices being sped-up too much, amateurish jokes (including bits that would've never been approved for the classic shorts) and more. Jeff Bennett's performances as Daffy, Sylvester and Foghorn are pretty much some of the only good things about the shorts. Bob Bergen, the current voice of Porky, doesn't think too highly of them himself and admitted that he was planning on quitting the project until he found out that he'd been fired. There were intended to be MORE shorts, but after the higher-ups saw the six shorts that had been completed and were appalled by them, they cancelled the others - and the ones that WERE completed wound up never being released theatrically after Looney Tunes: Back in Action failed miserably.
    • Ironically, in contrast to the Betty Boop example 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.
    • The 2000s were awful for the franchise in several ways. In addition to the aforementioned failure of the theatrical shorts and the Back in Action movie, there was Baby Looney Tunes, which was panned being a generic edutainment show trying to capitalize on a dying trend (though people have warmed up to the series in the years since), and 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. While Duck Dodgers was received more positively, Cartoon Network canceled and banished it to Boomerang (a network that isn't available on many cable providers) before it could even conclude its run.
  • Tom and Jerry:
  • The 1996 Flash Gordon animated series, in which Ming was green (though admittedly that was a change previously made for the 1980s Defenders of the Earth cartoon). 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 used to go up to the last episodes of their first seasons, then back to the beginning like nothing happened afterwards. Yet they still showed 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.
  • 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. Following the very tepid response of Unicron Trilogy, though, Beast Machines has been Vindicated by History somewhat; though it's still divisive at best, it's considered to work Better on DVD as a single narrative than as an episodic series.
  • 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.
  • My Little Pony:
    • The earlier 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.
    • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The initial dip 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", and "The Perfect Pear" and is generally agreed to have returned to its previous quality. But then came Seasons 8 and 9, where the general consensus as a whole started to turn against the show over its more egregiously questionable plot dvelopments.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man is 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 led 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 and he was replaced by Al Jean, one of the show's original writers, 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 consistently 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 Season 30! However, the show managed to recover from its downfall after complaints from fans and critics when Season 31 aired.
  • 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" (most of which were ordinary 11-minute shorts that were nonetheless plugged as must-see TV events by the network), it could easily coincide with Nickelodeon's dork age. While Season 4 is generally still viewed as good and reception to season 5 has (mostly) gotten better over time, seasons 6 and 7 are usually reviled among the fanbase for these reasons. Season 8 was a slight improvement 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. However, while the post-second movie episodes are generally well-received, they still have their detractors due to their perceived weaker plots and over-reliance on exaggerated, cartoonish expressions for humor. Ironically, many of these detractors were kids when these Dork Age episodes were new meaning Nostalgia Filter might be playing a factor in their opinions.
  • 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 an 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. That said, there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel as of 2019. Early reception for Looney Tunes Cartoons has been very well received, Green Eggs and Ham (2019) ended up being an unexpected hit, and both shows have noted for their strong writing and excellent animation. The company released a revival of Animaniacs in 2020 and while fans were initially split, many initial naysayers grew more optimistic after it was confirmed that Steven Spielberg would be producing again and that much of the original show's cast would be returning.
  • 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 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 titled Outsiders, which was warmly received by fans and critics when it debuted in January 2019 as well as Harley Quinn a few months later, so only time will tell if this ends the dork age or not.
  • DC's competitor 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 better-received Big Hero 6: The Series (which is instead produced by Disney than Marvel and airs on Disney Channel) 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 and Marvel's Spider-Man caused some major continuity problems in addition to making the cartoons to be more like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Steven Universe fans tend to give this label to the post-Summer of Steven era, where the show's Broken Base got out of control. The Schedule Slip went from bad to borderline intolerable (with a gap of seven months between episodes at one point), not helped by Cartoon Network's constant leaking habits. It made the already slower-paced and somewhat lower-staked fourth season and early fifth season feel borderline glacial, especially when multiple "Stevenbomb" special events turned out to be dedicated largely to smaller-scale stories. The Myth Stall certainly didn't help, either, nor did a number of episodes that read as contrary to the show's messages (and, unfortunately, the changing political landscape). The pendulum seems to have swung back in the show's favor as of the "Heart of the Crystal Gems" special, though.
  • Thomas & Friends has been generally regarded to have seen at least two of these over its long run:
    • The first Dork Age is considered to have lasted from Seasons 8 through 16, which saw the first seven seasons' sense of realism in regards to trains and how they work begin to dry up with trains either doing jobs they weren't built to do or defying physics, blatant Merchandise-Driven undertones (such as a near constant stream of one-shot characters made seemingly for the sole reason of promoting a new toy), fan-favorite characters making scarce appearances if not disappearing altogether, Thomas and other major characters undergoing Flanderization, and Idiot Plots aplenty. Most is this is blamed on the showrunner for these several seasons, Sharon Miller, not understanding the series very well, and, needless to say, when she stepped down as showrunner, her successor Andrew Brenner addressed many of the issues that Seasons 8 through 16 had, and the show was brought back down to characterizations, physics, and storylines that made more of an effort to feel more like the first seven seasons. The fanbase rejoiced for a while...
    • ...And then came Season 22, aka. "Big World, Big Adventures!". The series underwent a retool into faster-paced and Denser and Wackier direction that was construed to make the show better compete with other shows like PAW Patrol and, of all shows, Teen Titans Go!. Major mainstay characters like Henry and Edward were unceremoniously shunted off to make room for new cast members. The creators also partnered with the United Nations to promote gender and racial inclusiveness, which included adding two new train characters who replaced Henry and Edward, Nia (an engine from Kenya) and Rebecca, as well as other One-Scene Wonder characters like a pair of gay crewmen in one episode.note  Thomas now speaks directly to the viewers at points, something that had never happened in the series up until now and was seen to unnecessarily introduce Fake Interactivity into the show ala Dora the Explorer. Not only that, but the narrator, an element that had been part of the series since the very first episode in 1984, was axed in favor of the aforementioned Fake Interactivity (though traditional narration remains in spin-off material). Not helping was comments made by the season's new director, Dianna Basso, criticizing fans for not liking the changes and telling them to watch a train documentary if they wanted realistic train situations like the old seasons. The final straw for some was one of the season's first episodes allegedly portraying Gordon as a strawman of these critics. Needless to say, any goodwill the writers had with the fanbase disappeared faster than Gordon can deliver his express on a good day, and a large chunk of the fanbase now believes the show to be past the point of no return, and that it could only return to form if the fans took over.
  • Very few fans of VeggieTales have much love for the VeggieTales in the House era of the show for a multitude of reasons. One of the first reasons were the change in character designs; the folks at Big Idea felt that the characters' designs now looked antiquated due to being based on how they looked all the way back in 1993, and decided to revamp them. However, the new designs they chose received a severely mixed reception, especially from fans who found the characters' original designs too iconic to change. Then In The House (and its sequel series In The City) properly premiered to a chilly reception. The show was criticized for feeling so much more wacky and hyperactive than the original show to the point that it was seen as detrimental to the show, older characters undergoing Flanderization (especially Larry the Cucumber, who went from the "cool but clumsy co-host" to a childish idiot) while the new characters were unlikable and/or annoying, and in general feeling like the charm that made the original series so beloved was no longer there. It was thought that the poor reception to In The House/City would kill the franchise outright until the franchise won back the crowd with a second reboot in the form of The VeggieTales Show, which brought the series back to something (both in tone and aesthetic) resembling the original show.
  • While the fandom of Winx Club is split on when the quality began to suffer, the years of the Nick deal are generally agreed to be the low point of the series. While Nick started off OK with the preexisting seasons, the general opinion is the quality dropped HARD with Seasons 5 and 6. Nick's abysmal treatment of the show and little to no advertising meant that even if fans wanted to watch the seasons, they weren't able to. Rainbow has tried to shake off the damage done to the series ever since the deal ended. Nowadays, the only things fans tend to look back with fondness of the era is the cast, with Romi Dames as Musa being a particular fan favorite, and the dub of The Secret of the Lost Kingdom which is still widely preferred over the Cinelume dub.
  • South Park: Season 20 is often seen by fans as a low point for the series due to a shift towards Story Arcs rather than self-contained episodes. The main issue was the plot surrounding the 2016 presidential election, which was planned with a Hilary Clinton victory in mind. Due to Donald Trump winning the presidency instead, the arc from that point on had to be entirely rewritten, leading to rushes and Aborted Arcs that couldn't fit in the updated story arc. Since then, the series has abandoned a completely serialized approach (the season finale being deemed "The End Of Serialization As We Know It") and subsequent seasons, while still often having some underlying plots, have returned to a looser state of continuity with episodes better able to stand alone.
  • Gravity Falls: An in-verse example occurs in the episode "Dungeons, Dungeons, And More Dungeons", where Dipper mentions how the creators of the titular D&D expy tried to make it "cooler" in the 90s, giving Evil Sorceror Probabilitor pastel-colored streetwear and a bit of rapping in the commercial the audience is shown, as well as renaming the game "Diggity-Dungeons And All That". If Dipper and Stanford’s reactions are to be believed, that era of the game isn’t fondly remembered.


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