Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Quality Criteria




Well, this whole blog is dedicated to my own view of what makes quality, but I thought I'd just spell it out.

There is no one ingredient that makes "quality" for me. I like a lot of different things. Mainly if something grabs me, then I like it. It's afterwards that I try to analyze why I liked it, mainly so I can learn and improve my own work.

You don't have to have every possible good ingredient in a work of entertainment for me to consider it "quality". Mainly it has to be fun. I can break down fun into separate qualities:

Charismatic Fun CharactersNot very many animation cartoonists have succeeded in creating truly charismatic characters with defined personalities. They mostly happened at Warner Bros.

Popeye came from comic strips, which were more consistently successful in creating strong characters.

The Flintstones came from the Honeymooners. I guess that was kind of cheating, but the designs and voices brought a lot to the characters.

There are lots of cartoons I like that have star characters, like Woody Woodpecker or Tex Avery's MGM cartoons, but there isn't much to the characters themselves. The cartoons have other traits that make them entertaining.


This includes not just the drawing style, but the whole attitude.

You can have caroony drawings, cartoony animation, cartoony voices, music, sound effects and on and on.


Humanity is an outlook that certain artists have. They share it with regular folk. It's a clear and honest look at life.
These creators observe the world in its raw, funny and humanly faulty truths.
They make art that reflects and exaggerates real human motivations, characteristics and what regular folk on the streets find amusing. It's not polished up, sweetened and made phony. Warners was such a breath of fresh air when it found its style, because its whole attitude was reality-even though the cartoons were highly imaginative and much more cartoony than Disney. They reflected real people. They weren't archaic artificial abstractions like Disney cartoons.
Mickey is a cute character but has no soul.

Disney and his followers - to me, lack humanity and that's the main reason I can't get into them. Even if there is some measure of skill, it's not enough. It's not a skill in telling life's stories or noting the interesting things about human nature, it's a skill in whitewashing life or now imitating what has already been done by previous whitewashers.

These creators are just too polite to admit life and humanity as they are in all their glorious imperfections, blemishes and rudeness.These simplistic characters don't act like real people, they don't have honest recognizable motivations. It's like what Christians think people should be, rather than what talented entertainers observe life to be really like. As if they get their characters out of film school books instead of from the street or the neighborhood.

Nowadays the main characters - that we are supposed to root for- are positively wimpy and I can't imagine anyone wanting to identify with that. That doesn't mean the cartoons can't be successful. But I think if there was competition from more sincere less naive outlooks of humanity, it would be harder for these things to make money.

Creativity- Impossible Things That Can Only Happen in CartoonsI'm amazed at how little magic there is in cartoons anymore. It used to be an innate obligation among cartoonists. It was our job to do the impossible and make it seem real. Unfettered imagination fell out of fashion in the 60s and has never truly recovered.

SkillI certainly admire skill. Bob McKimson is one of my all time favorite animators and when he is directed by Clampett he is super entertaining.
Classic Disney cartoons are skillful, but that's not always enough for me.

I can study Kahl's animation with awe and mathematical admiration, but it doesn't move me the way fun animation does.

I think every artist should amass as many skills as possible-but recognize the difference between skill and style. Skills are style neutral.

Skill is not an end in itself. It's merely your tool kit.

The more skill you have, the more variety of creative things you can make-as long as your skills aren't confused with stylistic cliches.


Fun is not the same as funny. Swing and Rock 'N' Roll music is fun but not usually meant to be funny.

Woody Woodpecker cartoons aren't particularly funny, but they are lively, colorful. musical, wacky and

Betty Boop is really fun.
Fun as opposed to dreary.This kind of movie reminds me of the feeling of going to your room without supper. Or doing your homework.

FunnyNot all classic cartoons are funny, but most strove to be. I always strive for it, even if I don't always succeed.

Did it Blow My Mind

Now I don't expect every cartoon to blow my mind, but the ones that do are at the top of my list.

I borrowed this phrase from Eddie, because it's so right.

Does It Swing?

To me, cartoons and lively music go together. My favorite cartoons tend to be musicals,

The Fleischer cartoons are probably the swingingest of all time. They had the best music during the swingingist period in American history- the 1930s.

All through the 30s, mostcartoons were timed to songs. This gave way in the 40s to a more straight ahead style of timing. Chuck Jones for example would time his cartoons sstraight ahead (although to beats) and Carl Stalling would score it aftewards.

Clampett continued the 30s tradition of timing the whole cartoon to music and songs, not just to a beat.

You don't have to have every single quality I listed to make a great cartoon, but the mnore you have, the more I will love it.

Here's one that has almost everything and in heaping helpings:

Post Mortem:

Well sadly most of the qualities that I look for in cartoons are considered corny now, or have just been forgotten. You don't have to have all these qualities in a cartoon to be quality, but the more you have, the more quality it is to me.

I'm amazed by how many people will argue against all this, and how vehemently. I get this comment a lot, "Why do all cartoons have to be funny and cartoony?" And I always answer, "They don't. But why can't at least a few be?"

Eddie says I should go further and demand that they all be. In my honest opinion, at least 80% of cartoons should strive to do the sorts of magic that only cartoons can do, but we don't even have 5% today. Cartoons should by definition be cartoony. Shouldn't most music be melodic?

It's truly baffling to me how much energy and argument I have to summon up just to convince the world to let us have fun again. "Oh Pleeeease have some ice cream!"

That's why this blog exists. To try to revive some excitement for what made cartoons cartoons in the first place. To bring back lightness and joy to cartoons. Distilled fun. Without the filler.


Sean Worsham said...

>I'm amazed by how many people will >argue against all this. I get this >comment a lot, "Why do all cartoons >have to be funny and cartoony?" And >I always answer, "They don't. But >why can't at least a few be?" It's >truly baffling to me how much energy >and argument I have to summon up >just to convince the world to let us >have fun again. "Oh Pleeeease have >some ice cream!"

Here's an interesting parallel:

If you have too much ice-cream you'll get sick and get diabetes or as long as you don't have too much you can have a great dessert and feel great. I guess the world today thinks if you have too much fun you'll either get sick, die or cause too much mischief and kill yourself (ha!). But then again the world needs to realize that can happen if you have too much of anything. So relax and eat some ice cream and have fun just don't stuff yourself. ;)

Speaking of too much there is way too much "EMO" style shows and movies. If I see anymore I'll get depressed and die, I want a taste of life and fun. I want wine, women and dance (sex, drugs and Rock n' Roll). I guess I feel like a little dessert.

jonathonian said...

I find perfection and cleanliness often are confused for quality. I love (minor) mistakes in great music and animation. It adds humanity and makes the product seem more "real" if that makes any sense.

Also, glad to see some praise for Mike Judge's vision of the world. He's got a one of a kind sense of humor.

Paul said...

Of all the people on the planet who should understand human nature, it's Christians. As a Christian, I get that humanity is fallen, selfish, shortsighted, as well as funny, imaginative, and has the capacity for passion and compassion. That's why I believe characters in cartoons and movies that lie, cheat, steal, and go to bed happy: because it's real. There are people like that.

When I see a villain in a cartoon that feels bad about hurting his victims and lets them go so that said villain can go plant flowers in his reformedness, I find it hokey. It's why I like seeing heros face temptation and at least consider it. Even the best person has his weak points, so though a character may not give in to a particular temptation in a story, he may have had to think about whether or not he wanted to go through with it.

And in regards to wimpy main characters, you're dead on. I want someone that, though he has his problems, also has passion, drive, and selflessness. Nowadays, heros are all about protecting peoples' feelings. Why? Are pushovers the kind of people we look up to? Not a chance.

Thanks for your posts on quality, John, I'm glad someone talks about quality in objective terms. It's how we can say there's crap in the world!

Joseph Luster said...

That first Avery vid you posted is a really wild one!

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Especially on the "fun" note. Even if the characters are empty, the skills are mediocre and there's a lot of other faults, FUN can sometimes save the cartoon.

That's why I like the very early Mickey Mouse cartoons. The characters were smiling empty nothings, but there was alot of fun. Mickey was always giving Minnie a wedgie, or shoving fat guys into taxis, pulling baby pigs off of nipples, stomping on innocent animals, jumping up and down on pigs to fill up tires, etc.

THAT's the Disney I like. The few very early cartoons before Mickey became a do-gooder. When he was evil and abused all the farm animals. They were wacky, mindless, sinful fun. That's what made them FUN.

Warner Brothers did the same thing, and brought the violence and evil to whole new, better levels.

They didn't dance around and sing songs all the time, there was just some funny gags and neanderthal humor. They were badly made, but very fun. Disney lost that.

That's why I like some new stuff that may be poorly made, but it appeals to my inner fun-receptor. I imagine that's why you put Beavis and Butthead on there.

I have sinned,though. Your comment of people being impressed by "If it's really hard to do and all the animators and assistants want to kill themselves, then you know you're getting your money's worth." rings true for me. If it looks like it was HORRIBLE and awful and painstaking to make, I'll be impressed. Maybe not on an entertainment level, but on a "Holy Crap those guys have a lot of ambition!" level. That must be why I like Roger Rabbit and stop animation stuff.

Sorry for the long comment.

Crumpled Up John! said...

I absolutely love Tin-pan Alley Cats! It's as perfect a blend of image and music as you can get and even though the 'outta this world' section is recycled from 'Porky in Wackyland' it's still fantastic to watch and kills me every time (unlike the Dough for the Do-do remake which effectively sucked out all the fun of Wacky land). Especially the electric booted Joseph Staling kicking Hitlers arse. Too bad this cartoon will probably never see wide distribution because if it's alleged 'stereotyping'.

Julián höek said...

all the cartoons you've mentioned are short films. Is there at least one long length film that has most of the quality incredients you like?
i would really appreciate if you could answer me this question.
thanks john!


Stone said...

I was actually just thinking about something along the lines of this today. The things that seem the most fun and get a visceral laugh out of me are the things that make light of the worst qualities within us. A lot of Disney/Pixar content tends to try and highlight the best, or rather, what we would like to think are the best qualities we have... perhaps even to an unrealistic extent.

Perhaps to someone truthful and "ok" with personal shortcomings and that don't let that kinda crap drag them down into the muck, stereotypes and showing the ugly face of humanity is fine. But those that maybe worry about being "bad" would rather see content that highlights their own idealistic qualities that they would like for themselves.

I like the way Pixar movies make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I can feel like I'm a "good" person, despite what the reality may be. But to just enjoy and be purely entertained, give me a Daffy Duck cartoon. Perhaps that's the difference? The Disney/Pixar method is one of emotional validation whereas pure entertainment let's go of the serious crap and just "swings?"

real cartoonists don't need emotional validation.

Carlos Mal Pacheco said...

Sir, something tells me that you hate Spongebob, but doesn't that show have a lot of what you ask for in animation?

Tool said...

thats really good criteria for funny cartoons. it is amazing that you would have to argue those points because obviously all of the kids shows could benefit from that sort of approach.

i would suppose the problem is most the animation today is the sort of thing that should do those things, but its been hijacked by executives who hire writers. That criteria might not apply to serious 'auteur films' but clearly the majority of animated stuff is not very serious, it is 'trying' to be funny, and these qualities would completely make them better than they are.

litlgrey said...

John, my question is, how can this creative environment possibly be fostered in an environment other than the kind that made Termite Terrace, and the New York (NOT the Florida) Fleischer studio, and Avery's MGM unit thrive?

In two of these three cases - and yes Leonard Maltin deserves heaping helpings of praise for his research of this history - the units' creativity thrived because they were almost entirely left alone by the stiffs and the bean counters, and were rarely told either WHAT to create or HOW to create it. The animators in their turn felt and expressed perverse glee in mocking studio heads and obvious know-nothings like Leon Schlesinger.

In the third case - the Fleischers - Paramount left them alone as long as they delivered product, and deliver they did, even as Dave Fleischer's love of tinkering and invention occasionally took the operation to the financial brink.

Everything now is built from the accounting office and the executive planning table up. You're never going to get a tried and true apprentice system in which masters of their craft like Jones, Avery, Maltese, Tashlin, Clampett and so on again. It won't happen. Animation units as well as allegiances come and go, and anyway, how in the hell ya gonna build a daily working rapport when the actual assembly line is in Seoul, South Korea - through web conferencing? Phehh!

It's actually astonishing that given this kind of dysfunctional working rubric, a series of quality like "The Simpsons" or "Family Guy" even sneaks through - although the true rebellious spirit is instead expressed in the kind of short-term series you see on "Adult Swim." I don't know how you feel about "Adult Swim," John, and frankly I'm be afraid to ask... coz you'd likely crush mah dreams and stuff!

Gavin Freitas said...

>>That's why this blog exists. To try to revive some excitement for what made cartoons cartoons in the first place. To bring back lightness and joy to cartoons. Distilled fun. Without the filler.<<

I couldent agree more John. Cartooning is a lost art form. I dont like realistic animation either, just shoot it on a camera if you wanna go that far. All this CG will get over-saturated eventually, and kids will realize this. Peoples eyes adapt better to hand drawn animation. I really don't care what style people are doing these days, I'm happy just see hand animation on TV....

eamon said...

Do they still show Warner Brothers cartoons on television? The classic ones? I dont even know if kids today see those. I grew up on them, and just recently saw some on one of those dvd sets,and was amazed at how entertaining they still were,(especially the Duck Twacy one, "NEON NOODLE!") but it seems like no one today can do what they did as well. Do you have a modern example, an eqiuvalent that you think embodies the spirit of these old ones, or does nothing hold a candle? With all of america's politcally correct concerns today do you think purely fun cartoons could be made, in the terms you speak on your blog? Or should we just stick to our dvds and old tapes? It seems they were the only ones that did it right.

andrewdmortlock said...

ah! john can you tell me which cartoon is the one in between the elmer fudd with bugs drawing and the bluto drawing? and any info to help me find them?
its awesome!!

Kenan said...

" I get this comment a lot, "Why do all cartoons have to be funny and cartoony?" And I always answer, "They don't. But why can't at least a few be?" "

Absolutely. There needs to be room for both.

It's great that your site exists to remind everyone of "funny" "cartoony" and purely entertaining cartoons.

I sincerely hope that someday, we won't have to look back in time to find this style of animation!

Ren and Stimpy definitely embraced an extreme style, and as a child I found it monumentally entertaining, but even looking at it now, I can enjoy it on an even deeper level.

I hope there's room in people's hearts and minds for some genuine wackiness, at least once in a while, right?

Ash Collins said...

you're right, if not all cartoons are funny, then we should at least get SOME that are!

you said,
"I'm amazed at how little magic there is in cartoons anymore.. It was our job to do the impossible and make it seem real."

OK its true not many cartoons dare to bethat daring any more, but what about Ed Edd and Eddy? I can imagine why you might not like it but I've been watching it a lot lately and some of the things that happen in that cartoon are really mind bending! even if it does lack things like well-observed human behaviour :S

you were saying about the cartoons in the 30s being timed to music, thats just cos cartoons where vehicles used to sell music back then werent they?

matt said...

I totally agree with you about everything, including the difference between soulless wimpy Disney vs salty crazy FUNNY Warner Brothers.

One of the best examples I can think of to illustrate the difference is Bugs Bunny vs Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Bugs never let an opportunity to mess with someone get past him, whereas Roger Rabbit's forte was to say "Pllllleeeeeeaasssse" in an unusual way.

Roger Rabbit was interesting in that he was for that time State of the Art, but Bugs woulda kicked his ASS.

Matt J said...

Hang in there John-I'm sure in the long run your blog will help to change the 'situation'-keep postin' & rantin'!

Anonymous said...

Sir, something tells me that you hate Spongebob, but doesn't that show have a lot of what you ask for in animation?

Where in this post did he mention SpongeBob? He actually said once that, "It definitely has its moments. Especially scenes drawn by Aaron Springer and Vincent Waller." You can find it in the Beautiful People 3 post in the comments link.

Fco. de Borja said...

Even when I don’t agree hundred per cent with your idea of quality, (to me, the curse of animation is that it supposed to be funny and corny, because animation is something made just for kids amusement) I’m completely with you when you talk about the lack of creativity and the submission of all the cartoons under the bland executive formula. It’s very difficult find today appealing animation

Anonymous said...

You were right, John, I did like this post! Actually, I like almost all your posts, but this one was definitive!

Craig D said...

I'll throw this in, as someone who has spent way too many years in the area of industrial quality control.

"Quality" is simply whether or not your product confroms to the stated criteria.

As jonathonian said, "I find perfection and cleanliness often are confused for quality."

Right on, brother!

Unless you know what your criteria is, you cannot produce a quality product.

Something I've been puzzling about for a while now is, "Why are cartoons even being produced in this day and age?"

All I can come up with is this ONE criteria:

"Can we license this crap and make a jillion dollars off of the ancillary DOLLAR TREE type items?"

Missing from this criteria, of course are the things John's listed:

Charismatic Fun Characters
Did it Blow My Mind
Does It Swing?

flashcartoons said...

i think because of your blog john that i see links to here and people comment on there sites about your topics even link to them. That you are starting something new, alot who come here are the future of cartoons on tv even yourself.

So keep drilling it into our heads until someone actually makes funny, cartoony with some swing! :)

Kevin Williams said...

I think this was CLEARLY influence by Popeye.

Oh, wait, I guess not. I understand having the characters smile blindly for publicity "photos", but the main human just looks completely uninteresting - not attractive, not unattractive, not funny, not boring...just...there.

For a drawing that cost $30 million....

(i made that number up)

Scott Radtke said...

What is missing most in the current trend in cartoons is "whimsy." There is magic in that word, and in cartoons at their best, that is more than just fun. It is the lifeblood of the medium and is, for the time being at least, pretty much gone. We are not here, however, to brood on the present and lament a bygone era, we are here to stand up and say, we want good cartoons back! I'm tired of over sentimentalized and droll Disneyfied features and I'm really tired of all the postmodern angsty, poorly drawn bullshit on the Adult Swims of the world. And I am sick and tired of The fookin Family Guy ilk that sucks seven ways from Sunday. I don't want Chuck Jones back, that's what DVDs are for - I want the Next goddamn Chuck Jones! You would think with all this hands on, cheep software out there that we'd get some. Maybe computers are the problem. Who knows. All I know is I wand some quality whimsy and I want it STAT.

JohnK said...

If you have too much ice-cream you'll get sick and get diabetes or as long as you don't have too much you can have a great dessert and feel great.<<

All entertainment is dessert, isn't it?

The main course is school, work, church, authority figures, disease etc.

Cartoons more than any other medium should relive us of tedium.

Colter said...

All entertainment is dessert, isn't it?

The main course is school, work, church, authority figures, disease etc.

Cartoons more than any other medium should relive us of tedium.

I don't like being the "YOU ARE RIGHT JOHN" type poster, but I definitely agree with your statement here.

Cartoons are a break from reality, why sit down and watch a story about a characters mom dying when your mom may have just died in real life?

Why watch a cartoon about wars and death when there is plenty of that shoved down our throats everyday in the news, newspapers etc.

I think some people are gluttons for negative emotions.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

True, so true! How did cartoons degenerate into executive-heavy, boring filler? Why are we torturing ourselves by ruining a noble medium?

Callum said...

Really great post, and it's all true. It's really highlighted to me why so much stuff now is bad. It's a shame that cartoons do nothing cartoony any more. It really annoys me that cartoons strive to be so realistic nowadays. If you want it to be realistic, why not go the extra mile and use real people?

JohnK said...

The odd thing to me, is the inhuman stuff is not realistic at all.

I doubt that's even what they are striving for, but I could be wrong.

I just find it insincere, predictable and boring.

A little fish said...

I agree with you...Disney certainly has become the criteria for animation. Especially after Pixar, people expect amazing 3D shit in movies that look almost like real life when they could just as well have watched a movie with real actors doing hum-drum stuff instead.

In terms of television, don't you think Japanese animation is taking over? One word: Loonatics.

Back to Disney. I thought you might like to see this if you haven't already:

Callum said...

A perfect example of striving for realism is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Thanks very much for ruining my 12th Birthday party cinema visit by taking us to see that crap, Dad.) With the amount of money they spent on making it:
A: it would've been cheaper to hire real actors, and
B: They could have actually hired some creative geniuses to craft an excellent traditionally-animated cartoon.

Ari said...

tin pan alley cats is friggin god dalm butty ticklingly super funny. red hot riding hood and uncle tom's cabana pretty similar shots with the wolf and le greddy, how long would they get to make a short and what size crew would be on board?

megabulk said...

dear god! The fridge in "King Size Canary" is "Coldernell"! And the "zulu" warriors in the Bimbo cartoon have dice on their shields! What the hell?

But so... why has America gotten so BLAND? The old cartoons celebrated weirdos, misfits, poverty-stricken eccentric FREAKS! Betty's broke and hangs out with weirdo Grampy, Bimbo's a vagabond, the cats are all starving bums, Popeye's a brawling incoherent sailor in love with the ugliest girl. I wonder what's happened to make my country as conformist and safe as it is. Mass-communication? People with money being unwilling to take risks, for fear of harming their bottom line?

megabulk said...

Ha! I'm in Barcelona, and the local government-run theater has a "sessió infantil" every Sunday, with ancient cartoons, and the last one I saw included "Tin Pan Alley Cats" along with Walter Lantz' Jungle Jive, Cow Cow Boogie, and Boogie-Woogie Man Will Get You (as well as a few weird "Puppettoons" by a guy named George Pal) and they were all AWESOME, and the place was filled with parents and children, as well as me and a few other old-men-misfits. No subtitles, and I heard one mom translating on-the-fly to her kid... and me and the old men laughed the hardest. But I have to say: Spain rocks. I'd never seen these cartoons before; they were chock full of good old racial jazz humor, and I'd imagine there'd be no chance in hell of them getting shown in the US, in a state-sponsored theater, for children!

I'll be back there next Sunday, for sure.

Brian B said...

This is my dilemna with your blog as a whole, this post. I think your fighting a good fight. I think you have a damn good point about what's been lost in animation, what we should fight to bring back. But you are a mirror to what exists now. The extreme other side.

There's nothing at all wrong with the question "Shouldn't there be room for cartoons?". Absolutely there should, but you argue 80% of "cartoons should by definition be cartoony. Shouldn't most music be melodic?" - which is just asinine. I could care less about the term cartoon and analogies using it. It's called animation. Before cartoons it was phenakistoscopes and flipbooks. We're lucky they didn't establish some style for those, or somebody else would be yelling about retaining that, just as music should be melody. Thankfully cartoons are admirable, especially the ones you support, or it would be increasingly annoying. We're supposed to be progressive though, not static. It's animation. It has it's roots before and after "cartoony".

To be honest, it's depressing to imagine a world where all animation is, is a fleeting 7 minutes of entertainment zipping by. They could be a blast, but I would enjoy them all the more knowing there's a contrast out there. Something to remind you how incredible those 7 minutes are, and to offer you a different pace for a different day. I'm glad that the industry's not all cartoons, just as I'm glad music's not all rock 'n' roll. They're genres and stylings, to be respected and accepted by the fans who like them. Knowing a great work can come out of any of them.

How do you expect to fully get support from fans/animation enthusiasts, when you're playing the exact opposite card the executives play when they lay down their rules for what a animated show has to be? I understand your predicament, and your fight to influence. And I know "cartoons" should be made by cartoonists, that that's where you and the executives differ - and the end product I'm sure illustrates that. But there are other animation artists out there, who are no less than cartoonists. The last thing I want to see is an industry swing that's going to eliminate their visions from getting across. Who needs the bias, when great work is great work no matter what styling or subject it's in? Why not make a blog that celebrates great work in animation, or is that too complicated to influence people with because it varies by each individual effort?

Your criteria for "quality" is good. It's admirable and influential and inspiring. That's the kind of direction I want to see behind an animated work, which a lot of animation seems to lack on the whole. That's why I wish you were working, that's why I support this blog on the whole. The question that keeps coming to the tip of people's tongues when they read your posts though isn't "Why do all cartoons have to be funny and cartoony?", it's "Why do you go about it the way you do?". Why, when you know what it's like to be on the other side of the coin, do you want want the industry to flip entirely upside down? When there's most certainly good work out there that may not fit cleanly under your criteria for quality, but succeeds none the less.

If you just admitted it was in an effort to influence as many people as you could, push them 100% and maybe you'll get 50%, then I can accept it. I can't any other way though.

Will Finn said...

the conventional wisdom that insists on censoring all-out cartooning in animation is so entrenched that the only time i ever hear an alternative to the 'classic' 'sincere' storyline entertained is when the topic of doing pure horror comes up. this is so often bandied about it will no doubt become a self-fulfilling prophecy one day.

the probelm for me is that horror is not a genre i am interested in. and i tend to gravitate more to features than shorts.

i don't know why, but the amount of resistance to doing a purely cartoony feature is so monumental that it is impossible to thwart. the 'flat earth' theory is that "no one will except it..." Really? no one will except a cartoon that acts like a cartoon? i find it hard to believe. will ferrell and adam mackay makes hilarious, guilt-free all out comedies that make megabucks, but a cartoon is not permitted to tread those same waters. i keep hoping, but i have fought city hall on this one and lost every time.

i am beginning to think that as long as you promised to make it "realistic" enough, you could probably raise funding for an animated porn movie more easily than you could for a purely funny/cartoony feature.

Roberto González said...

Amen to everything you said.

I think cartoons like Beavis and Butthead (you already mentioned them), but also The Simpsons, Dexter's Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob or Foster's have some of those qualities, but they rarely have more than three of them. They mainly have the charismatic characters and the fun. And sometimes the humanity (more in TV cartoons than in animated features).

The "Blew My Mind" factor is certainly nowhere to be found, the skill is rarely as impressive as it was in the old days and the cartoony stuff is prohibited in features and limited in tv series.

Marc Deckter said...

Great post - and I'm happy to see that "story" didn't make the cut.

JohnK said...

Hi Brian B.

The entertainment business version of animation is called "cartoons". It's not trying to be "animation".

The whole business was built by cartoonists who made cartoons.

Then they got kicked out of the business when it was taken over by insincere people who are ashamed of having to make cartoons, so they take cartoon cliches, water them down and try to wedge live action theories in with them.

These animated features I talk about are big budget insincere fake cartoons. They don't have anything to do with what you think of when you think of "animation" as a broad and varied medium.

We are making horrible formulaic bland imitations of cartoons.

Why not make real cartoons instead? They wouldn't cost as much and I bet they would make a lot more money for the initial money invested.

No one is making room in the business for "animation" or variety.

I vote for more cartoons, less lies.

Shawn said...

>>I vote for more cartoons<<

I vote for SOME cartoons!

I'm getting sick of all the comments from people asking why you think ALL cartoons should be funny, when you're really saying you wish SOME cartoons could be funny. Why is it so goddam hard for people to read that?

Brian B said...

Yeah. I understand the entire business and maturation of animation came through cartoonists. In that sense, I didn't give them credit enough in the post above, simply to get to my point.

Anyway, I understand what you're saying about the watering down and insincerity of the "artform" today. You've made a lot of great points about that and opened up some eyes to the misconceptions and lies in that regard, that we're taught to believe. But there's been generations of individuals since then.

Individuals make art. I think the 40's for animation will be distilled as an unreachable standard in terms of mass produced product. They screwed that up. That's gone, but it's just like any other medium today. Quality is an exception in everything. Film, music, animation, comics.. I think it makes an argument to value anything quality, or any effort to bring an individuality to the artform. Even if it doesn't fully succeed, support the step taken.

And quality in animation's history spans wider than just "cartoons". There shouldn't be any percentage attached to what should be "cartoony" and what should be "other", and "serious", "action", and so on. If somebody is inspired enough, something great can come from anywhere. It has in the past.

Anyway, down to the essence of more "real" cartoons and less lies - I'll always support that.

Brian B said...


Probably because Eddie said "all cartoons should be funny and cartoony", and John "80%".

JohnK said...

The greatest flowering of imagination, creativity, skill and popularity in animation happened in the 1930s and 40s.

That's when 90% of animation was made for cartoons by cartoonists.

I would happily give up 10 or 20% of animation to non-cartoonists. Not much of that stuff would be popular or make money, but some lucky accidents might inspire us and give us ideas we might not think of ourselves.

But we would do a lot more skilled and imaginative stuff as a group than the independents would.

JohnK said...

..oh and that was the fastest rate of progress too.

Dan DeHaan said...

Still no cgi animation examples cited for quality. Do they exist? ugh.

Brian B said...

True, but an individual with a vision and a crew behind him can work anywhere across the map. As long as it's not utterly depressing work for the artists. Which is one huge benefit of cartoons, they're fun for people to work on - and I do believe in having fun working. Looking at Clampett though, his work is probably the strongest of his peers thanks to his individual effort, having used the same crew and gotten more out of them.

That's art you get more out of than those who tried to stick with him. And I know you like Chuck Jones 40's work more, but his work is remembered by fans for the fact that he didn't just chase Bob. I'm glad he did what he did in his career. I feel like I get more out of him to see these individual works and massive range of efforts, than to see him hit that spot of pure comedy in line with Clampett and string that the rest of his career.

JohnK said...

Chuck Jones wasn't a cartoonist?

I have my history all wrong I guess.

Raff said...

Naïve question or two here, after all and I mean all this has been said....

John, are you going to make your own cartoon?

How much does it cost to produce what you have in mind anyway? What's the most laborious part? Would online willing volunteer tweeners help?

Brian B said...


He was. I'm saying individuals stand above peers without that individual direction. You can not dictate or categorize individually driven work before it happens. Individuals vary by a large degree, and they should be allowed the range to express that. Putting a percentage on what should be cartoons or otherwise limits that and censors creativity.

PCUnfunny said...


John isn't saying that animation should always be cartoony but he is saying that is what is dose best. The overwhelming evidence is the cartoons of the 1940's. If you are so sure animation is capable of doing something else on that level or higher, please cite an example instead of just saying it's a possiblity.

Chris said...

Hey John,

Great post. But I noticed that you kind of glanced over the cartoony section of your discussion. I'm sure most of us can recognize a cartoony cartoon, but most of us would probably have a hard time describing and discussing cartoony in any concrete sense.

When I think of cartoony, I usually think of fun, funny, and making the impossible possible, along with caricature and exaggeration. But most of these are mentioned as separate qualities on their own. I'm sure a cartoon's cartooniness is somewhat a product of these parts, but is there anything inherently unique about the cartoony trait that we should be looking at? What do you believe attributes to the quality of cartooniness?


Robert said...

We can list all the things that made the old cartoons great and try to do it again, but I have a bad feeling that's how they came up with "Animaniacs".

Paulrus said...

Someone wrote:

"But so... why has America gotten so BLAND? The old cartoons celebrated weirdos, misfits, poverty-stricken eccentric FREAKS! Betty's broke and hangs out with weirdo Grampy, Bimbo's a vagabond, the cats are all starving bums, Popeye's a brawling incoherent sailor in love with the ugliest girl."

The answer is (and I'll try not to be political) that there is one particular political slant in America that says you HAVE TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT. That is what has ruined cartoons.

You can't make fun of anyone for any reason. What's left?? Don't make fun of intelligence - don't make fun of racial stereotypes - don't make fun of the fat, the bald, the ugly, etc.

People are so hyper-sensitive and sue networks at the drop of a hat. Can you imagine if some of the samples JohnK has posted were put on Nick these days? People would be burning down the studio!

The only way to deal with this is to get rid of political correctness - and unfortunately it's getting worse, not better.

Fairly soon all cartoons are going to be an animated version of the McLaughlin Group.

Roberto González said...

Incidentally I believe in the dramatic stuff in an animated a certain extent. I think The Simpsons in some particular episodes of the show handle the dramatic stuff pretty well, the characters don't stop being themselves in those moments and they include some gags so the scenes won't get overly sensitive.

I found Lilo and Stitch pathos kinda sincere for the most part. There is a scene I really liked, in which Stitch is playing alone in the beach while the rest of the family is doing surf. It had a nice song too. I believe little scenes like this one are perfectly ok and they could even be included in a very cartoony feature. It kinda gives some depth without becoming overly sensitive. To me it's much more effective than Nani singing a sappy song to Lilo or them talking about "Ohana" during the whole thing.

What I'm trying to say is that it would be ok to be a little dramatic once in a while in a cartoon feature if it helps to the purpose of your plot, but you can be dramatic without being moralistic or overly sappy, you can be dramatic without being Disney.

Ren Seeks Help had drama.

You can add it in a natural way. The problem is they add too much and it's always the same.

Wray said...

John, you always do a good job at changing my mind about cartoons. I was meaning to ask you about Ratatouille but I knew you would bring it up all by yourself. I can't say that I didn't enjoy the film, in fact I've been telling people that I thought it was excellent - the only Pixar film I had seen thus far that didn't have a single character that annoyed me. But on the flip side, at the END of summer I saw Delicatessen which had some rather bizarre scenes by any live action standards so it only makes sense that an animated film would be able to be even MORE wild. SO now I'm not sure where I stand on the issue.

PCUnfunny said...

>We can list all the things that made the old cartoons great and try to do it again, but I have a bad feeling that's how they came up with "Animaniacs".<<

That wasn't a try, that was a farce.

DB Dowd said...

Interesting post, interesting discussion. The "animating" assumption of much of it has to do with ideas of authenticity--what is a real cartoon? To speak of such a thing is to suggest a definition, even if one is not spelled out. The criteria listed make sense, but they still assume that what a "cartoon" is has been settled.

I blog on visual culture at and have responded today to this post as well as one from July, titled "What is a cartoon?" Everybody welcome!

crazyharmke said...

Nice post! I totally agree.

I live in Holland & most kids here can only watch bad designed cartoons on tv. Hardly no tvstation broadcasts good cartoons.

This became totally clear to me this afternoon... I watched a quiz-game for 12 year old kids. The quizmaster asked a girl this question:
"Which cartoon-character always says "meep meep"?"
That's an easy question, right?! The girl had to choose between "Road Runner, Woody Woodpecker and Speedy Gonzales". Well, the girl answerd.... "Woody Woodpecker" :|

I were completely, totally shocked! First I thought that she was just stupid by not knowing the right answer... But then I realized "John K is soo right!" 'Cause because all those stupid junk cartoons, she doesn't know who Road Runner is and just guessed that it was Woody Woodpecker. Probably she doesn't know all three of the characters that were shown to her... Pathetic....

Keep on going John & bring the fun back to the tv!

Allblues said...

Your sence of quality if found in Japan in animations like "One Piece", try it I think you will find kindred spirits accros the way.

Mefx1 said...

"Mickey is a cute character but has no soul."

I agree to certain extent, but the real question is, why is Mickey loved by millions if he has no soul? Makes me think...

what do you think?

pappy d said...

brian b:

I'm sure if John were Emperor of Earth, there'd be a much bigger animation pie to divide amongst us. 20% of the world cartoon budget could be much more than what non-cartoony animation has to work with today.

I've always been amazed at what still hasn't been tried in animation. That said, a lot of creative intelligence has been hurled against this medium since it was invented. For practical purposes, a particular type of cartoony has worked the best.

PCUnfunny said...

>>I'm sure if John were Emperor of Earth<<

I love John but that is a scary thought.

JohnH said...

King Size Canary! It's been ages since I last saw that! Awesome!

While I don't -completely- agree that cartoon characters must always be selfish bastards because it's "human nature," it's not hard to see that Mickey Mouse is, at best, a Milquetoast guy, and at worst an empty vessel to be filled with "Disney magic," a vile sparkly substance which is intended to be, for modern kids, a replacement for real imagination.

(Yeah, I'm bitter.)

Marlo Meekins said...

Great post!

So many people think that life is deep, complex and vague, but fortunately it's not at all. When life's faults and silly traits are noted, the audience reacts like it's an inside joke, and feels at home. It's really smart.

The more honesty there is in any project, the better the comedic result. There should be honesty and plenty of the absurd added on top of it.

kurtwil said...

This post inspired comparing Tex to Disney's "Cinderella III".
Tex's version has Preston Blair pumping an enormous amount of energy into a funny, engaging dancer being chased by a comic wolf. It's great classic aniamtion, for sure, but could those characters hold up under a whole hour of viewing?

On other hand Disney's 3rd try came from an Australian studio being shut down while the feature was being finished (to their credit, its animators pumped in far more effort than expected). The heroine actually became an action hero in the flick's final moments, but still, that Cindy's a live action referenced, rigidly controlled design that the director tried to make interesting for the film's duration.

Which had better J.K. quality? Seemed like Avery all the way.

Can animation "quality", the kind that John K and others love so much (me too), be sustained for an entire feature? I honestly don't know of any Feature doing it for its entire length, but if John K. knows, perhaps he can share those with us!