The past couple of weeks, we took a look at the situation of 2D animation in Hollywood and how it might disappear from the box office entirely. While many 2D fans are disappointed by that realization, there is hope for the medium in other avenues, for the most part.
During my childhood, I always heard an incantation of the phrase, “Saturday morning cartoons.” Many people my age had their personal favorites, whether they were action-packed adventures like the “X-Men” animated series or downright nutty series like “The Tick.”
To television studios, animated children’s shows were cheap and easy to produce. This was particularly the case when trying to capitalize on the fame of a larger franchise, much like what shows such as “The Real Ghostbusters” or “Conan the Adventurer” tried to do. While there was an influx of poor quality shows, there was also a string of really good, now classic, animated series. Top examples of this are the aforementioned “X-Men” series and “Batman: The Animated Series.”
However, not all animated series were left to the Saturday morning slots. Some of the more popular animated series were given primetime airings, in addition to the fair share of adult-oriented primetime series. The most notable of these include “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” While shows like those were comedy-centric, there were also the odd shows that sought to tell a compelling story, the best example being the Spielberg-produced Invasion: America.”
Much to the dismay of fans, the Saturday morning blocks are also on their way out due to the advent of channels such as Cartoon Network and the more family-centric Qubo, but that is not the only place where 2D thrives. Recent trends have created a new haven for the troubled medium.
In the past, when you wanted to know how bad or good a movie was, you could simply see if it had a theatrical release. Most of the time, if it was a TV movie, or if it went straight to VHS, you know, before DVD’s and the internet, that wasn’t a good sign. If you recall from most people’s reviews of “Green Lantern,” then you’ll find that most people equated the film to a “TV movie,” which is often a derogatory connotation.
This was especially true for animated and family films. While there are exceptions to every rule, like “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” most of the time, straight-to-video films were usually of poor quality. Oftentimes, many of these releases were made specifically to capitalize on the popularity of a recent theatrical release or successful television series.
However, in the case of animation, there has been a change in this trend. As animation technologies became more developed, the level of quality for straight-to-video animations has been raised. Most notable examples of this include the Marvel Animated Features, feature length animated films based on lesser known Marvel events and characters, as well as the Warner Premiere releases that follow the same concept, but instead using the DC universe. Both strings of releases feature high quality 2D animation on a level similar to the animated shows of the 90’s, if not higher.
Overall, straight-to-video releases have become a haven for animation companies that seek to establish themselves in the industry. As recent technologies and efforts improve, there will come a day when the term “straight-to-video” will no longer equate the kiss of death.
Next week, we’ll take a look at one of the largest thriving havens for 2D animation, one often rocked by controversy and lauded with acclaim. This is not only an entry into 2D animation, but a completely separate entity. Of course, I’m talking about mystifying creature that is Japanese animation.