Animation History 5 – Feature Films through TV Series
Animation history had really slowed down as cartoons entered the fifties. Sure, now animated feature films were now a commonplace item in local theaters, and they only got better. But now most of the “firsts” had been made, and while the films definitely became more finely crafted, animation was not in a refining process, not a creating process.
Perhaps the biggest bit of news in these decades was the jump of cartoons to the small screen, most notably by the ex-MGM directors William Hanna and Joe Barbera. Their names would be inseparable from the hundreds of characters they created for Saturday morning cartoon shows.
Animation History 5
MGM’s biggest cartoon stars would come in the form of the cat-and-mouse duo Tom and Jerry, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940. The Tom and Jerry cartoons won seven Academy Awards between 1943 and 1953. In 1941, Tex Avery, another Schlesinger/Warner Bros. alumnus, joined the animation department at MGM. It was Avery who gave the unit its image and style, with successes like Red Hot Riding Hood, Swing Shift Cinderella, and the Droopy series.
Avery left the studio in 1953, leaving Hanna and Barbera to focus on the popular Tom and Jerry and Droopy series. After 1955, all cartoons were filmed in wide screen CinemaScope until MGM closed its cartoon division in 1957. Hanna and Barbera started their own studio, and became synonymous with television cartoons.
With the Fleischer Studios released Mr. Bug Goes To Town in December 1941, the working relationship between studio founder and executive producer Max Fleischer and his brother and studio head director Dave Fleischer had reached a point the two could no longer work together. Exercising an option in their loan to the brothers, Paramount stepped in and assumed full ownership of Fleischer Studios on May 25, 1941. The brothers remained at the studio as figureheads only through the end of the year. As 1942 began, Paramount reorganized the studio, moved it back to New York, ultimately reincorporated it as Famous Studios on May 25, 1942.
Paramount’s new animation division kept many of the people from the Fleischer Studios. Fleischer business manager Sam Buchwald became the new studios’ executive producer, storyboard artist Isadore Sparber and head animator Seymour Kneitel shared responsibilities as supervising producers and credited directors. Animators Myron Waldman, David Tendlar, Tom Johnson, Nicholas Tafuri, and Al Eugster made the move to Famous Studios in New York (Fleischer Studios was based in Miami).
Many of the more popular series survived the transition, too, such as Popeye the Sailor and Superman. By 1943, the expensive Superman series was dropped in favor of Little Lulu, based on a Saturday Evening Post comic strip character. Popeye made the transition to color the same year. Older series like Screen Songs were brought back, also in color. The Noveltoons series became a proving ground for new series, and spun off many popular series. Unlike Fleischer, Famous Studios never produced any feature-length animated films.
1942 – 1967
UPA (United Productions of America)
UPA, short for United Productions of America, began as a studio creating political/industrial and World War II training films. After receiving a contract to produce theatrical shorts for Columbia Pictures, UPA stretched it’s wings, and became quite influential as it developed it’s own unique animation style and technique, and its innovations were recognized and copied by the other major animation studios. UPA pioneered the technique of limited animation as a stylistic alternative to the growing trend of recreating cinematic realism in animated films, not as a cost-cutting and time-saving measure as it later became.
UPA is most remembered for the Mr. Magoo theatrical among various theatrical series the studio produced, and the The Gerald McBoing-Boing Show for CBS. In the 1960s, UPA produced the Dick Tracy series and Mr. Magoo specials. UPA also produced two features, 1001 Arabian Nights and Gay Purr-ee. After the animation studio shut down, UPA distributed Japanese films from Toho Studios in the 1970s and 1980s.
1944 – 1964
Lady and the Tramp
This Disney classic film was released as the first all-cartoon feature in CinemaScope.
Hedging his bets, Walt Disney also had the film photographed in standard Academy format for theaters lacking the new CinemaScope system. However, by the time that the film was completed, CinemaScope had been so popular that the Academy version stayed almost entirely unseen for decades.
June 16, 1955
A milestone in TV history, Crusader Rabbit was the first made-for-television animated series. Conceived by animator Alex Anderson and financier Jay Ward, the series was sold to NBC in 1948. The network decided not telecast Crusader Rabbit on their network, allowing the producers to sell the series in national syndication, with many NBC affiliates (including New York and Los Angeles) picking it up for local showings.
Skeptics thought a weekly animated series would be too costly to turn a profit, but Ward came up with a way to buck the system: limited animation. Most classically animated theatrical cartoons had 40 cels (individual drawings) per foot of film, but Ward’s new style would utilize only 4 cels per foot. As a result, the 19.5-minute shows came in at approximately $2,500 per episode.
1949 – 1951
The Ruff and Reddy Show
Ruff (the Cat) and Reddy (the Dog) was the first TV cartoon series marketed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and the newly formed H-B Enterprises (the future Hanna-Barbera) after MGM shut down its animation division. This was also the first hosted show consisting of new Saturday morning cartoons.
1957 – 1960
The Huckleberry Hound Show
The Huckleberry Hound Show was the first half-hour animated show on television. A blue dog with a Southern drawl, Huckleberry was marvelously deadpan as he wandered through his cartoon world making witty observations. Sharing screen time with the extroverted Yogi Bear, Huckleberry was more straight man than show stealer, but he has still managed to build up loyal fans throughout the decades.
1958 – 1961
The first prime-time animated show, and it put Hanna-Barbera on the map for good, this show proved a cross-over hit that appealed to children and parents alike. An animated take off on TV’s “The Honeymooners” set in prehistoric times, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble struggle through their lives with their wives, Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble.
1960 – 1966
One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Most notable about this film is that it was the first full feature animated film Disney made using the xerography process. Rather than hand-inking the outlines of the animated characters on each cel- a very time-consuming process- the drawings were transferred nearly instantaneously to the cels with a xerox machine. The results are readily apparent to anyone who compares the outlines of the animated characters from this film, and any preceding Disney animated film.
January 25, 1961