During the '60s and '70s, American animation seemed to stop moving, as limited animation grew increasingly limited and less animated. During the '80s, it's largely ceased to be American, as more work is shipped overseas, where it's drawn cheaply, if not well.
The '80s also saw the animated feature become a marketing tool, rather than a form of entertainment. Toy companies have taken to underwriting films about their products, a slimy practice that has proved exceedingly profitable. "The Care Bears Movie" (1982) only cost about $4 million, but earned more than $22 million--not counting the added merchandise sales.
The quality of these films has been uniformly abysmal. The simple-minded stories are badly told, the designs look uninspired and the animation itself limps along, as if the characters were afflicted with some crippling neuromuscular disease. Any suggestion of violence or dramatic conflict is carefully excised to avoid offending the self-styled watchdog groups.
The product features exploit children, yet parents are forced to patronize them because, aside from the re-releases of the Disney classics, what is there for a child to see?
The first hopeful sign is Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective," an excellent film with a strong story and imaginative animation. American animation is overdue for a renaissance. A high-quality feature can still be made in this country for less than $10 million--considerably less than the average live-action film. Good stories exist that can be told best in animation, and talented young artists are waiting for the chance to animate something other than Saturday morning schlock.
Even animators with a grudge against Disney have their fingers crossed.
Best Animated Films of the '80s: The White Mare's Son (Marcell Jankovics, Hungary, 1982), The Great Mouse Detective (Disney, United States, 1986), The Adventures of Mark Twain (Will Vinton, United States, 1986), Crac! (Frederic Back, Canada, 1981), Anna and Bella (Borg Ring, Netherlands, 1985), The Big Snit (Richard Conde, Canada, 1985).
Animators to Watch: Glen Keane: he did the key work on Ratigan in "Mouse Detective"; Kihachiro Kawamoto: Japanese puppet animator adapting Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku plays to a new medium; Sara Petty: graceful charcoal and pastel drawings; Larry Cuba: computer films of austere beauty; Eric Goldberg, Oscar Grillo, Bob Kurtz: Three successful commercial animators.