#2. THE TEN WORST ANIMATION COMPANIES EVER*
I've batted this article idea around for a while, right up there with the various Your Scene Sucks and Everything You Know Is Wrong articles that might or might not be forthcoming. Today, I'm going to be a complete idiot and make a "top ten" list about cartoon studios. Everyone tends to whine about things like how Widget The World Watcher is really fucking insane and they tend to miss the most salient point about the animation industry: how it's a fucking chasm that tends to reward mediocrity by giving a bunch of Koreans shitty sweatshop jobs. For every Beavis and Butthead and Kevin Spencer there are eighteen shitty ripoffs of Spongebob Squarepants and fifteen crappy "adult" shows like Gary the Rat that look like they were made for $15.50 and a bottle of Jack Daniels. It's difficult narrowing a list like this down to ten, because the companies tend to fuck each other something fierce. In the end, I used this criteria:
This, by the way, isn't an immaculately-researched scholarly-type article and most of it is opinion. I also realise I use the word "worst" suggestively here, knowing full well that I don't work in the cartoon business myself (and why would I). Without further ado, I shall now stick my foot in my mouth and entertain you as well as inform. It's infotainment!
10 | RALPH BAKSHI
BEST KNOWN FOR: Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Cool World
REASON FOR INCLUSION: His extreme cost-cutting measures.
To be quite honest, Bakshi and his studio shouldn't be here. I realise a lot of Bakshi's work looked cheap because his studio couldn't do it any other way. Still, Bakshi's work is hit-and-miss. Bakshi's studio is mostly remembered for Fritz the Cat and that segment Bakshi did for Heavy Metal. I'm willing to wager that's all the studio is going to be remembered for (and don't bitch about how I could forget Wizards and Coonskin, you Bakshi marks). I don't personally like Bakshi's style, myself. There's something wrong-looking with the animation done by him and his studio, how it looks sometimes like an eight-year-old animated it. I also can't stand Bakshi's over-reliance on rotoscoping (i.e., tracing an outline of a live-action character and animating the tracings) as rotoscoping almost never looks good no matter who does it. This is not why I included Bakshi's studio, though. I include Bakshi because his studio carried limited animation to its absolute extreme when Bakshi animated for Spider-Man and Rocket Robin Hood. Again, the lack of budget hurt Bakshi, but by the end of Spider-Man's run the studio always re-used what seemed to be the same eight clips (Spider-Man Swinging On Rope, Spider-Man Climbing, Peter Parker Moving His Lips While Putting On Spider-Man Costume) ad nauseum. It looked like Bakshi's studio didn't care by the time 1970 rolled around. The re-used cels were decaying, an entire show was used for both Spider-Man and Rocket Robin Hood ("Dementia Five"), and by the end everything was reduced to clip shows. The character and background designs were great on Bakshi's runs of Spider-Man and Rocket Robin Hood, but Bakshi's studio showed such an extreme laziness on those two shows that I had to include the studio on this list. Bakshi's later reliance on "erotic" character designs (cf. Cool World, Spicy City) didn't help his cause much either.
9 | GRANTRAY-LAWRENCE
BEST KNOWN FOR: The original Spider-Man and Rocket Robin Hood, The Marvel Superheroes Show and its various segments
REASON FOR INCLUSION: There were, what, fifteen actual frames in every episode of Iron Man?
I always thought the cartoons that were made for The Marvel Superheroes Hour were good, myself. From an animation standpoint, they are absolutely fucking horrendous. Half the time it's just one cel that gets moved around or has a superimposed mouth to create the illusion of the character actually talking. This cheat still looks awesome, though. The cartoons look and move like the comics they are based off of. Still, it was a design cheat even for the 1960's, budget animation carried to a logical extreme. Grantray-Lawrence gradually improved around the time Spider-Man was released, but they went bankrupt after Spider-Man's first twenty episodes. Sad, really. I don't know what Grantray-Lawrence would have evolved into but they leave a strange legacy behind. Their product looks like it could be animated for the price of a computer and some bored animator who knows something about Flash, but at least they were true to their source. I wish someone would animate this way again.
8 | MARVEL [DEPATIE-FRELENG]
BEST KNOWN FOR: Fantastic Four, the 1980's Spider-Man, Dungeons & Dragons, G.I. Joe...and My Little Pony
REASON FOR INCLUSION: Incessant trademark whoring.
DePatie-Freleng used to be a decent studio. They made The Pink Panther, The Ant & The Aardvark, subversive shit like that. Somehow, Marvel bought the studio (or Roger Corman did and Marvel slapped its name on it. The whole sordid business of what happened with D-F confuses me), and turned it into a crap factory. Does My Little Pony really seem like something Marvel would produce? Marvel's known for its superheroes, war comics, and hiring superfanboys like Rob Liefeld, John Byrne and Todd Macfarlane. It makes no sense. The odd thing about all of this is how the Marvel characters themselves were whored out in unremarkable cartoons that smacked of second-rent Superfriends. The thing I find most funny about D-F/Marvel is how they treated The Fantastic Four. Apparently lobby groups didn't want the Human Torch to be a part of the group (kids would set fire to themselves to be like a third-rate superhero, you see. Like anybody's given a shit about the Human Torch since 1968.) Enter comic relief, an annoying robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. One flaming robot for another...makes perfect sense. Marvel would eventually get Saban to distribute their cartoons, which by then weren't nearly as bad. They weren't great, mind you, but then Marvel has always been a trademark whore. What do you expect from a company that goes bankrupt every four years?
7 | DISNEY
BEST KNOWN FOR: Uh, Disney?
REASON FOR INCLUSION: Incessant trademark whoring and trend-hopping.
I hesitated to put Disney down for about five seconds...and then I realised that this is a company that whores out dozens of direct-to-video sequels of every movie they've ever had, and whores out dozens of programs based on the flimsiest of trademarks on top of that. Seriously, the movie division may put out some good films (technically, of course - no one's ever going to confuse Disney with something superior, like test patterns or South Park) but all that ever comes from their television division are shows that tend to exploit trends in the animation industry. The Powerpuff Girls are big? Rip them off and make them multi-cultural. People want more Nick-style toons? Buy the Doug trademark. Digimon's hot? Buy Saban. It all serves to feed Mickey Mouse's coffers in the end. There's nothing wrong with the shows technically, of course. Disney does their standard lukewarm television animation on everything they do. It's just that nothing the company has created has any soul. Also, Disney has this weird fixation with limited releases of "classic" animated films. "Buy Bambi 2002 before it goes back in the Disney vault!" Somehow, I think I'll pass.
6 | BOHBOT/BKN
BEST KNOWN FOR: Monster Rancher, Kong, Mighty Max...basically crap.
REASON FOR INCLUSION: They latch onto trends and come up with mutated concepts like Kong.
The man who owns this company (Allen Bohbot, hence the name) seems to have ripped off the Saban business model and is presently calling it his own. BKN seems to be more a distributor than a producer of cartoons, but since Mr. Bohbot slapped the name of his "fourth children's network" (I love when grandeur announces itself like that) onto an animation studio formerly called Epoch Ink, they're here. Bohbot/BKN shows, when they're not whoring concepts like Voltron, tend to take concepts based in part on trend-hopping, except that the series themselves tend to rip off two-year-old trends. For instance, Ultimate Book of Spells rips off Harry Potter, while Kong quite obviously ripped off the Godzilla model. This would be all fine and good, but the shows themselves have to be more interesting. For example, Kong, which should be about a rampaging giant gorilla fighting villagers and assorted evildoers, has this mutated concept attached to it. See, the original Kong (as in King Kong, but not - King Kong's a trademark, you know) was created by the woman who the original Kong abducted way back when. Kong's original DNA wasn't enough to recreate him, so the scientist completed the process with a human. There are also these "cyberlinks" (also created by the scientist - keep in mind she's the chick who the original Kong was in love with) which serve the purpose of merging a person with an animal to create a fifty-foot-tall-plus monster. It's like a grab-bag of shitty concepts in one simple show. Somehow this was sold to Fox. I'll never understand the machinations of the human mind.
5 | NELVANA
BEST KNOWN FOR: Rock & Rule, John Callahan's Quads!. The bulk of their work consists of shows based on toys, movies, television shows etc.
REASONS FOR INCLUSION: Two reasons here. One, Rock & Rule. Two, what they did after Rock & Rule.
I remember reading an article in the Toronto Star where the writer was whining about how Nelvana's output was disappointing ever since Rock & Rule because their cartoons were basically extensions of brand names. Of course, if I ran a fledgling animation company trying to establish a Canadian presence I would not have released something like Rock & Rule. The elements for a good film are there - a trendy dystopian future circa the early 1980's, Iggy Pop, decent animation - but the movie featured a bunch of mutated humanoid rats, dogs and cats and a story about a rock star trying to find immortality. It's like Don Bluth doing Blade Runner. The film naturally bombed, and Nelvana has since spent the last twenty years doing series like Care Bears, My Pet Monster and Beetlejuice. You can't fault a company like Nelvana for doing these shows, but since this is Canada their shows are recycled like crazy. The result is something like Care Bears running on Canadian television for fifteen straight years. I'd hate any company if they recycled crap for that long. To be honest, I liked when Nelvana did Care Bears just because the show completely fell apart after a while - they went through a caveman phase, a "Care Bears in Space" phase, and parodies of things like exercise shows and The Nutcracker Suite before reality finally killed that show. Their "all-new" output isn't that good, either - mainly tepid shows made for the UK market or meant to be burnt off on a station like Teletoon. While some of these shows are decent (e.g. Captain Star, Quads!, The Adventures of Tintin), there hasn't been anything Nelvana has done since 1983 to seperate them from BKN or Saban. Essentially, they're Hanna-Barbera with better animation and a bear for a logo. Spot the segue!
4 | HANNA-BARBERA/CARTOON NETWORK STUDIOS
BEST KNOWN FOR: Yogi Bear, Powerpuff...look, you fucking know already. I know some of you secretly watch Scooby Doo when you're bored. Come on.
REASONS FOR INCLUSION: Their good name took a dive in the 1970's and 1980's as they became more formulaic. Nowadays, their good name is taking a dive by relying too much on Genndy Tartakovsky...and becoming more formulaic.
Here it is, the name that started it all. The Hanna-Barbera studio has created characters that will be a part of North American culture millions of years after we're all dead - Space Ghost, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, Birdman, Space Ghost, Space Ghost, Snagglepuss, Space Ghost - but after the late 1960's H-B started to whore their old trademarks and do shows like Superfriends or rip off trends and create something like Jabberjaw (basically a shark with a band - everyone had a band in the 1970's. Standard policy.) I'm not going to dissect their work like everyone else does. It's quite obvious how poor these shows are just by looking at them, and there are entire sites dedicated to talking about how shows like Superfriends and what year's flavour of Scooby-Doo was being offered at the time really sucked. I hate whining about Scrappy-Doo. Nowadays, H-B/Cartoon Network Studios is all about Genndy Tartakovsky and making fun of their own shows. I know Tartakovsky created Dexter's Laboratory and had a hand in creating Powerpuff Girls. Nowadays, he's been given the chance to animate Star Wars shorts and patted on the back for creating an "epic," "lushly animated" show like Samurai Jack. Never mind the fact it's the same animation style with no outlines. I guess no outlines makes it more "lush." Hey, if you don't like that then there's a show about characters from various 1960's/1970's H-B shows (Birdman, Space Ghost, Sealab 2020 etc.) making comebacks as talk show hosts, lawyers or cleaning ladies every year on the Cartoon Network. Basically, the now Cartoon Network Studios is going back to their old habits. What can I say, they're ingrained habits and they die hard.
3 | FILMATION
BEST KNOWN FOR: Ghostbusters (the one with the gorilla), He-Man, Fat Albert, The Archie Show.
REASON FOR INCLUSION: Their anonymity with regards to whatever they produced.
Filmation might only be familiar to some people because they produced He-Man. It's sad to say that, because Filmation had been around for more than a decade at the time He-Man was produced. Still, their name tends to come up often when talking about shows of the 1970's. Filmation wasn't a bad company artistically. Their work is about as bland as one can get for a company with origins dating to the late 1960's - pre-Superfriends cartoons based on DC Comics characters (e.g. The Flash), Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Archie Show, and other boring shows of the era. Which is just it - the company was well-known for being a perfectly serviceable animation studio and nothing else. They were there before the Nelvanas and the DiCs of the world, putting out rehashes and effluvia designed to fill TV time on Saturday mornings just to mildly entertain a few kids. At least when Nelvana does this whore-for-hire schtick they do a decent job of it. Filmation productions are dead between the eyes by comparison, because the whole business model for Filmation seemed to be based on product, not quality of same. If it wasn't for Filmation the other whore-for-hires wouldn't have followed their lead. Besides, I'd like to know how you can get more white-bread than The Archie Show. It's a rather impossible task and I don't know if it can be done.
2 | RUBY-SPEARS
BEST KNOWN FOR: Being Hanna-Barbera II, essentially. Also: Alvin & The Chipmunks, Turbo Teen, 1988's Superman.
REASON FOR INCLUSION: Well, considering they were both owned by The Taft Entertainment Company, H-B and R-S were pretty much interchangeable in the 1980's.
The whole brouhaha with Ruby-Spears was that it was formed by former Hanna-Barbera employees. Now, splinter companies usually have the effect of having the new company work its ass off not to be like their former oppressors. It's a business model rooted in history and in all walks of life. For example, ABC came to exist because the American government forced NBC to sell off one of its radio networks. Spümco came to exist because Kricfalusi and others were sick of working on crappy assembly-line cartoons. Hell, Hanna-Barbera existed because both William Hanna and Joseph Barbera could finally make serious money off characters they created. Ruby-Spears, however, looks like an imprint more than an original company. There's nothing inherently different about R-S, which is obvious because Taft owned both companies during the 1980's. I think that was the only reason for R-S to exist - if Taft didn't think Alvin and the Chipmunks fit the H-B mould, Ruby-Spears would produce it. Superfriends not salable anymore? Wait a few years, have Superman turn 50, new show. Ruby-Spears did a few other shows, but it and Hanna-Barbera tended to blur into each other when they co-existed. Being a byword for cheap animation and having Alvin and the Chipmunks as a flagship show doesn't help, either.
1 | DiC
BEST KNOWN FOR: Continuing to exist and, uh, Inspector Gadget.
REASON FOR INCLUSION: A shitty ripoff of Get Smart is this company's most well-known show. Why wouldn't DiC be here?
DiC has a long and storied history of producing shows based on trends, and I think the company has essentially existed that way since the beginning. DiC seems to be the culmination of a company built on a few foundations. There's that budget-cutting bad animation (Hammerman), shows based on trends that were half-dead when the idea was announced (Hammerman again, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, New Kids on the Block, two shows based on Sonic the Hedgehog), and the sort of cookie-cutter feel of the shows that used to be the forté of companies like Filmation. Essentially, they're a modern-day Filmation. This alone does not give them the #1 spot. What gives DiC a #1 spot is the fact that their post-1988 end credits had some child-like voice saying "DIIIICK" as if ten-year-olds didn't have dirty minds by then. Think about it, kids were watching DIIIICK and some impressionable kids were going to repeat that word to their parents for hours on end. "Hey mom, I saw DIIIICK on TV!" This problem wasn't rectified until the early 1990's (the official pronounciation of DiC is "deek" now). The founder of the company, by the way, managed to sell DiC to Disney in the mid-1990's. In the late 1990's, he bought it back. That says more about the worth of that company than I ever could. Well, that and somebody thought basing a show around MC Hammer was a good idea.
Anyway, there it is. Whether this article is good or bad is up to you, and it's probably a conflict of interest that I can talk about Gruesome Stuff Relish and kids' cartoon companies on the same site. I'm schizophrenic like that. Next article, I'll be talking about why they need to start basing kids' cartoons around Mortician lyrics. Should be fun. C U Next Time!