Dr. Toon: The ADHD Metastasis
On the other hand, the 20 episodes of 12 oz. Mouse were at least eighteen too many, and no one will ever mourn Assy McGee, Stroker and Hoop, or The Drinky Crow Show. In short, Fox is taking a risk importing Adult Swim sensibilities to a major network, but it’s not a major risk; both Cartoon Network and MTV (Liquid Television) proved that audiences would watch skewed, off-the-wall series and shorts given the chance.
But what took so long? Granted, the Animation Domination block was probably a novel idea that the other three established networks weren’t pursuing, but Adult Swim had been around since 2001. Liquid Television launched in 1991. Comedy Central fired up South Park in 1997. Were the major networks not paying attention?
The answer likely lies in the summer and Fall of 2000, a period I refer to as the Great Prime-Time Slaughterhouse of animated series. During this time, networks actually did try to cash in on the prime-time success of The Simpsons and South Park, also noting that Web-based animation shows on Icebox.com were creating a stir in 1999.
Unfortunately, many of the efforts were poor. Some got the green light even though the creators had no previous animation experience. Networks are in the business for money, and quickly found there was none to be had. The Simpsons, they figured, must have been a one-off anomaly. Still, that was fourteen years ago, a long time to be gun-shy. The major networks today invest in “edgy” new comedies and crime dramas that could not have possibly aired even twenty-five years ago.
My own theory is that the generation raised on Web-based cartoons, MTV, and Cartoon Network is now very desirable one to sponsors; after all, the younger the demographic, the better. The anime explosion of the late 1980s also made adult animation fans hungry for headier things. Finally, mainstream animation itself is transforming as an entertainment medium. Audiences now expect heavy doses of self-referential irony and adult themes to go with the Flash and Maya. The migration of edgier, wilder animation took this long because the major networks are finally figuring out that the right audience is coming of age now.
With FOX ADHD, we are seeing a revolution in action, the next phase of Animation Domination heavily flavored by the sensibilities of cable and independent networks. If successful, there is no reason that NBC, ABC, and CBS will not follow FOX. This is all to the good of we animation aficionados, who will watch a good series no matter who is savvy enough to air it.
Animation Domination Variation
As I began this column, strange and wonderful things were happening at the box office. Animated films, notably Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University were riding herd over several live-action disappointments projected to outearn them. MU was the second highest-grossing film of June, nearly tied with Man of Steel. DM2 ruled July so thoroughly that there was virtually no competition. The Lone Ranger, After Earth, R.I.P.D. and Pacific Rim should have been so lucky. Nope, World War Z didn’t beat them, either. Even Escape from Planet Earth exceeded expectations. It’s likely that the biggest animated letdown was Epic, although Turbo will need to pick up speed to avoid seriously underperforming.
Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty (July 26, 2013 issue) believes that, given the middling quality of the two films in comparison with past glories, we are not embarking on a new boom in animated features. The summer of animated success, he opines, is the product of “kids on furlough from school (who) aren’t as discriminating as their elders”. Now, Nasawaty is a veteran critic I look up to, but I must disagree. Audiences, I believe, realized that Epic and Turbo contained heavy doses of recycled elements and were not up to the creative efforts of MU or DM 2. Did kids, over the course of their summer furloughs, experience exponential growth in their critical abilities?
Truth is, the two animated films, while not on the level of vintage Pixar, were much better pieces of work than the live-action blockbuster ho-hum flops they were up against. Both adult and younger audiences knew it. MU and DM2 may not be the finest grade of cream, but they still rose to the top.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.