There has been some changes in American animation in the 21st century. Hand-drawn animation is rare nowadays. Many animated shows made in this century hardly make it to three seasons. Even the quality of the animation has gone down considerably too. Quality has gone down because new animated shows are constantly being released to make sure they are on time, and production budgets are much smaller. The time to make sure everything is top notch would take too long, since many animation studios are working on several projects, or are in a rush to work on the next upcoming project. And if that sounds like it’s not enough, most of the American animation is finished overseas! Characters, backgrounds, storyboards, music, and voice overs are all made in America. But most of the animation work is produced in South Asia and India. It is done this way because it is cheaper, it keeps animation production costs down, and there is also less work that the original animators have to do. Animation in America has been completed this way for a while now, but not all animation studios do this.
Computer generated imagery animation has come a long way since the 1990’s. CGI typically has objects rendered in 3-D. You can look at the image and tell that it has three dimensions. Cel shading is fairly new in the animation field. With cel shading, it is like cross between CGI and traditional animation. In traditional animation, it is almost impossible to distinguish the background and the characters without the heavy use of outlines. Cel animation cuts down the use of outlines to a minimum. Not only that, cel shading can be added to create more depth, on characters as well as backgrounds. The result is that characters can look 3-D without extensively using CGI, and the animation will still have a traditional feel to it. Shadows also look more realistic too. An early example of this can be seen in Spiderman: The New Animated Series (2003).
Jimmy Neutron was the first American-made computer animated series made in the 21st century. It is made entirely of 3-D CGI scenes. It was ground breaking at the time, with a little bit of high detail, like smoke and clothing material. Reruns can be seen on Nickelodeon.
The latest CGI animated show made is The Penguins of Madagascar, which debuted in 2008. The show is based off of the movie, Madagascar. The film came out in 2005, but the four penguins, Skipper, Kowalski, Private, and Rico are the main stars of the show. They are always fighting with King Julian, a lemur from the Madagascar movie. Airing on Nickelodeon, the show mainly focuses on the adventures that the four penguins go through in their home in Central Park Zoo. Lighting, shading, shadows, fur and water are created very well on this show.
Notable Animated Shows
Although there aren’t many outstanding animated shows like there use to be like in the past, there are still some noteworthy animated shows out there.
Debuting on Cartoon Network in 2001, this show is about an alien named Zim who’s alien race wants to rule the world, starting with Earth. It sounds like an overused premise, right? But in this series, Zim is a green alien who is the size of a middle aged kid. He has a barely functioning ship and a companion that resembles a dog, slightly. Zim has a whole slew of alien gadgetry and he always has plans to take over the world, but he is always messing it up. This animated show is one of a kind because of its extensive use of innovative computer animated imagery, dark comedy, and over the top scenes. For example, there is an episode when Zim is at school and one of his human friends hits him with a water balloon. It’s devastating, since water is his weakness. A battle ensues, with Zim constantly losing. He decides enough is enough and flies off up into space. He makes a water balloon so big, its bigger than the Earth. He aims for his school, which ends up flooding everywhere and everything. After this happens, Zim ends up winning. The CGI is also made very well in this show. Combined with cel shading, it is visually striking.
SpongeBob Squarepants (1999-present)
“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” This line is from the beginning of SpongeBob Squarepants, a really popular show that airs on Nickelodeon since 1999. I know that its from the 20th century, but this show really started to get famous in 2000. SpongeBob looks like a yellow kitchen sponge who wears shorts, a work shirt, tie, striped socks, and shiny black shoes. The shirt doesn’t make any sense, since the sleeves of his shirt are not connected to his shirt at all. He is an adult, but acts like a kid all the time. He blows bubbles, goes jellyfish hunting, and sings at random. He has a best friend named Patrick, who is a pink starfish. He is not really smart, but he hangs out with SpongeBob because they like to do the same things. They live in a town called Bikini Bottom, underwater. SpongeBob usually causes havoc and wrecks the town once in awhile, but the townspeople generally like SpongeBob Squarepants. So what makes this show noteworthy? SpongeBob can get sick, he can get torn to pieces and put back together, his eyes often blow up, and he takes his job as a fry cook seriously, just to name a few. The real comedy lies within the jokes that the animators tell. When characters get mad, they say things like, ‘fish paste, or ‘barnacles’. A lot of the show honestly doesn’t make any sense, yet it is hilarious. Animation on this show is very good, and sometimes there are scenes that are so dramatic, it has become a regular occurrence on the show.
The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack (2008-present)
This animated show is about an orphan named Flapjack, who was rescued by Bubbie, a talking whale. They save an old sailor named Captain K’nuckles, who’s body is mostly made out of wood. Instead of a ship, Captain K’nuckles and Flapjack uses Bubbie to get around the ocean. They both live inside the whales mouth. Captain K’nuckles always tells outlandish stories to Flapjack, who is gullible and wants to be a sailor like him. They both love candy, and they are always thinking of ways to get some. Most of their time is spent in Stormalong Harbor, a town that is on the docks beside the ocean. This show is one of the most original animated shows I have seen in a long time. Flapjack is a little kid, always ready for adventure and always listens to what Captain K’nuckles says. K’nuckles realizes this, and takes advantage of the kid’s good nature. In the end though, his plans backfire and he saves Flapjack because he feels guilty and he likes the kid. If you ever watch this show, get ready to laugh heartily. The situations that the pair get into are ridiculous, and the animation can get very detailed at times. For example, there is an episode that I remember when Flapjack wanted a little brother. He found a bird, and Captain K’nuckles was asleep. To make a face, he peeled off his lips and put it on the back-end of the bird. He took his wooden arms and nose too. But when Captain K’nuckles woke up, he had to find his missing body parts. The animation was pretty detailed when Flapjack was removing body parts from K’nuckles. It sounds weird, but this isn’t your average animated show either.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
The story centers around four different nations. There is the Fire Nation, the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has a special skill. The Earth Nomads can bend the earth and rocks. The Water Tribe can bend water. The Fire Nation can bend fire, and the Air Nomads can bend the air. In each nation, however, not everyone can be a Bender. Benders are special people that are in tune with their prospective elements, and can manipulate, or ‘bend’ elements at will. And each nation has their own distinct fighting style. Peace is kept within the four by an Avatar, a human being that can move between the spirit world and the physical world. An Avatar is chosen to keep the harmony between the four Nations. Aang is a 12 year old Air Bender that was chosen to be the next Avatar. When he realized this, he ran away with his flying bison Appa. Crossing the ocean while there was a storm, Aang was danger of getting killed, so he froze himself in a giant ball of ice. After 100 years he was unfrozen, with the world now living in fear of the Fire Nation. Because there wasn’t an Avatar around for a hundred years to keep the peace, Aang must rise to the challenge of mastering the Bending styles to restore order to the world. What makes this a stand out in American animation is the high quality backgrounds, amazingly detailed Bending animation, storytelling, and the way everything is put together so well. It is also influenced by Japanese animation as well. When different Benders fight each other, it is truly a sight to see. When there is a battle between nations, they are as epic as anything on television. I caught a glimpse of one of the episodes in the first season. I was hooked, and I told my friend to watch at least one episode. Now my friend and his kids love the show, and he is a bigger fan than me now!
Notable Animation Studios
Nickelodeon Studios has been producing animated shows since 1991. For about 20 years, this American animation studio has churned out animated classics such as Rugrats (1991-2003), SpongeBob Squarepants (1999-present), Jimmy Neutron (2002-2006), Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008), and Dora the Explorer (2000-present), just to name a few. For safe, quality family animation, parents can turn to Nickelodeon.
20th Century Fox Animation
This studio is known for their bold animated television series. When you mention this studio, the first thing that comes to a persons mind is The Simpson’s (1989-present). The Simpson’s has the record for the longest running animated show in syndication, surpassing The Flintstones. And with good reason. This show is watched by the world over, has some of the best writers to ever work in animation, and the Simpson’s are just hilarious. When it first aired, parents were urging their parents NOT to watch the show. Of course, kids didn’t listen. This show is known for having outrageous humor long before Family Guy came out. Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-present) is the most controversial and offensive animated show of all time. It is filled with cursing, violence nudity, risque situations, sex, racism, and poking fun at people with mental and physical handicaps. And yet, strangely, it has a large fan base and has received great reviews.
There are many animated shows and animation studios, but I selected these as prime examples of some of the best in American animation, in terms of originality, characters, and entertainment value. After all, who watches animation to get bored?