During the late 20s the Great Depression was in full force. However Animation was not slowing down. It was evolving to its next stage of evolution. During this era Animation was being produced left and right. No longer were animators coming solely from the art world. Instead it developed its own world. Animation became a skill, a certain uniform look was developed for most animated short films. Most of the popular animated films of this era usually featured anthropomorphic animals, with big bug eyes. Following the start of WWII many animated propaganda films were produced for the US government as well as other Allied governments. Many of the most well known were made by both Warner Bros and Disney. However in this era two powers simply did not dominate the market. There was Disney, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros, Fleischer Studios, among others. Each of them was different in style and the types of stories they told.
What also makes marks this era in Animation is that it was highly unregulated. There were no ratings of G to NC-17. Because of this many of these animated films/shorts contain some material that can be considered widely inappropriate for children to watch today. For example characters can be smoking cigars, males might ogle women in a very exaggerated manner, violence is more unrestricted, and extreme racial stereotypes. This further establishes that Animation was never exclusively intended for children. Because it was merely a medium through which stories could be told. Moreover Animation was a highly respected art. Everything in each scene was drawn, and then redrawn for each concurrent frame. As a result many Animated films during the Golden Age of Animation seemed to move more fluidly than their future television successors. Animation wasn’t thought of as being for kids only, not in the beginning anyways.
In 1928 Disney’s first major hit was Steam Boat Willie, it was not the first film to feature Mickey Mouse. The story revolved around the misadventures of Mickey Mouse. Steamboat Willie is considered by many historians to be the animated short that started the Gold Age of Animation. Part of reason why Steam Boat Willie was such a success was because Walt Disney was able to add synchronized sound. Before this films and Animated films had no sound, instead a person(s) would have to play instruments along to the film reel.
In 1929 Walt Disney begins his Silly Symphony serials. They are shorts usually involving characters dancing and singing, they are released frequently. Walt’s first Silly Symphony is the Skeleton Dance. As the title suggests it involves skeletons dancing.
Warner Bros finally decides to throw their hat into the Animation ring in 1930. Their first animated film is Sinkin’ in the Bathtub. The short is about Bosko, a character based off Mickey Mouse, and troubles he encounters while taking his girlfriend for a ride. Bosko becomes Warner Bros’ first animated character and helps get them into the Animation industry. Likewise Fleischer Studios introduces the world to Betty Boop in Dizzy Dishes. Betty Boop is widely recognized for bringing sex appeal to cartoon characters. She was introduced as a french poodle and then later was transformed into a woman.
In 1931 Warner Bros begin their Merry Melodies series. Each short is a one shot story about a character going on an adventure and usually accompanied by a musical number. Warner Bros first Merry Melody is called Lady, Play Your Mandolin! The short Stars Foxy who goes to a saloon and falls in love with the female fox in the saloon. A subplot in the story involves Foxy’s house getting drunk on tequila and hallucinating. The Merry Melodies serials make Warner Bros a contender in the world of Animation.
1932 was a big year for Animation because the Oscars, Academy Awards, added a category for Animation. The category was initially called Short Subjects. This further allowed Animation to cultivate its own community, away from the politics that afflicted the world of traditional art. Walt Disney wins this award for his short Flowers and Trees. The story involves two trees fighting for the affection of a female tree. It was one of the earliest animated films to utilize Technicolor 3 stripe color technology.
In 1933 Max Fleischer is given the rights to animate Popeye. Popeye before this time was a character that appeared exclusively in comic strips. Popeye makes his animated debut in Popeye the Sailor, Betty Boop also makes an appearance as a human. The film serves to merely introduce moviegoers to Popeye and the main characters of the series. Popeye is a sailor in the US Navy. His main love interest is Olive Oyl, and his long time rival is Bluto. Betty Boop’s appearance is to add sex to the serial. The Popeye animated films help Fleischer studios gain a foothold in the Animation industry. Walt Disney wins an Academy Award for The Tree Little Pigs, which is based off of the fairy tale. Disney would later remake the film in 1941, titled Thrifty Pig, for the Canadian government to promote the sales of war bonds. In it the Wolf is represented as Nazi Germany, and the smart pig’s house is made of Canadian war bonds instead of bricks.
Donald Duck makes his first appearance in the 1934 film the Wise Little Hen. Donald is characterized by having a blue sailor outfit, being self centered, and prone to bouts of temper tam-trams. In the short a wise hen asks both Donald and Peter Pig to help her plant corn. Both fake having stomach aches and later the hen decides to teach them a lesson by offering them to help her eat her corn. They happily agree, but she gives them a bottle of castor oil instead. Walt wins the Academy Award for his short the Tortoise and the Hare, which is based off of the fable.
Len Lye creates the film A Colour Box in 1935. The animated film is significant because each frame was painted onto film strips. Music is heard playing while movement is shown following the flow of the music. Porky Pig is birthed in the Merry Melody I haven’t Got a Hat by Warner Bros. He was designed by Animator Bob Clampett but first animated by Friz Freleng. In the film Porky is asked by his teacher to present a small history report of America to the class. Porky is known for wearing his coat and stuttering frequently when speaking. In certain renditions Porky bares striking parallels to Elmer Fudd. However in his first appearance he wears a sweater. Disney wins another Academy Award for his animated film, Three Orphan Kittens. The story finds three kittens exploring a house.
In 1936 Tex Avery directs his first film for Warner Bros. Gold Diggers of ’49 stars Little Kitty and Porky Pig, in a different animation style, searching for gold during the Gold Rush. Tex Avery will become famous in the Animation community for creating Warner Bros most well known characters. His ideology on cartoons characters is that their creation will not be dependent on what the characters look like, but instead it should be built on how they act. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is produced by Max Fleischer. Fleischer used 3D models for the background and the characters were drawn onto cels, because of this an element of depth was added which could not be achieved until the advent of CGI. Walt wins the Academy Award for his film Country Cousins. The plot involves a city mouse visiting his cousin living in a rural area.
In 1937 Animation reaches a new milestone with Walt Disney’s release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film is the first feature length animated film, its total run time is 83 minutes. Before this many animated films were no longer than 7-10 minutes, and where usually sold alongside “feature” live action films in order to keep people in theaters waiting to see an A list movie. Walt wanted to make more money, and likewise prove that Animation was just as good as live action in being able to attract an audience. Many people in Hollywood said that Snow White would be “Disney’s Folly” as the budget for the film was more than a $1,000,000. Following this milestone, Disney would occasionally release feature length films. Tex Avery introduces Daffy Duck in Porky’s Duck Hunt. Daffy Duck is one of Warner Bros staple characters, having all black feathers and a very sassy personality. He was Warner Bros premiere star. Porky Pig, in different animation style, tries to go duck hunting. However Daffy Duck constantly makes a fool out of him. Bob Clampett directs his first Luney Toon short called Porky’s Badtime Story. Walt Disney wins the academy Award for the short the Old Mill. The story is about animals living in an abandoned mill.
In 1938 Chuck Jones directs his first animated film for Warner Bros titled The Night Watchman. Chuck Jones will go on to create many characters under Warner Bros. Like some of Warner Bros other era defining animators Jones feels that character creation should be based on what the characters themselves will do instead of what they will look like. A prototype of Bug Bunny appears in Porky’s Hare Hunt. During this year the US government had finally established the 40 hour work week. It was important because employers could not overwork their employees, and those that worked more than 8 hours a day were given overtime for their extra work by their employers. Disney gets an Oscar for Ferdinand the Bull. The short is based on the book The Story of Ferdinand.
In 1939 Disney released their last Silly Symphony, The Ugly Ducking. It was based off of the fairy tale and also won an Oscar. Animators at Fleischer Studios go on strike in Florida. That same year they released their first animated feature film, Gulliver’s Travels. MGM’s Peace on Earth is nominated for an Academy Award. The film tells of how humanity ended though constant war, and as a result squirrels decide to learn from man’s folly. WWII begins in Poland.
The 1940s marked the end of Disney’s monopoly of winning the prestigious Academy Awards. MGM wins an Oscar for their short Milky Way. The story is a fantasized interpretation of the Milky Way. Tex Avery introduces the world to a fully realized Bug Bunny in A Wild Hare. The plot revolves around Elmer Fudd trying to hunt for rabbit, however Bugs is too sly and constantly makes Elmer look like a bumbling buffoon. Bugs is the most recognizable character of the Warner Bros repertoire of animated personas. He perfectly embodies Warner Bros animation style, who tend to be very laid back and always try to be the oddball outsiders compared to Disney. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera begin working at MGM and release Puss Gets the Boot. The film introduces the classic tale of rivalry between Tom and Jerry. The majority of the Tom and Jerry serials feature often violent scenarios between the two animals. The collaborative efforts between Hanna and Barbera continue, and later they will become legends because of their collaborations. Walter Lantz brings life to the eccentric Woody Woodpecker in Knock Knock. Woody is one of Universal’s standout characters, as he is very hyper and at times a bit crazy.
Fleischer Studios begins to produce Superman serials in 1941, based off of the comic book character. The serials are a big hit for the Studios. Likewise its an interesting move as the films have very high production values compared to Warner Bros or Disney’s serials. Their animation was closer to being realistic because Fleischer was focused on the quality of his films. Fleischer animated his serials with a technology that he patented, it gave more dimension to his films. The US enters WWII, this event will affect the Animation industry in the following concurrent years of the war. Disney’s animators go on strike amid concerns over wages. They also win an Oscar for Lend a Paw. The short focuses on Pluto being jealous of a kitten Mickey takes into his care.
In 1942 Tex Avery joins MGM. Paramount Studios decides to take control of Fleischer Studios. However Max Fleischer is eventually removed by Paramount and the Studios is renamed Famous Studios. They continue with the Superman and Popeye films. Terrytoons creates Mighty Mouse in Mouse of Tomorrow, a superhero mouse that battles evil cats. His creation can be somewhat attributed to Superman. Many of the great European traditional artists were able to get out of Europe and make their way to the US by this time. The US government had the majority of animation studios make propaganda films to increase support for the war. Many of these films would portray the Japanese having buck teeth, round glasses, backwards in their thinking, and speaking very bad english. The Nazis would be characterized as being cruel heartless beings who desired nothing but death and destruction and who brainwashed the German people. Disney won an Oscar for the film Dur Fuehrer’s Face. The short stars Donald in a nightmare living under the Nazi regime.
Droopy is introduced in the Tex Avery directed short Dumb Hounded in 1943. An often sad looking and unlively dog Droopy is portrayed as the unlikely hero in his films. Chuck Jones creates Pvt Snafu in Coming Snafu. Snafu represents the average American solider as being a usually less than ideal solider, who can get their jobs done when push comes to shove. John and James Whitney, artists who hail from the Abstract community, release their Five Exercises film series. Their films contain no objectivity and feature transforming shapes. Reynard the Fox, Van Den Vos Reynaerde, is completed by the Nazi Dutch government. It is a propaganda film based off of the Medieval fox Reynard, fighting against shifty Jewish rhinos. Yankee Doodle Mouse by MGM gets an Oscar. The short features Tom and Jerry.
In 1944 Warner Bros creates what possibly could be a prototype of Yosemite Sam in Hare Trigger. The character in Question is called Red Hot Ryder, though it may be a parody of a comic hero named Red Rider, which could explain the character’s transformation. Sam is famous for having a bad temper, resorts to firing his trademark revolvers fairly quickly, and always being up to no good. After many years of producing the Luney Toons and Merry Melody serials, Leon Schlesinger decides to sell his studios to Warner Bros. It is then renamed Warner Bros. Cartoon Inc. Mitsuyo Seo produces his feature film in Japan, translated as Momotaro’s Gods-Blessed Sea Warriors. It is a sequel to some shorts he did, his propaganda films were financed by the Japanese militaristic government. His style is a very early precursor to modern Anime, the movie itself is clearly influenced by traditional Japanese art. The story revolves around anthropomorphic animals liberating Asia from the Allied Forces. Mouse Trouble by MGM gets the Academy Award, it is a Tom and Jerry short.
In 1945 United Productions of America, UPA, is formed. They tended to be a bit more experimental with their animated films and likewise they were one of the first studios to used limited animation in their shorts. Limited animation will become an important tool for Animation in the world of television. Pepe Le Pew makes his debut in Odor-Able Kitty by Chuck Jones . Definitely one of Warner Bro’s quirkier creations, Pepe is a French skunk who always tries to court his “love” but drives them away because of his foul odor. The Tom and Jerry film Quiet Please by MGM wins an Oscar. WWII comes to a close. As a result demand for Animation will decrease.
UPA releases Brotherhood of Man in 1946, it is based off of a pamphlet. The film dismisses the idea of race, because everyone is essentially the same, and calls for racial equality. The short Walky Talky Hawky by Bob McKimson introduces the world to Foghorn Leghorn. Another unique Warner Bros character, he is a rooster from the South and often outwits his foes by utilizing his witty rhetoric. Terrytoons creates Heckle and Jeckle in The Talking Magpies, they are anthropomorphic magpies that like to cause trouble but consistently manage to outwit their antagonists. The Cat Concerto by MGM wins an Academy Award. the film revolves around Tom tries to conduct an opera, while Jerry continually abrupts him.
In 1947 Bob Clampett leaves Warner Bros. This essentially marks his end with Animation, he was most recognized for the characters he created and pushing the envelope in the animated world. One example being Coal Black and de Seeben Dwarfs, a parody of the Snow White story. Animators were given new contracts by their respective studios, however there was nothing in the contracts which gave animators residuals. This meant that animators would not be given any money for their work every time it was shown in theaters or on television. Many animators will come to regret this. Tweetie and Sylvester make their debut in Tweetie Pie by Friz Freleng. Likewise the film won Warner Bros their first Oscar. The story was the classical tale of Slyvester chasing Tweetie and failing miserably. The two have a dynamic thats sad, but funny.
In 1948 “block booking” is ended by the Supreme Court. This enforces the Paramount decrees passed by the Hollywood studio communities. In essence block booking was a practice in which the major studios (Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros, etc) would force independent movie theaters to buy contracts for a large number of films. However many of these films were not even in production. UPA releases their first theatrical short called Robin Hoodlum. It is a reinterpretation of Columbia’s Fox and Crow as a Robin Hood story. MGM wins an Oscar for their film The Little Orphan. A Tom and Jerry short that finds Jerry having to care for an orphaned mouse.
Crusader Rabbit becomes the first animated short made for television in 1949. It was a look at Animation’s future in television, it relied heavily on limited animation. Frostbite Falls is created, its a storyboard that will later become The Rocky in Bullwinkle Show in the 50s. Chuck Jones directs The Fast and the Furry-Ous, which introduces the duo of Wilie E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Their rivalry is similar to other characters in the Warner Bros line up, but all its own. Wile E. constantly Tries to catch the Road Runner, typically buying and using Acme products and fails miserably in every encounter. UPA creates Mr. Magoo in the serial The Ragtime Bear. Mr. Magoo is an old man who always finds trouble because of the incoherence of his surroundings. Warner Bros wins an Oscar for their short For Scent-imental Reasons. It is a Pepe Le Pew film that ends with the tables being turn on Pepe.
In 1950 the first use of computer animation is done. It is a bouncing ball created at MIT by Saxenian. Animated commercials become an important staple that furthers the importance of the Animation community. UPA wins their first Academy Award for their serial Gerald McBoing-Boing. The film is based off of a Dr. Seuss story. Also by this time many Americans begin to buy televisions. This will negatively impact theatrical animated shorts, as TV slowly becomes the preferred medium of choice over films.
By 1951 Europe was starting to rebuild. Many Europeans in the film and animation community sought to catch up to the American Film and Animation communities. A revival is seen, European film makers decided to go their own route. Many were more experimental and responded to the politics surrounding their countries. MGM wins an Oscar for their short Two Mouseketeers. The film was a Tom and Jerry serial based off of the three Musketeers story.
In 1952 MGM wins an Academy Award for Johann Mouse. Another Tom and Jerry short. The plot revolves around Johann, Jerry, living in the house of famous composer Johann Strauss. Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century is initially produced. The short was directed by Chuck Jones and introduces Daffy Duck’s wacky alter ego Duck Dodgers. Duck Dodger’s arch nemesis is Mervin Martian, both are very dim witted and lack the ability to be true explorers. Space Cadet, Porky Pig, obviously posses a higher IQ than either one and usually is the decider in how the conflicts will end. Osamu Tezuka starts his Astro Boy manga series, he will play a pivotal role in the development of anime animation style.
In 1953 Mickey Mouse makes his last appearance in theatrical shorts in The Simple Things, it wins an Oscar. Duck Amuck is released by Warner Bros. The story focuses on Daffy being tortured by an animator. Daffy is constantly re-imagined in odd styles. Disney wins an Oscar for their film Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. It was an educational short explaining the evolution of certain instruments. Color TVs are introduced in America. Also around this time most theaters began using Cinemascope as a standard for projecting films.
The Tasmanian Devil makes his first appearance in Devil May Hare released in 1954. Another Warner Bros creation, he is ferocious beast who is clearly driven by its animal instincts, but as a result makes poor choices. Around this time studios begin to sell their shorts to television networks for syndication. This will be a major move that ultimately will pave the way for Animation to move into the realm of TV. UPA wins an Oscar for When Magoo Flew, a Magoo short.
Speedy Gonzales wins an Oscar, directed by Friz Freleng in 1955. He is initially introduced in Cat-Tails For Two, although in a much different design. A Luney Toon, Speedy Gonzales usually sports a sombrero and is a very fast Mexican mouse. In the film Speedy tries to retrieve some cheese to feed his fellow Mexican mice. Disney begins to stop producing shorts as they are no longer economical. This signals the coming end of theatrical animation shorts. Terrytoons is sold to CBS.
In 1956 A Short Vision is shown on the Ed Sullivan show. It is film that shows a bleak ending of the world through nuclear warfare. Many scenes are of still images with eerie music being played to convey the potential disaster of nuclear weaponry. UPA starts production on the Gerald McBoing Boing Show for CBS. UPA wins an Oscar for Mr. Magoo’s Puddle Jumper. It is another Mr. Magoo short.
In 1957 William Hanna and Joesph Barbera leave MGM and form Hannah-Barbera. They create the Ruff & Reddy Show for NBC, its criticized for its high use of limited animation. In essence every shot is almost a single image with limited movement of limbs or action. Whats Opera Doc? is released by Warner Bros, one of Chuck Jones best works. The short stars Bugs and Elmer in an opera. Warner Bros wins an Oscar for their film Birds Anonymous, its a play on Alcohol Anonymous melodramas around that era.
In 1958 Warner Bros wins an Oscar for their short Knighty Knight Bugs. The film stars Bugs Bunny going on a quest for King Arthur. The Tale of the White Serpent is release in Japan, it is the first color feature anime. Hanna-Barbera creates the Huckleberry Hound Show. It is the first 30 min animated show for TV, and so the Television era of Animation is born.
What characterizes the Golden Age of Animation is that there was great amounts of creativity and freedom in this age of Animation. There was also no restriction on what could be made, the possibilities were quite endless. Singing, violence, and sex were popular elements that were utilized by many studios. However as a downside many film in this era contained racism towards ethnic groups specifically in the 1940s. Animators were well respected, the medium was respected. Many animators would be working on new films periodically, because of this a great deal of animated films were released, and were rendered fairly quickly because there were so many animators working at the time. As time passed some films used a more serious tone to convey important messages to the populace. The roots of Anime started to take shape. Limited animation was introduced as a means to makes Animation more affordable to produce for television networks. Nearing the end of the 50s theatrical shorts were being produced less frequently because they were too expensive to make. The actually end of the Golden Age is obscure as it traced from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, it happened gradually. Once this era ended the next era would definitely not be the same, money was the issue that nearly killed Animation.