The Rise and Fall of Cartoons

And How they’ve Devolved from the 80s to Now


Within the last couple of days I’ve been digging through numerous videos on youtube that talk about art and storybuiling. A lot of things that were pointed out as “what not to do” were actually exactly what the cartoons you see today have. Things such as the “tumblr style” and the “calarts style.” The tumblr style practically asks to get controversial because their work usually conveys heavy political opinions that can get conflicting, but I’m gonna talk about the calarts style instead. 


The Calarts style consists of rounded faces, wide smiles, short and stick-like body proportions, and big ol circle eyes. Just look up Gravity Falls, Craig of the Creek, Clarence, Steven Universe, and Star vs the Forces of Evil. And then you will know what I mean. While all the shows I listed have a great story with interesting characters, the art style destroys all of that because each and every one of them look exactly the same. People have gotten so used to the simple style that when a show with a different artstyle that obviously shows that the creators put love and effort into it begins to air, it looks completely alien to everybody else. A perfect example of this is the ThunderCats reboot in the early 2010’s. The show followed a great story and the art style was amazing. It looked just like an anime unlike whatever this new She-Ra is trying to pull off. But sadly, Thundercats was put on the early morning “Death Slot” for airing, which eventually led to its cancellation. My guess is because the artstyle was too realistic and complicated. And since Lion-O was more adult-like, the kids couldn’t relate… But what about in the 80’s and early 90’s?? Those shows were not necessarily “relatable” for kids, but maybe it wasn’t for them? Half the shows nowadays wouldn’t have existed (mostly because half of the shows nowadays are reboots). It sucks because now people are stuck with a lack of creativity. There aren’t any different styles that people can get inspired with because it’s all the same. BUT… one thing to keep in mind is that in terms of character variety, the new generation succeeds. A majority of shows back in the 80’s had a somewhat similar realistic and chiseled style. Which helped me understand something…


Every generation of cartoons (I’d say every 10 years, (60, 70, 80, 90, 00, 10)) have a distinct style. For example, the Hanna-Barbera style took the throne in the 60’s and with a slightly different style in the 70’s. Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons were popular which inspired other shows to replicate that style. The same thing happened in the 80’s with cartoons like, He-Man, Gi. Joe, Transformers, and ThunderCats. Their success sparked inspiration. One thing to keep in mind is that animation is hard. So cells are reused multiple times (very prominent in Fat Albert though that was the 70’s) the problem of animation difficulty plays a bigger part in later generations. Another thing to notice is the merchandising. Toys were in their prime in the 80’s, so every show had their own action figure or doll line, many of which are relics today. An important thing about the shows in the 80’s is that they had such an impact on the kids of that time. I feel that a major factor to the growth of the viewer’s minds came from a majority of the main characters being strong willed, tough, and justice-driven adults (even though He-Man is 16) who acted as an inspiration for the children viewing the shows. This concept begins to slowly fade away as we get to the 90’s.


The cartoons of the 90’s were a drastic change from what was known in the 80’s. Many of these cartoons began to recall and rebuild the style of the 60’s/70’s. More and more characters were animals, exaggerated human designs, or all sorts of monsters. Shows include: Rocko’s Modern Life, Dexter’s Laboratory, Rugrats, CatDog, Johnny Bravo, and Animaniacs. The animation style was reminiscent of the old rubber-hose cartoons, the characters stretch around and defy all basic laws of reality. I love this because it was such a creative turn from the previous generation, the possibilities were endless. These silly designs were easier to draw as well since they didn’t require accurate human proportions and they were usually short. While action shows like Gargoyles (one of my favorite shows) still existed during this time, they eventually died down and silly shows that lacked a story began to fully reign. 


(Just to clarify, I have no problem with shows whose sole purpose is for comedy, I just wish there could be a balance between the two so that people who want an interesting story can watch the shows with an interesting story, while people who just want a silly and chill show can watch a silly and chill show, all while they air at the same times.)

The image on the left is an example I made of cartoon characters that existed during the 90s. In the corner is a list of significant differences between all the main character designs.


While these shows were fun and they had a great run, they were still hand drawn cell animations which take a long and backbreaking process especially with the constant deadlines. But even though the work was tough, these animators put their life into each and every frame. That’s why I love and respect these shows and their creators (except John Kricfalusi, he’s an awful person). But now we reach a turning point in the history of cartoons.


It is time to step into the 21st century… what I like to call…


“The Rise of Digital Animation and the Dark Age of Cartoons”


The 00’s were to the 90’s what SEGA was to Nintendo… edgy, cool, and very teen-like… but with more crop-tops… Some examples are: Danny Phantom, Kim Possible, My Life as a Teenage Robot, El Tigre, and Winx Club. Right off the bat these shows have one thing in common: every main character for each of the shows listed are teenagers. This is a pretty crazy change from just 20 years ago when almost every cartoon had an adult main character (except He-Man and She-Ra). I understand where they were coming from, because they were trying to make the main characters relatable; (which I don’t think is completely necessary all the time) not to mention more and more companies were trying their hand in the cartoon industry, which sparks greater competition. By this point, hand drawn cell animation was primitive because everybody began to use computers to draw. However, while digital animation was handy, the animations themselves were beginning to get lazy. Assets for animations have been reused in shows since the beginning, but for some reason, the movement in shows in the 00s seemed… stiff. What I noticed was that characters usually stood in the 3/4ths position and moved from there with occasional front views. When there came a point of action, it was restricted. Aside from that, the shows had artistic and stylistic differences from one another, varying from 3D or 2D, not to mention there was still depth and story. Though it was pretty dense, they were also able to have silly shows like Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and Back at the Barnyard. Apparently there was a short lived He-Man reboot as well. Adam/He-Man was more teenage-like (fitting for his actual age) and the animation was on par with the Thundercats reboot. though I haven’t seen it, all episodes are on Youtube so I’ll have to watch it and judge for myself. I believe that in terms of genre balance as well as demographic targeting and diversity, the 00s were the golden age of cartoons.


In terms of 00s cartoons, there’s a specific channel I want to address. This channel played a big role in my childhood and built a bridge between American and Japanese animation while simultaneously censoring the cultural differences. That’s right. I’m talking about CW 4Kids

The CW channel hosted a Saturday morning cartoon block that was geared towards kids block that mainly consisted of anime dubbed in English. This channel was notorious for their awful censorship of the tiniest things, some of the best examples are: in Dragon Ball Z an oni had a shirt that normally says “HELL,” but the localization changed it to “HFIL.” The numerous guns that appeared in the original anime were changed to pointed fingers (which I think is ridiculously funny), cigarettes were changed to lollipops, rice balls were changed to sandwiches, all japanese letters were removed, and beer was replaced with soda. But besides the crazy censorship, the kids were still exposed to anime itself, which sparked lots of interest, and eventually, because of 4Kids, the future generations of kids/teens in America have finally accepted anime as well as Japanese culture. Some of the anime that aired on 4Kids were: Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Naruto. Kirby Right Back at Ya!, Sonic X, Yu Gi Oh!, and Pokemon.


The 00s marked the real beginning of reboots, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles revival (this version is usually referred to as TMNT). While there was another iteration called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Next Mutation, it was a live action series that didn’t last long. Nonetheless TMNT had a great story, beautiful animation, and action all around, as ninja turtles should be. It was a good start to a revival and soon after, others began to come back. Another example of a brand comeback were the Trolls toy brand from the 60s. They became a show targeted towards young girls called Trollz. I’m not sure how well it was received, but I do know that there were lots of dolls based around it and I think my sister owned a couple.

The small amount of franchise comebacks were fine and dandy, there was still plenty of room for new shows and the audiences were open to trying out different shows. It was a truly harmonious time for cartoons. But as we leak into the 10s… things begin to go downhill…


There was a gray area between the 2000s and the 2010s when it comes to cartoons. Older shows began to die down as the cartoon companies found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Shows like Chowder and Flapjack tried to bring back a style that is reminiscent of 90s cartoons, but sadly it wasn’t until they were long cancelled that people actually began to recognize what a treasure they were. Another thing happening in this gray area was when Stuwart Snyder, the president of Cartoon Network decided to have the channel test how far it could go by airing live action shows like Incredible Crew, Dude, What Would Happen, Destroy Build Destroy, and Level Up. The shows were entertaining but just didn’t make the cut, especially for a channel called “CARTOON” Network. A studio based in London called Cake Entertainment and a studio based in Canada called DHX Media (now known as WildBrain) were given the chance to bring some of their shows into the Cartoon Network roster. These shows heavily relied on a certain cost effective animation type called “Digital Puppetry.” This type of animation takes and rigs the physical aspects of characters and items and stretches them a bit while still maintaining the original state. It doesn’t look appealing to the eye and is very cheap. All but 2 of their shows failed: DHX’s Johnny Test and Cake’s Total Drama Island (the latter still runs today and the former was technically a 00s show but hit its prime in the 10s). Those shows were good and they held strong for filler space, but it wasn’t until three legendary cartoons made their debut, Adventure Time, Regular Show, and The Amazing World of Gumball. The impact they had on the cartoon industry was monumental… at least… it was…

The image on the left is an example I made of cartoon characters that existed during the 10s. In the corner is a list of significant similarities  between all the main character designs. (Explained below)

Back to style: In the first two paragraphs I talked about the lack of style, originality, and depth that comes from the cartoons in the 2010s (mainly the more recent half). In terms of storytelling, Adventure Time took the cake, in terms of humor, Regular Show took the cake, and in terms of creativity, The Amazing World of Gumball took the cake. These three shows created a path for cartoons walk along, it was a perfect combination of the three. But despite how good those shows were, the fate of cartoons were in the hands of the young viewers. All three of the amazing things that these cartoons had were too much for the dense brains of today’s children. The shows, along with a late bloomer called Steven Universe, were accepted by the more older audience members. But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and from then on cartoons became simpler and simpler to the point where any sort of artstyle that slightly differs from the norm isn’t accepted, and all the stories can’t be complicated. It’s sad to see something that was once a Pandora’s Box chalked full of great ideas become restricted and backed into a corner. 

The most notable thing about this recent generation of cartoons is its lack of stylistic variety. A lot of the newer cartoons just take the design inconsistency, simplistic art style, and dollar store animation and slap a “its just a style” label over it when in reality it’s a blank husk that fills television air time. Every show follows the same art style, despite them being created by different people. Moreover, every time a show tries to have a different art style, it is given the famous “Death Slot” which is when a show is set to air at an extremely early time in the morning when everybody is still asleep. This technique is used to drop views significantly in the show, forcing it into cancellation. And the Cartoon Network company itself is too scared to open up and give other shows a chance. This problem began with the former president of Cartoon Network Christina Miller. She was the one behind what could and could not  air. She was the one who constantly accepted these cloned shows. She was the one who used that “Death Slot” like there was no tomorrow. She was the one who never gave other cartoons a chance. She was the one that shattered the bridge created by the three holy cartoons mentioned before. She was the one who ruined Cartoon Network. She was the one who ruined Cartoons. 

Here’s an example drawn by me. It demonstrates what art style would/wouldn’t work in 2010.

Here’s another example made by me. (Note: the right has more personality and detail)


I don’t want to use the excuse of “oh they all took the same” because that’s just how each generation of cartoons are. Once the audience grows up, there has to be a new one. A prime contributor to this is the lack of toy merchandising. Remember when almost all the shows in the 80s had action figures or dolls? Today, kids are more interested in cell phones and video games. Not even half as many kids like toys anymore, especially toys based on cartoons whose characters are just impossible to make merch with and Cartoon Network’s attempt at making games was nothing but a failure. To see something that was one of the major contributors to a cartoon series’ profit completely drop to 0 kinda shows how we are growing… And I don’t think it is for the better. Call me a child, but I still have and love my entire collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, and I still go out of my way to buy toys based on things I like such as Godzilla, Pokemon or even Ben 10.


And on top of that, nobody is interested in cable television and all the cartoons (including the only three that Nickelodeon still has) are now fleeing their sinking ships and are taking refuge on streaming services, most prominently Netflix and HBO Max, both powerhouses for the absolute WORST thing to ever happen in cartoon history… Reboots…


Cartoons have existed for decades and among those decades were some of the most influential, creative, and iconic franchises. Some people would just love to see more of them once they are long gone. Some shows are capable of creating a new version of themselves for every generation to enjoy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pulled that off really well… keyword “pullED.” While movies have also hopped on the reboot bandwagon and a majority were bad, cartoons seemed to think they knew what they were doing. Let me start all this off by giving you a definition of the word “reboot”.

reboot: when a television show or a movie that was received well years ago is brought back for a somewhat “revival”

The intentions are to adapt the already existing story to fit with the newer generation of audiences. I see reboots as mostly useless, albeit as I mentioned before that the TMNT series pulls off successful reboots, because the idea of a reboot is built into their own universe. (this is technically a safe excuse to cover if a reboot ends up sucking). I didn’t have a problem with their idea, in fact, I’d say that franchise had a huge inspiration on others because of its success in retelling a story that already exists. Though I think that everybody else bit off more than they could chew. To sum it up, if I had a gun pointed to my head and was asked to name five good cartoon reboots that were fairly recent, I’d be kissing my mom goodbye.

Let’s start this off with a list shall we? Ben 10, Powerpuff Girls, The Magic School Bus, Scooby Doo, Thundercats, She-Ra, Voltron, Teen Titans, Muppet Babies, and Care Bears are all recent reboots that just don’t meet up to their legendary originals. Whether it’s the cheaper animations, constant political messages shoved down the viewers throats, or my least favorite of them all… Changing the show’s characters.

This is probably the one thing that ruins a reboot. Memorable characters are now genderbent or somehow a different race. That’s where I draw the line. Not because of the inclusion of those groups. But because of the fact that they use a popular classic as a shadow for it. If you want a successful show that includes minority groups MAKE ONE! Quit stealing iconic work because you’re too lazy to formulate your own story, you Millennials!!! GET A GRIP!!! Nobody wants something that they are used to being drastically changed. It just doesn’t make sense. And to be honest it’s just sad. It’s sad to see once good shows gradually devolve as their name is soiled just for the sole purpose of checking off boxes. These creators are actually making things worse, since their characters are simply token gestures: their “token black character” or their “token female character” or their “token gay character.” It reeks of insincerity. The only reason why they changed those characters was to make themselves look good. It’s just a pity to be honest. And it’s all for money.

Above are a couple characters in reboots who have been artistically damaged to a cheap state so that only the simplest of minds can comprehend.


A majority of the cartoons today are just reboots. To top off the lack of creativity that original cartoons had, new cartoons are barely original anymore, even if they are being streamed on platforms like Netflix. It’s a whole weird despair hole for cartoons nowadays. It’s hard to look forward to a new show because I have to set my expectations super low. 

But I never lose hope in them somehow. Even though this most recent iteration of TMNT is awful and dense, I still have hope for future incarnations of the franchise. Animaniacs is another franchise that is getting a reboot very soon, but the problem is that Animaniacs has always been the kind of show that isn’t afraid to take risks when it comes to its humor. And it sometimes oversteps boundaries even if it is funny. I think with how soft and easily offended people are nowadays, it will be hard for them to be the same. As of this writing, they just released pictures of what it will look like as well as a bit of footage. And I’m 100% on board with it! Especially since all of the voice actors are reprising their iconic roles and there was a sprinkle of that classic Animaniacs 4th wall break. They even look exactly like they did in the 90s and it’s great, it seems like it’s picking up right where it left off and I’m excited. I know that they have to remove, censor, or change characters like “Hello Nurse” and “Minerva Mink.” If not. the twitter mob would cause an uproar. I hope they will still overstep their limits on slapstick and classy humor though.  


Another show coming up is the new He-Man… this one scares me…


I can’t completely wrap my head around it, but it seems that there are gonna be two different He-Man Netflix productions, one being a movie while the other is an animated series. Both supposedly have no relation to one another nor do they have relation with the dreadful She-Ra reboot. (the word Netflix scares me. I’m afraid they could make it forcibly PC to the point where it’s unenjoyable) but the problem is… Which do I choose? Well. Kevin Smith (director of the He-Man show) seems to know what people want and he is a true holder of the classics. BUT there was a screw up on the description which was Netflix’s fault. The original synopsis read, 

“But after a ferocious final battle forever fractures Eternia, it’s up to Teela to solve the mystery of the missing Sword of Power in a race against time to prevent the end of the Universe! Her journey will uncover the secrets of Grayskull at last.” 

Following this was a rumor spread on a couple of nerd based news outlets saying that He-Man will step down and let Teela and her GIRLFRIEND take over. By this point, He-Man fans were outraged at this idea of it being a “She-Man.” Even my Mom who is a die hard fan of the original MotU was furious at this idea. But Kevin Smith made a public announcement via twitter stating the following, With all due respect to @screenrant, I’ve read every @MastersOfficial script for our shows (plus wrote a few) and viewed 4 amazing animatics. While Teela is as present as she’s always been in the MotU adventures and she plays a big role, our series is LITERALLY all about He-Man.” He also made it very clear that Teela will NOT have a girlfriend. Fans were relieved that He-Man would remain the same and almost immediately after Kevin Smith’s statement, both Netflix and Screen Rant changed the description of the show. If what Kevin Smith says is true, then Masters of the Universe: Revelation just might work out… then again… “He-Man” isn’t in the title… (also Mark Hamill is playing Skeletor!)

I haven’t looked into the movie much but from what I’ve seen from the posters is that the artstyle is significantly unique and He-Man’s large physique is still maintained (which I am SO glad about). It’s also gonna be in 3D. While I am still looking forward to the movie, I’m more focused on the show and how much of an impact it may have on the coming generation of cartoons.


Finally, I’d like to talk about both the future of cartoons and my dream to help shape said future. As 2020 marks a new decade, it’s time for the new generation of cartoons to surface. While cable television and all its channels will sadly meet their demise, streaming services will try their best to lovingly cradle and nurture whatever cartoon comes their way. If remakes like Animaniacs and MotU are received well, they just might lay the foundation for this new generation. Not to mention The Cuphead Show will be streaming on Netflix very soon, and it looks promising. Since it’s based off the hit game that was inspired by old 1930’s cartoons, it adds yet another different artstyle that people will be blessed to experience. I think the 20s era of cartoons can act as a reforming era. As the forced PC views in cartoons seem to die down, creators feel free to do what they desire without concern for how it will be received. As for merchandise, Mattel plans on releasing a whole He-Man action figure line (which I will be purchasing) with hopes to bring back the success of cartoon merchandising. But sadly I worry it won’t work well unless the children are actually interested in them (which I doubt). 

From what I’ve taken note of, it seems that every other generation of cartoons seem to bounce off one another. The 80s specialized in action/storytelling, the 90s specialized in comedy/creativity, the 00s specialized in action/creativity, and the 10s specialized in comedy/storytelling. This means that the 20s will most likely be action/comedy/creativity from what I predict. But only time will tell.


As for me. I’ve been invested in cartoons and their growth ever since I was exposed to them. And the thing I think is the most important to analyze is what not to do. That’s how we learn from our mistakes. And I know exactly what has caused the conflicts, lack of creativity/uniquity, tokenism, forced PC themes, reboots, cheap animation, lack of originality, never giving other shows a try, characters that aren’t merchandisable, and lack of depth/meaning. (though the last one isn’t always necessary) With everything I have taken note of, I’m confident in what I think will become a successful cartoon or even just a successful story in general.

My dream is to help shape the world of cartoons and make sure the future children/teens will be inspired by what I and whoever stands among me will create. I feel like I can make a difference in the world of cartoons. No matter how childish or useless it seems in the grand scheme of things, I’m still determined to pull through with my dream. I want to direct cartoons. I want to write stories for cartoons, I want to voice act in cartoons and I want to animate cartoons. And judging by how confident I am in achieving this dream and how much love I put into what I make, I have already started building a platform for my dream career. 


I know I can lay a foundation for a new generation of cartoons and I will be an inspiration to all.

Without reboots of course…