The reason’s simple. Animated cartoons are entertainment. To be entertainment, there has to be something other than nifty artwork or movement. There has to be a story. If you want proof, watch any late ‘50s UPA short or any of the imitation Silly Symphonys put out by a number of studios. Pretty designs and intricate movement are nice, but if there’s no well-constructed plot to hang them on, you’re not entertaining anyone.
Chuck Jones created some of the funniest cartoons ever made. His best work is when all the elements of a cartoon—visual, aural, intellectual—come together. But Jones never seems to have divested himself of his 1930s Disney Superiority Complex, that he felt he’d really be making great cartoons if they looked like a Disney cartoon in terms of movement and artwork. Why else would Jones, years later in his career, continually denigrate television animation as “illustrated radio”?
Conversely, there are some dialogue-heavy TV cartoons that have stood the test of time for decades. Why? Because people like the characters and find them funny. I’d love to see a fully-animated Quick Draw McGraw cartoon because an artist could fit in extra gags through movement. But the limited-animation version is still funny, thanks to good dialogue and a strong enough storyline.
For this reason, Jones’ “illustrated radio” sneer (at least, I take it to be one) has always bothered me. And evidently it bothered other animators. Certainly it bothered one who had a pretty good pedigree.
Jack Zander owned a commercial animation company for many decades but in the 1930s and ‘40s, he worked for several different cartoon studios. He was one of the original animators on Tom and Jerry at MGM, and had been at Warner Bros. in the Harman-Ising days before Jones’ arrival. Historian Mark Mayerson pointed out, upon Zander’s death in 2007 at the age of 99, Zander gave opportunities to all kinds of young animation talent. And Zander was put off in the 1960s by Jones’ comments about the deterioration of the animated cartoon, and the new people in the industry.
Here’s a story in the New York City-based Weekly Variety from January 27, 1965.
‘Simplified’ Cartoons Arouses Debate; Its Economy Versus CredibilityOne can imagine Jones’ reaction to being publicly criticised. He rebutted. Weekly Variety of February 24th reported:
Charles M. Jones, director of Metro’s new animation and visual arts department, has drawn raps from execs of the eastern Animation Producers Assn. and Screen Cartoonists Guild for published remarks in which he attacked trends in animation toward simplification and stated that “there are hardly any animators around younger than 50 who know how to draw full animation.”
Leading the attack are Jack Zander, v.p. of Pelican Films and an exec of the Animation Producers Assn. and Richard Rauhn, prez of the Screen Cartoonists Guild. Jones had argued that the new, economy-oriented techniques, detracted from the realism of the product, a charge the assailants brand as “odd” in 1965 when realism “has all but disappeared from the world of painting and the graphic arts in general.”
The cartoon chiefs also rapped the notion that there are hardly any animators around under 50 who can draw full animation, wholehardedly [sic] denying the charge. They claim that it is choice and not pressure that is leading the trend toward simplification in animation style. They asserted that Janes’ [sic] statements “sound like echoes from the distant past.”
...Jones has accused the Easterners of seeking publicity rather than accuracy and that his own comments were made for purpose of identification, not to indict an industry.And with that, Variety dropped the subject and Jones went on to making snoozers like “The Cat’s Me-Ouch” and then, post-MGM, the interesting “Curiosity Shop” for ABC. And continually brought up the “illustrated radio” subject in interviews for the next several decades. However, we’ll let you have the last word about it if you want to leave a comment.
At to his claim that good animators under 50 are increasingly scarce, to which the pair replied “‘Tain’t so,” Jones told Zander and Rauh to send along any good ones, he'd be quite happy to employ them.
The argument about the proper definition of full animation and what it entailed was further elaborated by Jones whose conception of it is "moving three-dimensional objects in space in a believable manner." He said that it is a valuable and necessary aspect of the multiform art of animation but takes years to learn and that few artists today take the time required by the severe apprenticeship.