On May 18th, Cartoon Network announced, via Entertainment Weekly, a new reboot of the 1980s classic Thundercats. Titled Thundercats Roar, the series falls very much in line with Cartoon Network’s line of Rebooted series, including Powerpuff Girls (2016), Ben 10 (2016) and Teen Titans Go!. I started writing this article around the time of the announcement of Thundercats Roar. I didn’t grow up in the 80s, I’m 24, but I understand the importance of Thundercats and what it means to people. And the backlash on this has been severe. Thundercats isn’t just some beloved franchise, it’s an important show that helped lead to the golden age of animation we got in the 90s and early 2000s. Thundercats Roar really makes me want to ask: What has happened to Western Animation?
Japan is killing it in terms of animation and has been for a very long time. Gundam started in 1979, the 80s gave us films like Grave of the Fireflies and Akira. The 90s brought us Dragon Ball Z, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. Here in the West, the 80s were home to He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers and TMNT. The 90s had Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Animaniacs, Darkwing Duck, Rugrats and so many more incredible series. The 2000s saw series like Justice League, the original Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender and many other fantastic series.
Now you turn on your TV and you have endless marathons of Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon is still riding the Spongebob SquarePants train, and the only company that has continued to produce quality series over the last few years is Disney with Star v.s. the Forces of Evil, a really good DuckTales Reboot and Gravity Falls, which has ended. CN and Nick might have one or two decent shows (Steven Universe, We Bare Bears and Loud House), but looking at their lineups from even a few years ago makes me sad for the industry.
I grew up during the golden age of animation when you had a multitude of art styles and genres of shows being on the same network. The current climate of animation is based around the CalArt Style and Flash Animation. These things are not necessarily bad, Flash Animation has been used in several well received series, as well as the CalArt Style. Steven Universe and Adventure Time, for example, are well liked series. But those are original series, and both are extremely well made. Steven Universe is a show that clearly has a ton of effort and love behind it.
The problem is that currently Cartoon Network is leaning on old franchises, rebooting them and then filling their air waves almost exclusively with one show. OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes released in August of last year on Cartoon Network. This show’s premiere was the only other show shown during that week that wasn’t named Teen Titans Go!. This new show was buried underneath a cascade of re-runs of one of the most insulting television series I’ve seen in along time.
I think a couple things have led to the decline of Western animation. Like every other form of media, the internet massively changed animation. With the introduction of streaming and online piracy, cartoons have become more expensive to produce. Advancements in technology have allowed for shortcuts and the cutting of costs. Plus, there has been a change in culture. I feel kids are protected more than ever. Even the sight of blood is frowned upon in most Western series.
Lastly, the business has changed. I watched a video on YouTube by TheMysteriousMrEnter. I wanted to give him credit for this because what he said just made so much sense. In episode number 142 of his Animated Atrocities series, he screams “Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network! You are NOT a Toy Company.” This has become the primary issue of the industry as a whole. In the 80s cartoons were made by toy companies to sell toys. But those companies at the very least tried to make interesting shows.
Thundercats was one of the most expensive shows being made at the time. And even today, Hasbro, a toy company, still continues to make pretty good TV series. I’m not a fan of My Little Pony as it’s just something I’ve never been interested in. But from what little I’ve seen of the show, Hasbro has put time and effort into it. Toys sales have long been used as an excuse to cancel even well received series. For example, Young Justice was cancelled for not selling enough toys. CN is famous for doing this. Thundercats is another causality of the cost cutting and toy driven world of Western animation, and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.