It’s time for my monthly “things could-be-so-much-better” post. When I complain about the state of the industry, friends frequently tell me, “But look at how much better animation is today than it was twenty years ago…” True. But shouldn’t we be asking, “How much better could it be?” Look at the talent working in the business today. It’s a solid bet that there are more talented individuals working in animation today than at anytime since the 1950s. And yet, you’d never know that from looking at the product that makes it into theaters and onto television. Granted, it may be a step or two above THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS MEET THE FONZ or whatever the hell they were doing back in the 70s and 80s, but since when have Filmation and Hanna-Barbera been the yardstick of quality by which all other animation is judged.
So how much better could animation be? That question could be answered with more questions, like, Why doesn’t Michel Gagné have a show on the air? Why doesn’t Aaron Springer have his own show? How did James Baxter work at DreamWorks and all we ended up with was SPIRIT? The list goes on forever. Fortunately artists are smarter today than they’ve ever been. If the industry can’t accommodate them, they create independently, just as all the artists I mentioned have done. But why not examine the source of the problem. Why is it impossible for talented artists to find support within their chosen industry?
As usual, we can learn from the past. Let’s look at how some great animation executives of the past supported their talent — executives with last names like Schlesinger, Quimby and Selzer. These guys get a bum wrap in history books, but many of the greatest cartoons were made under their watch. What was their secret? What did they do that today’s executives don’t? Here’s director Tex Avery speaking about his experience with executive Leon Schlesinger at Warners: