There’s not a lot about the state of Hollywood that’s worth celebrating right now. This year’s labor strikes have highlighted and revealed extremely troubling issues within the industry, and the strength of the theatrical market remains in constant flux. The streaming boom of the 2010s has essentially turned the entire business upside down, and it’ll likely be a few years before anyone really knows which corporations and artists have survived the sudden technological wave and which haven’t.
All that said, not everything about our current, post-Netflix version of Hollywood needs or even demands to be viewed through a dystopian lens. On the contrary, one need only look at the animated libraries of streaming services like Netflix, Max, and Amazon Prime Video to realize how exciting the field of TV animation has become. Indeed, Hollywood’s streaming-mandated demand for new content has seemingly resulted in the greatest wave of noteworthy animated TV shows since the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon-run era of the ‘90s.
Within the past month, Pluto, Scavengers Reign, Blue Eye Samurai, and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off have all premiered on their respective streaming services. All four shows are not only great and justifiably acclaimed, but they’re also visually and narratively distinct. Each boasts a completely different art style, story, tone, and narrative structure, which means that each also offers a completely different experience. Even more importantly, several of them — namely, Scavengers Reign and Blue Eye Samurai — tell the kind of bold, cinematic, and decidedly adult stories that were previously hard to come by in the realm of TV animation.
They’re not the only recent animated shows that have felt so refreshing and brand new, though. Over the past few years, Hollywood has produced everything from Arcane and Pantheon to Over the Garden Wall and Infinity Train. Even superhero shows like My Adventures with Superman, Harley Quinn, and Invincible have managed to provide artistically invigorating riffs on some of the most familiar types of animated stories. Netflix and Disney+ have, additionally, taken gambles on high-profile, boundary-pushing animated anthology shows like Star Wars: Visions and Love, Death & Robots.
While all this has been happening, Hollywood has continued to produce the kind of kid-friendly cartoons (see: Amphibia, Hilda, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Bluey) that have long been staples of the TV environment, as well as new shows from well-known animation veterans like Dan Harmon and Matt Groening (Krapopolis, Futurama, and Disenchantment). The TV animation industry has, in other words, managed to become increasingly diverse and experimental without losing any of the cornerstones that have held it up for decades.
As uncertain as so many aspects of Hollywood seem right now, it’s hard not to be excited about the future of TV animation. Recent years have seen more creators begin to dip their toes into the episodic animated world and more independent animation houses be welcomed into the fold. Even more excitingly, it seems like that’s going to continue to be the case moving forward.
Ultimately, the effect that the streaming boom has had on the TV animation field doesn’t seem all that dissimilar from the way that HBO and AMC changed the entire television landscape simply by investing in ambitious, form-redefining shows like Mad Men and The Sopranos in the late ‘90s and 2000s. Does that mean we’re actually in the midst of a new Golden Age of TV Animation? Only time will tell, but it certainly seems like it.
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