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Up The Rabbit Hole: Examining the stigma surrounding adult animation in western cinema, and

how television and the rise of alternative media may be leading to a shift in cultural acceptance of
adult content in animation.

Glen Noctor

Submitted to the Faculty of Film, Art and Creative Technologies in candidacy for the BA (hons) Degree
in Animation (DL832)

Submitted February 2016

Declaration of Originality
This dissertation is submitted by the undersigned to the Institute of Art Design & Technology, Dun
Laoghaire in partial fulfilment of the examination for the BA (Honours) Animation. It is entirely the
authors own work except where noted and has not been submitted for an award from this or any other
educational institution.

_____________________
Glen Noctor

Acknowledgements

Thank you to my thesis tutor Tom Kennedy for all your help and advice throughout this process;
to Sherra Murphy, for supervising this project, and for everything I learned in your classes;
to Michael Connerty, for showing me so many of the films I reference within this work;
to Caolan for proofreading (and to Cormac, in spirit) I owe you a debt of blood;
to Caoimhe for helping me so much even with your own deadline looming;
to my parents for supporting and tolerating me for all these years;
to the IADT library staff, for doing a fine job;
and to Ralph Bakshi and company,
for making it interesting,
Keep it up.

ABSTRACT

Animation has been around as a medium and an industry for over a century, but through a series
of unfortunate events in the interim years has come to be known in the Western world almost
exclusively as a childrens medium. This thesis will be examining how and why these associations
came to be, the reasons why adult themes and concepts are so stigmatised and rarely seen in
Western cinematic animation, and looking at the strides that adult cinema, and the creators thereof,
have been making to counteract them ever since. I will be examining the history of animation, and
film censorship; the success and failure of cinematic adult animation in practice, and the dawn of
mainstream adult cinema during the American New Wave movement; as well as the influence of
television and emerging forms of alternative media as influences on adult animated cinema. The
culmination of these points will be a discussion on the nature of animation as a medium, and how it
can never be realised to its full potential unless it breaks free of the shackles that tie it to the past.

Table of Contents

Introduction___________________________________________________ 1

Chapter 1____________________________________________________ 4

-History and Roots

Chapter 2_____________________________________________________ 11

-Cinematic Adult Animation in Practice

Chapter 3 ____________________________________________________ 19

-Television and the Rise of Alternative Media

Conclusion ___________________________________________________ 30

List of Works Cited ____________________________________________ 31

INTRODUCTION

Over the past century animation has grown to be be a staple of Western culture, but at some point in
its history it became almost exclusively associated with children's media. This thesis aims to
examine why adult themes and concepts have become so stigmatised in Western cinematic
animation, and how this is changing in the modern era. I have researched academic journals, books,
and historical documents to examine the history of animation, censorship, ratings, and adult media
in the context of this topic in order to build a solid foundation. Upon this I will expand with
information about specific events, individuals, movements and films in the history of Hollywood
and animated cinema in an attempt to discuss how the opinion of both the animation industry and
the viewing public with regard to adult content in animation has changed over time. I will write
about what caused these changes, and what their implications are; on both the current state and the
future of Western animated cinema, with regard to its portrayal of adult content.
For the purposes of this thesis the term Western will follow the traditional definition which
mainly encompasses Europe and North America1; though I will be constricting this definition
further by focusing mainly on English speaking countries. I will be referencing and discussing non
English speaking Western countries such as Germany and France, but only insofar as to how they
have affected the demographics on which my focus lies. From my research it seems to be
commonly accepted that there is enough of a cultural disparity in the way these countries view
animated cinema for them to be categorically segregated within this discussion2. I will occasionally
take examples of films from other non-Western countries to compare or further examine Western
attitudes, or when examining how these films and cultures may have, historically, impacted Western
views of animation. Many of my points will focus entirely or almost entirely on America, which is a
consequence of the majority of commercial Western animation historically originating in
Hollywood and the industry thus becoming Americanised, a point which I will later discuss.
My usage of cinematic animation refers specifically to animated films, both feature length and
short, which have received a commercial cinematic release. Similarly when referring to
broadcast, television, or televised animation, I refer to productions that were created
specifically to be broadcast on television, including cable television. My usage of the term
alternative media will encompass any form of film media that does not fall into either of the
1
2

Western. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.


Neupert, Richard. French animation history. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

previous two categories, though it will primarily include services such as Netflix Streaming and
Amazon Video, and public media funding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
When I use the terms adult, as in adult themes and concepts and adult content, I am referring
to anything that would be considered unsuitable for children both by official and national ratings
organisations, and by other measures such as public opinion polls as these sources have huge
influence in the film industry. My usage of adult when referring to media, as in adult cinema
and adult broadcasting, however will refer to content which was/is marketed towards adults as a
primary audience.
I will also be further defining the various types of content that can fall under the term adult
content within the thesis, as it can vary from explicit adult material such as pornographic content,
explicit language, and violence; to more subtly adult content like politics, depression, death, and
poverty. I intent for this thesis to reflect not just what is officially or legally defined as adult content,
but also to take into account what may be considered adult for social and historical reasons, as I
believe the absence of this type of content is also very relevant for this topic. There is evidence that
virtually all forms of adult material are stigmatised in Western animation, though it is clearly far
more severe with the explicit, as seeing topics like death and depression tackled in animated films is
not unheard of; though always treated with extreme care and sensitivity.
The stigma which I refer to concerns all of the factors which make it either difficult or impossible
to produce an animated feature film which contains adult material. These factors include legal
restrictions such as ratings boards and censorship; historical implications, and public opinions on
the matter; as well as financial issues such as the high monetary risk involved in an adult
production.
The idea of children and childhood will be one that I discuss frequently within the thesis, as one of
the key ideas within my topic is the publics perception of animation being a medium for children.
When I refer to children I will follow the traditional biological and common public definition,
which cites a child as being a person of an age between birth and puberty, as this is the age group
which are most often cited by opponents of adult media 3,4.

3
4

Child. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.


Parents Television Council Home. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

I have chosen several films to discuss and examine as examples for the points I will be making.
Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat5 is one of the rare examples of an adult animated film that had a
successful Western cinematic release. I will be examining this film and the public's reaction to it, as
well as looking at how it was made, and the problems that Bakshi may have faced when producing
such an explicit animated feature. The animated documentary Waltz with Bashir6 will also be
examined as an example of a different kind of adult animated film. This documentary film
containing violence and brief nudity primarily deals with political and psychological issues, and
will be used to show how animated documentaries are not constricted by traditional ideals of
animation, and to ask why this is. This is also another example of an adult animated film with a
cinematic release, although it seems that it being a documentary changes the public perception of it
to be more adult oriented, regardless of medium. This is something I will expand upon when
discussing the film.
When discussing adult televised animation I will discuss programs with varying levels of maturity
from the past several decades to show the increasing acceptance of television as a medium to adult
animation. These will include such programs as Animaniacs7, The Ren & Stimpy Show8, The
Simpsons9, and South Park10. I will also examine the plethora of adult animated series produced in
the last decade to to show the steep incline in production of this material, and it's increasing
acceptance and public approval, though there remains a notable lack of serious and dramatic content
in this area. I will also write of the creation and success of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut11
and how both televised media and more recently alternative media are changing how we view the
medium of animation and more specifically how it is directly affecting cinematic animation.

5
6
7
8
9
10
11

Fritz the Cat. Dir. Ralph Bakshi. Perf. Skip Hinnant, Rosetta LeNoire, Ralph Bakshi. Cinemation, 1972. Film.
Waltz with Bashir. Dir. Ari Folman. Perf. Ari Folman. Sony Pictures Classics, 2008. Film.
Animaniacs. Prod. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell. Fox Kids. 1993. Television
The Ren & Stimpy Show. Writ. John Kricfalusi. Perf. Billy West. Nickelodeon. 1991. Television.
The Simpsons. Writ. Matt Groening. Perf. Dan Castellaneta, Phil Hartman. Fox. 1989. Television.
South Park, Writ. Trey Parker, Matt Stone. Perf. Isaac Hayes. Comedy Central. 1997. Television.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Dir. Trey Parker. Perf. Matt Stone. Comedy Central Films, 1999. Film.

CHAPTER 1
-History and RootsAnimate [verb an-uh-meyt; adjective an-uh-mit]:
1: To give life; make alive:
"Prometheus stole fire from heaven to animate his clay men"12

12 Animate. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

The history of animation is a long and storied one. There is a strong argument to be made that it
stretches back as far as the Palaeolithic era, where our early ancestors used the flickering light of a
camp fire to create the illusion of life in their primitive drawings on cave walls 13,14. More
conservative historians will place it with the magic lantern shows of the 17th century, or the
phenakistoscope, zoetrope, and praxinoscope devices of the 19th century15. The 20th century and the
dawn of animation on film is where these opinions converge to the unanimous decision that this is
where the era of modern animation begins; this is the beginning of an art form and an industry that
would span the world over and undeniably alter our perception of entertainment for the next
hundred years. There are ample examples of risqu and adult oriented content in many forms of premodern animation 16, and even in the early years of modern animation, but such content tapers away
into obscurity throughout the 20th century, which begs the question: What happened to change the
public perception of animation so dramatically?
Early modern animation was a thing of spectacle, designed to be viewed by crowds in theatres and
cinemas. Films like mile Cohl's Fantasmagorie and Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur and The
Sinking of the Lusitania had a wide audience appeal. Cinema as a whole was still young and these
spectacles drew huge crowds, offering people shows unlike anything else available to them at the
time. . In the next few years animation would become more popular among the masses with
serialised productions like 'Betty Boop' and 'Popeye the Sailor' from the Fleischer brothers and Otto
Mesmer's 'Felix The Cat'17. These works were popular among a varied audience but did not shy
away from risqu content, namely in the case of 'Betty Boop'18. It was around this time that
animation began to show it's potential as a lucrative industry. Up to this point developments in the
animation industry had come from throughout the Western world, in France, Germany, England, but
from this point on a burgeoning animation industry, well established film industry, and a booming
economy centralised a lot of the major entertainment industry development in America 19. It was
also around this time that animation began to find its place in society, and many beloved characters
such as Felix the Cat and Betty Boop that would go on to be household names and help to cement
13 Lorenzi, Rossella. Stoneage Artists Created Prehistoric Movies. Discovery, 8 June 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2016
14 Starr, Muchelle. Stone Age cave art: the world's first animation. CNET, 18 Sep. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2016
15 Musser, Charles. The emergence of cinema: The American screen to 1907. Vol. 1. Univ of California Press, 1994.
Print. p.15-55.
16 Jones, David J. Sexuality and the Gothic Magic Lantern: Desire, Eroticism and Literary Visibilities from Byron to
Bram Stoker. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
17 Fleischer, Richard. Out of the inkwell: Max Fleischer and the animation revolution. University Press of Kentucky,
2005. p.51-56.
18 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.19-20
19 Neupert, Richard. French animation history. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. p.1-2.

animation as an ingrained part of Western society.


Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Cartoons were two of the first animation empires to emerge
from this new industry, and they would go on to be one of the key forces in shaping the future of the
entire medium of animation20. Walt Disney Studios was founded by Walt and Roy Disney in 1923
and came to have more of a focus on the creation of media for children21. Walt Disney was a very
religious man and a staunch conservative, later getting involved in McCarthy's Red Scare and the
House Un-American Activities Committee22. He also held views which were anti-pornography and
he heavily promoted the protection of children from adult content, famously being quoted as saying
"Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children,"23 One story that is frequently passed
around amongst the animation community postures that while attending a company dinner, thrown
in celebration of his 35th birthday, Walt as a joke was shown an explicit animation created by
two of his animators which portrayed two of his characters performing sexually explicit acts. Walt
feigned amusement, complimented the animation, and exclaimed that he would like to meet the men
responsible for the drawing and congratulate them personally. Two animators sheepishly stood and
approached Disney, where they were immediately told to back their belongings and leave because
they were fired. He subsequently had every copy of the film destroyed. The first recorded telling of
this story appears in Marc Elliot's 1994 book Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince24, which has
been heavily criticized for inaccuracies, and that makes it's value as a lone source worrying; but
stories such as this are extremely common of Walt Disney, with this particular example being
repeated in the 1995 documentary Secret Lives Walt Disney25, and indicate how pervasive
Disney's views and personal life were and still are amongst the public. Warner Bros. Cartoons,
originally Leon Schleisinger Productions, was formed in 1933 as a subsidiary of Warner Bros.
Entertainment. This studio was in direct competition with Disney with their serialised 'Looney
Tunes' and 'Merrie Melodies' series'. Warner Bros. productions, while still being whimsical and
suitable for children, had less of a deliberately child-friendly air about them. Their content was
anything but explicit, but they did not shy away from adult jokes and references that would be
received only by adults26. Fleischer Studios, which would eventually be succeeded by Paramount
20 Smoodin, Eric Loren. Disney discourse: Producing the magic kingdom. Psychology Press, 1994.
21 Smoodin, Eric Loren. Animating culture: Hollywood cartoons from the sound era. Rutgers University Press, 1993.
p. 15-17
22 Smoodin, Eric Loren. Animating culture: Hollywood cartoons from the sound era. Rutgers University Press, 1993.
p. 159-160
23 Goldner, Elliot M., et al. A concise introduction to mental health in Canada. Canadian Scholars Press, 2011.
24 Eliot, Marc. Walt Disney: Hollywood's dark prince. Harpercollins, 1994.
25 Secret Lives Walt Disney. Dir. Joseph Bullman. Twenty Twenty Television, 23 Feb. 1995. Television.
26 Stabile, Carol A., and Mark Harrison. Prime time animation: television animation and American culture.
Psychology Press, 2003.

Animation were also producing a great deal of content at the time, but did not go on to have quite
such a profound impact on the medium as Disney and Warner Bros..
The first set of Hollywood regulations which would go on to affect not only the future of adult
content in animation, but cinema as a whole, arrived between 1922 and 1930 with the formation of
the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (later known as the Motion Picture
Association of America or MPAA) and the subsequent election of Presbyterian elder Will H. Hays
as its president. The wider film industry in its short history thus far had gained a huge public
following, but also garnered quite a lot of negative attention and a reputation for being morally
corrupt through various scandals and the publishing of several risqu films27. Those of religious or
conservative persuasions began to question if they should be associating and funding such a morally
bankrupt pack of scoundrels as Hollywood was shaping up to be. With the introduction of dozens of
film censorship bills across America there was growing pressure on Hollywood, both political and
social, to clean up their act or risk their empires crumbling around them. This, of course, is where
Hays comes in. Throughout the 1930s Hays would, with the collaboration of executives from some
of the largest studios of the day, go on to create and enforce regulations of the film industry. The
first notable collection of these regulations, published in 1927, were the 'Don'ts and Be
Carefuls' a list of themes and images that film-makers were advised to either treat with good
taste or forgo altogether28. Shortly after this, in 1930, a more thorough code with more power and a
more in-depth review system was published; known officially as the Motion Pictures Production
Code, but often colloquially referred to as The Hays Code29. This film code would remain active
until 1968 and have a profound effect on both the film industry as a whole and more specifically on
the animation industry. Before the introduction of this code it was not uncommon for animation to
include adult jokes and innuendos, or even directly explicit material, but all of these virtually
disappeared in post-code animation. One of the more notable changes were those made to the
Fleischer Bros. character Betty Boop, including the lengthening of her skirt, desexualising of her
appearance, and removal of any promiscuous content such as nudity and perceived bestiality30. It
seemed that the effect of the film codes was more visible on animation than other forms of cinema,
likely due to live action stories of the day having more depth through dramatic and serious content,
27 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.9-12
28 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.12
29 United States. Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. A CODE TO GOVERN THE MAKING OF
MOTION AND TALKING PICTURES. By Will H. Hays. N.p.: MPPDA, 1930. Print.
30 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.20-23

and non-explicit adult themes, whereas these elements were not present in animation; which meant
that the code led to the removal of virtually all adult content from animation, leaving behind only
the whimsical and child friendly material.
In the decades following the introduction of the Film Code there was a great deal of development in
the animation industry; perhaps due to the popular animated content of the time being quite suitable
to a heavily regulated environment. By the end of the 1950s animation had become a global
phenomenon, and an extremely lucrative business. By this stage animation had a huge public appeal
and many prominent characters had become household names, such as Felix the Cat, Betty Boop,
and Mickey Mouse. Animation was undeniably on the rise, and none were so willing or able to take
advantage of this as Walt Disney Studios. Disney had worked hard in the interim years to make
themselves, in the mind of the public, not only an inherent part of animation as a medium, but an
ingrained element of American society31. This had a huge impact on not just America, but the entire
English speaking Western world due to the coming Americanisation of these cultures32. It appears
that Disney's very child-friendly approach to animation was to become the norm according to public
opinion. Weather it was intentional or not Disney had radically altered the tone of animation, and
the weight of the Walt Disney Corporation would not be easily shifted.
With the 60's came the era of the Baby Boomers and with it a period of rapid economic growth and
social development. This new generation arrived just in time to see the fall of Old Hollywood, as
explained by Simon Hitchman in is 2013 article on the subject, '"Old Hollywood" was losing both
money and audience share at an alarming rate and the aging studio bosses, out of touch with the
tastes of the new baby boomer audience, were at a loss as to what kind of films they should now be
making 33. This new wave of consumers wanted more than traditional Hollywood could give them,
and so looked elsewhere, leading to a rise in the popularity of foreign films such as French and
German cinema, one of the key variations of which from American cinema of the time was their
proclivity for risqu content34. The inspiration and new ideas provided by these films, combined
with the counter-culture attitudes of the era, and the convergence of a new generation of young
directors and film-makers looking to make their mark and have their voices heard lead to the
31 Smoodin, Eric Loren. Animating culture: Hollywood cartoons from the sound era. Rutgers University Press, 1993.
32 Stephan, Alexander, ed. The Americanization of Europe: culture, diplomacy, and anti-Americanism after 1945.
Berghahn Books, 2005.
33 Hitchman, Simon. A HISTORY OF AMERICAN NEW WAVE CINEMA. Part Three: New Hollywood (1967-1969).
newwavefilm.com, 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2016
34 Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.
Simon and Schuster, 1999.

movement which would become known as The American New Wave, or New Hollywood35.
Roman Polanski, one of the more influential and notable directors or this era, was quoted in an
interview around this time saying, The old people are dying slowly [...] the representatives of the
puritanism and religion and other organisms which were restricting. The young people are quite
different, they demand different things; Make it new they say, Make it different..
This movement was a boon to the film industry, revitalising it and opening up boundaries to themes
and content that had previously been unheard of. A combination of this new found cinematic
wanderlust and the abandonment of the Film Codes by the MPAA, in favour of the Film Rating
System, lead to a period of far more mature and experimental film making; resulting in to the
development of films such as The Graduate, Harold and Maude, The Godfather, Easy Rider, and
Midnight Cowboy; all seen as important pieces of film history, and influences on prominent filmmakers that would follow in their footsteps. The works from this era of cinema were also one of the
key driving factors in the creation of the R and X ratings by the MPAA, which paved the way for
explicit and otherwise adult oriented films. Fortunately this development did not sidestep the
animation industry, and there was an uncharacteristic upturn in underground and unconventional
animation. This was exemplified by Ralph Bakshi's underground hit 'Fritz the Cat' the first
animated film to receive an X rating from the MPAA 36. Here we see some of the first examples of
animation being respected as an industry and medium in it's own right, and beginning to integrate
itself more closely with the film industry as a whole thanks to the doors opened by the 'New
Hollywood' movement.
It is clear then, approaching the modern era, that consumers wanted more from cinema with
animation being no exception and that the changing perceptions of the medium along with the
restructuring of film regulations made it easier than ever before for film-makers to realise their
artistic vision and deliver this content. The public was beginning to become desensitised by the flow
of ever more risqu content, which led to both a greater acceptance, and demand and supply and
demand were the core tenets of the capitalist systems with which Hollywood and the animation
industry had come to be so closely tied. This was a huge step forward for adult animation, and
would later be remembered as a boon to the survival and thriving of the modern animation industry
as a whole, but the baggage that animation carried from it's past would be neither quick nor easy to
35 Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. Dir. Kenneth
Bowser. Writ. Peter Biskind. Fremantle Corporation, 2003. Film.
36 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.81-84

unload. Even though great strides were made in this era they barely scratched the surface of the
public's perception of animation. Thus we arrive at the next stage of our journey, an examination of
cinematic adult animation in practice. From humble beginnings through to the changing tide of the
modern era, to ask the questions: Where did adult animation come from, and more importantly
where is it going?

10

CHAPTER 2
-Cinematic Adult Animation in PracticeWhat the hell is wrong with freedom, Man? That's what it's all about.
-Dennis hopper in 'Easy Rider'37

37 Easy Rider. Dir. Dennis Hopper. Perf. Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. Raybert Productions, 1969.
Film.

11

Time and time again it has been shown that there are two things that humans, by their very nature,
simply cannot resist: sex and money. It should come as no surprise then that examples of explicit
and risqu animation can be found for almost as long as animation as a medium has existed38.
Examples of burlesque shows and strip teases can be found even in early magic lantern shows and
primitive zoetrope devices, but even pre-code film animation had it's share of risqu material as
with previously mentioned cases such as the editing of Betty Boop to remove content seen as
promiscuous. This practice was not uncommon, with many animations in this era being edited or
banned due the use of nudity, foul language, the portrayal of banned acts and substances, and a
plethora of other unsavoury depictions and themes39. One of the first and most well known
examples of truly explicit animation on film was Eveready Harton in Buried Treasure, produced in
1928. Though presented in a typical cartoon style of the era this film featured explicit nudity and
sexual acts throughout. The film ended up never receiving it's initial release due to controversy
surrounding it's content, likely due to the fact that it was produced just two years before the
introduction of the Film Code, which shows that even before the creation of the Code, Hay's work
with the MPPDA was already well set in motion and public opinions at the time had quite a
conservative leaning. Despite this the film was apparently a hit amongst the animation community
towards whom it was targeted, according to an account from Disney animator Ward Kimball, The
first porno-cartoon was made in New York. It was called "Eveready Harton" and was made in the
late 20's, silent, of courseby three studios. Each one did a section of it without telling the other
studios what they were doing. Studio A finished the first part and gave the last drawing to Studio
B.... Involved were Max Fleischer, Paul Terry and the Mutt and Jeff studio. They didn't see the
finished product till the night of the big show. A couple of guys who were there tell me the laughter
almost blew the top off the hotel where they were screening it.40 Even though doubts exist about the
legitimacy of this and similar claims it goes to make an important point about the era even if the
public and the government ratings boards were staunchly against adult content, opinions within the
animation community remained positive. This is important; because, while the viewing public drove
the demand, the animators and film-makers were still the content creators and history shows us
that their wildest desires will not be quelled simply by a lack of demand. Steve Russel of Klasky
Csupo once stated that, A Storyboard Jam isn't common on shows that allow people to get out
frustrations in the actual work, but on cutie kid shows, everyone draws naked women going bonkers
38 Jones, David J. Sexuality and the Gothic Magic Lantern: Desire, Eroticism and Literary Visibilities from Byron to
Bram Stoker. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
39 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.18-34
40 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.12

12

on giant cocks in their spare time. Inevitably, through loathing of the project, they start a
storyboard jam where a continuous story evolves from artist to artist as they hand around the
papers. Everyone gets a turn to do their worst with the characters.41
It seems only natural then that over the next thirty years, as the Film Code remained in effect and
the animation industry continued down it's foam padded path to Disneyfication, a bustling
underground animation scene would develop and thrive. These communities, mostly American,
were comprised in part by independent artists, but a huge amount of them were formed by industry
professionals who either wanted to blow off steam from their conservative and constricting studio
jobs or who had become disillusioned with the consumerism and restrictive nature of the studio
system entirely and focused their efforts towards the more expressive and emotive film-making
opportunities offered by these unrestricted underground communities42,. These communities were
tepid and mostly insular up until the 60's, but the repealing of the Hays code opened the floodgates
for the release and distribution of both American and Foreign animation unrestricted by regulations
or censorship. John Magnuson's Thank You Mask Man and Marv Newland's Bambi Meets Godzilla
are fantastic, and very different, examples of the animation in circulation at this time that could
never have seen the big screen under previous regulations.
The first strides into animated adult feature films also came in the 50's and 60's with the waning of
the Film Codes. There were limited Western examples outside of America, such as the English
'Animal Farm' produced by Halas and Batchelor in the 50's which curiously is also said to be the
first British animated feature film with a cinematic release , but most of the development in this
era was still focused heavily around America. While films like the X-rated Midnight Cowboy were
blazing trails in live action cinema, directors like Ralph Bakshi were making trails of their own in
animation. Early in his career Bakshi was heavily involved in traditional animation and worked for
several well known studios such as Terrytoons but like many animators before him he grew
jaded with the system and wanted more creative freedom and to escape from what animation had
become famously quoted as saying grown men sitting in cubicles drawing butterflies floating
over a field of flowers, while American planes are dropping bombs in Vietnam and kids are
marching in the streets, is ludicrous."43 His new works such as 'Heavy Traffic' offered a taste of
gritty realism in animation, while, now cult classic, Fritz the Cat was the first animated film to
41 Ressel, Steve. Steve Ressel's Livejournal. Web blog post. Livejournal, 2011. Web. 20 May 2011.
42 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.92-102
43 Barrier, Michael. Funnyworld Revisited: The Filming Of Fritz The Cat, Part One, (Reprinted from Funnyworld No.
14, Spring 1972). Michaelbarrier.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

13

receive an X rating. These films, though they had their share of critics and detractors, were critical
and financial successes, even though they did not see as wide a release as even an X-rated live
action film would44.
It is clear then that Ralph Bakshi, patron saint of adult animation, found unprecedented success
from the most unlikely of sources with his free love feline; but how did Fritz come to be such a
breakout hit; why, to this day, has there never been a resurgence of cinematic adult animation to
nearly the same scale; and just what was the cultural significance of Fritz? Bakshi came up during
the 50's and 60's and attributes his style to several events and movements of the era. He worked at
Terrytoons on serialised children's animation for almost fifteen years, and after all that time of being
so restricted and restrained on productions that he felt were intellectually dishonest he needed to
move on and make something that he believed was real and honest, that didn't hold back, and
treated the viewer with respect45. He once said of this period, I couldn't stand lying to kids any
more [...] I couldn't stand doing all this garbage, that I considered garbage at the time, or got to be
garbage. Y'know, stuff that's not real, and stuff that's not ethnic [...] I'm a film director now, why
can't I call an animated character Italian? Why can't I draw a black guy? I mean what is going on
here?46 His concerns were driven and compounded by that state of the world around him; the
Vietnam war was in full swing and the country was up in arms about it, there were riots in the
streets, and racial conflicts in ghettos across the country47. These concerns overlap with those of
many other great and influential directors of this period, such as Roman Polanski, Peter
Bogdanovich, and Dennis Hopper. Bakshi was channelling the American New Wave movement into
animation and this alchemy was creating something new and exciting for the animation industry.
Bakshi was also influenced greatly by the rapidly growing underground comics scene in America,
and between the total freedom from regulation and the wild counter-culture attitudes it's not hard to
understand where he saw the appeal especially coming from animation48. One of the prominent
figures of this scene was Robert Crumb, creator of the original Fritz the Cat comic upon which
Bakshi's film was based49. Though Crumb ended up being dissatisfied with how the film turned out
44 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
45 Gibson, Jon M., Chris McDonnell, and Ralph Bakshi. Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. Universe Pub, 2008.
46 Wizards: Ralph Bakshi The Wizard of Animation. Prod. John Mefford. Perf. Ralph Bakshi. Sparkhill Productions,
2004. Short.
47 Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. Dir. Kenneth
Bowser. Writ. Peter Biskind. Fremantle Corporation, 2003. Film.
48 Wizards: Ralph Bakshi The Wizard of Animation. Prod. John Mefford. Perf. Ralph Bakshi. Sparkhill Productions,
2004. Short.
49 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.81

14

due to Bakshi's treatment of some elements from the comic50,51, the film certainly embodies the
counter-culture movement of the era and its radical ideas on society, sex, rebellion, and freedom;
drawing parallels with many other radical films of the time such as Midnight Cowboy and Easy
Rider. It was not merely the fact that Fritz was X-rated that was revolutionary, but these ideas of
culture and society which it conveyed in a manner that had never been seen before. Ralph Bakshi
wanted to make animation that was real, to break the bonds that held it back, and though he may not
spurred an immediate revolution, he certainly left his mark and paved the way for those who would
carry on his legacy. The frustration and intentions of Bakshi, as well as the limitations of animation,
during this era were summed up nicely when he said, It's my medium! Why am I locked out of all
these wonderful areas?52.
Though it didn't change the world overnight, Bakshi's success proved that the animation market and
the viewing public was opening up to adult animation. Despite this positive reaction these successes
proved to be unprecedented for the time, and did not go on to revolutionise and modernise the
animation industry as many so desperately hoped. Bakshi fell into controversy over racism with a
later film, 'Coonskin' - ironically a film about the injustice of racism in America and all but retired
from adult animation to pursue other projects. For the next thirty years there were occasional
resurgences of adult animation in theatres films such as the titular 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'
pushed the boundaries of it's PG rating, and independent animators such as Bill Plympton received
limited theatrical success with their short films. while a new wave of animated documentaries
appeared to be exempt from the traditional standards of animation but to this day nothing has
reached the scale of Bakshi's legacy. It becomes clear then just how pigeon-holed the medium of
animation had become, and that it would take more than a few independent successes dig it out of
it's hole. The full acceptance of adult content in Western animation would take either the support of
a major player in the industry, or a complete restructuring of how the industry worked.
Though adult content in these Western markets was still struggling, it was par for the course in
many non-Western animation industries. Japan, for example, acts as a perfect foil for American
animation; exemplifying these foreign producers, with a booming animation industry known

50 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p.81
51 Gibson, Jon M., Chris McDonnell, and Ralph Bakshi. Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. Universe Pub, 2008.
p. xlviii
52 Wizards: Ralph Bakshi The Wizard of Animation. Prod. John Mefford. Perf. Ralph Bakshi. Sparkhill Productions,
2004. Short.

15

locally as anime dating back to the turn of the 20th century53, almost as far as those in France and
America. The key differences between Japanese animation and Western animation is its history.
Animation in Japan saw less government regulation outside of officially sanctioned political works,
and many animations here were smaller and cheaper productions which served to provide more
freedom to the film-makers54. Popular big budget anime works such as 'Akira' began to bring
Japanese animation to the American public in the 80's and 90's55. Many Americans who would
later be realised as the roots of a sizeable American subculture group instantly fell in love with
anime and consumed all they could find, while others were wary or even disgusted with this new
media and the adult content it brought with it, including a sexually explicit and pornographic
subsection of anime known colloquially as Hentai. Anime would eventually go on to help introduce
and normalise a good deal of Americans with adult animation, though the general public was to
remain either wary or completely ignorant of it.
As shown by its usage thus far, adult is a word with a great deal of implication behind it, and a
great variety of meaning; especially when it comes to popular media and animation. Depending on
the context it can indicate something as benign as a serious dramatic story or something as explicit
as pornography and extreme violence, with a great many shades of grey in-between. Most of these
themes can be neatly bundled into three categories the overt, which includes explicit content such
as pornography and graphic violence; the emotional, which covers themes such as death,
depression, mental illness, drug abuse, and relationship issues; and the subversive, which includes
the likes of politics, religion, and social ideas. All of these themes have appeared in animation to
varying degrees and all three are encompassed in my definition of adult content as applied to adult
cinema. Emotional adult content is the type most frequently expressed through animation, with
death, mental health, and relationship issues appearing relatively commonly even in childrens
media, though always treated with the greatest of care and sometimes diluted to the point of losing
all meaning in the name of staying family friendly. Subversive adult themes rarely appears in
animated cinema unless they are extremely simplified, and when they do it is generally within
animated documentaries, which tend to eschew the traditional bounds of animation though their
imposed realism anyway. The most elusive if the three, the overt, is almost unheard of in animated
cinema excepting a few notable outliers.56
53 Sieg, Linda. Japan finds films by early "anime" pioneers. Reuters, 27 Mar. 2008. Web. 12 Feb. 2016
54 Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
55 Newitz, Annalee. Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm: Japanese Animation in America. Film Quarterly 49.1
(1995): 215. Web...
56 Australian Law Reform Commission. Classification-Content regulation and convergent media: Final Report. No.
75. ALRC, 2012.

16

This topic also returns us once more to the important notion that documentaries seem to fall outside
of the boundaries of what is suitable for traditional animated content. Thanks to this exception
which is likely due to the fact that documentaries are generally viewed as a genre for adults, and
that they only relatively recently started to incorporate animation in the mainstream documentary
film-makers and consumers are one of the few branches of cinema to truly respects animation as a
medium in and of itself and take it without implication or restriction.57 Waltz with Bashir is a prime
example of an animated documentary with adult themes and visuals which merely uses animation as
it's medium a tool in it's creative arsenal. It must be asked; why does documentary film-making
escape the draconian ideals of the animation industry? Apart from the reasons previously
mentioned, it must be noted that animation is an incredibly powerful tool in documentary filmmaking. This is exemplified within Waltz with Bashir, showing how animation can be used to play
with the viewers perception and distance from reality. Animation can distance an audience from a
serious topic to juxtapose and examine the content within; or it can draw an audience into events
and periods from which no real footage remains in a way not previously possible, such as in the
1995 documentary Abductees58 where animated sections are used to visualise first-hand accounts of
alleged alien abductions. Annabelle Honess Roe, author of Animated Documentary, writes
Animation can also, through its nature as a medium that can be realised in multiple formats,
techniques and styles, convey questions regarding forgetting and remembering, knowing and not
knowing, the past. and Unlike photographic media, which seem to highlight the distance of the
past as an instant that cannot be recaptured, animation is a way to weave oneself into history and
bring oneself into proximity with that which is temporally distal.59 These reasons can be taken to
show how powerful animation is as a medium, but also to show that it was only through necessity
that it could eschew it's traditions for documentaries. This once more can be taken to show that the
weight of animations history is what is holding it back, and only once this perceived prestige can be
shed or circumvented will it be able to move forward.
We can clearly see then just how ingrained the negative connotations of animation are. Through
every step of it's history factors worked against it to relegate it as a childrens medium and a lower
form of entertainment, and even through the smash hits and critical acclaim of adult cinema during
the American New Wave it couldn't break away from these ingrained notions. As stated previously,
it seems that the full acceptance of adult content in Western animation would take either the support
57 Adams, Beige. When Docs Get Graphic: Animation Meets Actuality. Documentary.org, 2009. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
58 Abductees. Dir. Paul Vester. Speedy Films, 1995. Short.
59 Roe, Annabelle Honess. Animated documentary. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

17

of a major player in the industry, or a complete restructuring of how the industry worked. This,
fortunately, may not be as far fetched as it may sound according to the direction of recent cultural
trends. It appears that the saviour of adult animated cinema may come not from within it's own
ranks, but from it's competition, both old and new, and from movements that have been coming to a
head for years now. Let us take a look at how television and the rise of alternative media may be
poised to have a positive and lasting impact on adult animation, and more specifically on adult
animated cinema.

18

CHAPTER 3
-Television and the rise of Alternative MediaThe times they are a-changing; y'know what I'm saying?
-Ralph Bakshi60

60 Wizards: Ralph Bakshi The Wizard of Animation. Prod. John Mefford. Perf. Ralph Bakshi. Sparkhill Productions,
2004. Short.

19

Just as the arrival of foreign films and a new generation of inspired directors led to the breakout of
adult live action cinema with the American New Wave, so too may the prevalence of televised and
alternative forms of media lead to adult animation hitting the big screens. History shows that when
it comes to media, the consuming public vote with their wallets, and an industries morals often run
only as deep as its pockets. Those who want this content need only make themselves sufficiently
heard for adult animation to make the transition from small screen to big, and these new elements
are shaping up to be the town crier of this new generation of consumers. Cinema has had it's share
of underground and independent hits when it comes to adult animation, as we have seen, but they
always proved to be exceptional cases. Television, both rival and companion to cinema in ages past,
has recently been proving itself, in the grand scheme, to be the more progressive of the two. With
adult animation abound in broadcast media, one question pleads to be answered: What caused such
a clear rift in the content of two, ostensibly quite similar, platforms?
There are a number of key differences between cinema and television. From the first magic lantern
shows to Eadweard Muybridge's simple motion studies, all film media during the primordial era of
film-making was projected, and thus required a screen. It logically followed then that when film
began to amass a following there should be a venue dedicated to this new medium. Cinema was
born of this; originating as little more than a venue, it would be the public's only source of film for
many years. Commercially available television on the other hand appeared much later, appearing in
the 1930's but not gaining widespread popularity until the 40's when the public was already well
accustomed to cinema, and early television had little original content so film re-runs were
frequent61. Cinema was a thing of spectacle and wonder, an event more-so than just a platform;
whereas television was a more mundane and casual form of entertainment, to be enjoyed in the
home as you pleased. It was also decided that television should be regulated on similar grounds to
radio, inherently separating it from cinema. These factors meant that by the 40's cinema was a
hugely ingrained part of society with many set expectations and implications, while television, a
new platform, could forge it's own path while still feeding off of the legacy of cinema. It is a logical
notion to consider that there was a possibility of television becoming more associated with cinema
during its inception, more similarly controlled and regulated; but when examining the history of
television and the positive changes its systemic differences from cinema have led to it can certainly
be seen as a positive distinction.
Television was regulated by many organisations in various countries, but the most relevant to
61 Kompare, Derek. Rerun nation: How repeats invented American television. Routledge, 2006.

20

Hollywood and Western animation was the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, which
was set up in 1934 to regulate American broadcast media. As written by Assoc. Professor Michael
O'Malley, The FCC had the right to restrict content -- to censor obscene material, to require
balance and "fairness" in political programming, and to insist that a certain percentage of each
broadcast week be devoted to what it termed "public use." and In the 1950s, as today, the FCC
also prohibited "obscene and indecent" material. Programming is considered obscene if "the
average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the material appeals
to the prurient interest; that the material describes or depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive
manner; or taken as whole, the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
Indecent programming was defined as "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community
standards for the broadcast medium and describes sexual or excretory activities and organs."
Obscene programming was prohibited at all times in the 1950s, but "indecent" programming was
allowed at certain times, typically after hours when children went to bed. The meaning of
"indecent" has tended to change over time. In the 1950s, for example, TV programmers would not
show a married couple sharing a bed. Married couples, in 1950s TV-land, slept in separate beds.
The subject of indecent programming is still unsettled, as any listener of drive-time commercial
radio knows.62 From these quotes, as well as official FCC documentation63, we can clearly see that
the regulations of television were, though perhaps just as puritanical as those of cinema in their
intent, considerably more vague and open to interpretation. This, combined with a hint if tolerance
shown by their exception for indecent programming at certain times, were two of the first steps
on the road to the embracing adult content on television. Later development would come with the
spread of cable television and premium cable, wherein viewers could more easily find indecent
content due to a lack of FCC regulations of these systems. These regulations do not apply here due
cable television being a subscription based content and the requirement of special equipment to
access this programming, therefore technically falling outside of the FCC's jurisdiction64. In time
this would prove itself to be a notable boon to cable television in its competition with terrestrial
networks, and as a consequence drive traditional networks to attempt to loosen their restrictions on
adult content. Cable's popularity and influence continued to grow reaching over 50 million
viewers by 1990 and the platform was no stranger to animation, housing two of the giants of
broadcast animation; Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, which launched in 1977 and 1992
respectively.

62 O'Malley, Michael. Regulating Television. Georgia Mason University. April 2004. Web. 08 Feb 2016
63 Media Bureau Official Documents. FCC.gov, 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
64 Program Content Regulations. FCC.gov, 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

21

One of the first examples of broadcast animation that pushed the boundaries of acceptance was 'The
Ren & Stimpy Show', broadcast by Nickelodeon in 199165. John Kricfalusi, the creator of the show,
had previously worked with, and credits his success to, Ralph Bakshi; and is quoted as saying He
saved me. He saved the business for cartoonists.66 The show was an immediate hit, but was also a
source of great controversy67. The show was pushing the boundaries of adult animation while still
being broadcast on a children's network, much to the chagrin of many parental organisations, but
even with this looming controversy and lack of educational content in the show Nickelodeon
decided to carry on with production. Kricfalusi was quoted as saying, "...no other network would
have stuck their necks out that far and even put the show on the air. I tried to sell it to every
network they all turned it down thinking that I was insane with a show like that they were
pretty brave to put it on."68 Terry Thoren of Klasky Csupo said that Kricfalusi, "tapped into an
audience that was a lot hipper than anybody thought. He went where no man wanted to go before
the caca, booger humor.69 This shows that not only was there an emerging market for this kind of
material, but also that networks were becoming more willing to test the waters by funding and
publishing these shows. Though the show was eventually cancelled it had a lasting impact on the
culture of adult animated television. 'Beavis and Butthead' creator Mike Judge credits Nickelodeon
and Kricfalusi with opening the doorway for his show, saying, "'Ren & Stimpy' played on MTV for
a while and was a big success. They used that as a justification to pay for this."70 Kricfalusi would
go on to resurrect Ren and Stimpy years later as an adult only show, surfing on the wake of adult
animation that its original run had helped to leave behind again reinforcing the profound impact it
had on the industry.
There were several programs that followed in the wake of 'The Ren & Stimpy Show' and presented
similar risqu humour and adult themes, but the next big step in adult broadcast animation would
not come until 2001 with the launch of Cartoon Network's adult oriented programming block: Adult
Swim. This network was launched with the intent of providing animated content oriented towards
adults using Cartoon Network's later broadcasting hours previously wasted due to the vast
majority of their target audience, children, being asleep. Adult Swim's roots can be traced back to
65 The Ren & Stimpy Show. Writ. John Kricfalusi. Perf. Billy West. Nickelodeon. 1991. Television.
66 Kricfalusi, John. John Kricfalusi. Interview by Tasha Robinson. A.V. Club. Onion Inc., 04 Mar. 2001. Web. 28 Jan.
2016.
67 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p. 148-149
68 Kricfalusi, John. John Kricfalusi Interview. Interview by Nick Digilio. WGN Radio, 2003. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.
69 Zimmerman, Kevin. Not just for kids anymore. Daily Variety, 23 Mar. 1995. Web. 19 Dec. 2015
70 Cerone, Daniel. COVER STORY : New Kings of TV's Toon Town: In an era when product tie-ins lead to new series,
and not vice versa, Nickelodeon has hit paydirt with a plan some might call Looney Tunes: Hire bright animators
and let them do (almost) anything they want. LA Times, 17 October 1993. Web. 20 Jan. 2016

22

one of the first late night, adult oriented programs that cartoon Network ever produced; Space
Ghost Coast to Coast, first aired in 199471,72. Space Ghost was created by Mike Lazzo head
programmer of Cartoon Network and operator of Adult Swim to this day and became huge
success. The show was developed by Lazzo's studio Ghost Planet Industries which would later
become Williams Street Studios and, thanks to the success of Space Ghost, end up producing all of
Adult Swim's original series. Many of its original shows such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force,
Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law, and Sealab 2021, gained a huge cult following, and many of
their more recent shows such as Metalocalypse, Robot Chicken, The Venture Bros., China, IL, and
'Rick and Morty' have gone on to see unprecedented success in the last ten years. This network,
more than any that came before it, has set a precedent for the acceptance of adult animation on
television and even crossed the boundaries from television into cinema with the production of Aqua
Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres in 2007 a feat which had not been achieved by
an adult animated film since the 1999 release of the 'South Park' film 'South Park: Bigger, Longer,
and Uncut'.
While all of these elements were working hard on the recipe for explicitly adult animation, mainly
using the freedoms provided by cable television, another more subtle path was being explored on
commercial broadcast networks. For years now mainstream childrens animation had gotten away
with slipping in the odd subtle adult reference a nod to the parents watching at home with their
oblivious children, and a way for writers and animators to express themselves in a very limiting
system. Some shows such as 'Animaniacs' would go on to become famous for this and there is an
argument to be made that these shows were both a symptom of a generation of animators who were
raised on adult cinema, and also that they were one of the factors that helped to desensitise the
current generation of consumers to adult animation. The epitome of this type of subversive adult
content came in 1989 with the release of 'The Simpsons'73, also notable as one of the first examples
of prime time animation on a non child-oriented network.
'The Simpsons' was truly a show for all the family; suitable, appropriate and marketable for children
of all ages, yet packed to the brim with references, themes, and humour designed to resonate with
adults74. The show was created by Matt Groening, and owes its production and perhaps a good
deal of its creative freedom when it comes to the aforementioned adult content to its origin as a
71
72
73
74

Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Dir. Mike Lazzo. Cartoon Network, 1994. Television.
Lee, Cricket. [Adult Swim]: A (not so) Bried History. Geek Nation, 02 Feb. 2013. Web. 23 Jan. 2016
The Simpsons. Writ. Matt Groening. Perf. Dan Castellaneta, Phil Hartman. Fox. 1989. Television.
Alberti, John. Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the possibility of oppositional culture. Wayne State
University Press, 2004.

23

popular short on 'The Tracy Ullman Show'75,76. From its inception the show was a runaway hit, being
one of the Fox networks' first big successes, and it quickly became an inherent part of the pop
culture revolution of the 90's adult themes and all77. The shows popularity and mainstream appeal
seemed almost to make people forget it was an animated show at all. Merchandise sold in record
numbers across the world; much of it featuring Bart Simpson, by this stage already a beloved
household name, and his catchphrases such as Eat my shorts! and I'm Bart Simpson. Who the
hell are you? of which both the language and attitude were virtually unheard of in mainstream
animation to date. They introduced not only a great deal of adult humour; but also dealt with a lot of
very serious emotional adult topics such as death, relationship issues, poverty, and other issues of
American suburbia; as well as offering occasional subversive adult content such as political satire or
mockery of the American education system78. In fact virtually the only type of adult content they
shied away from was the explicit, and even that was mentioned at times. 'The Simpsons' went on to
become one of the most popular animated shows in the history of television, and is widely regarded
as one of the instruments of the coming age of adult television.
Thus we see how adult animation came to be accepted on television, but the effects of this
development were so profound that they even managed to breach the mighty walls of Hollywood,
with the trojan horse of this metaphor being none other than 'South Park' Comedy Central's
controversial foray into adult animation. 'South Park'79 was one of Comedy Central's first animated
shows, preceded only by 'Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist'. The show was created by Trey Parker
and Matt Stone as a college project before being picked up commercially. It was explicit, vulgar,
unapologetic, and quickly became an explosive success. Between 1997 and 1999 its viewer-ship
had grown to over 6 million, with one concerned reporter writing in his 1998 article, The foulmouthed "South Park" is a sensation, and last week's episode, in which the character Cartman's
father was revealed, won the highest ratings of any entertainment series in basic cable's history.80
with regard to a recent episode. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the show, which
seemed to push every boundary it could reach, but it's popularity continued to grow undeterred.
This popularity, combined with the social foundation laid by other adult animated programs, came
75 The Tracey Ullman Show. Writ. James L. Brooks. Perf. Tracey Ullman. Fox, 1987. Television.
76 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p. 144
77 Alberti, John. Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the possibility of oppositional culture. Wayne State
University Press, 2004. p. xvii
78 Cohen, Karl F. Forbidden animation: Censored cartoons and blacklisted animators in America. McFarland, 2004.
p. 144-146
79 South Park, Writ. Trey Parker, Matt Stone. Perf. Isaac Hayes. Comedy Central. 1997. Television.
80 Associated Press. The growth of trash TV concerns media watchers. The Augusta Chronicle, 05 May 1998. Web. 06
Feb. 2016.

24

to a head in 1999 with an achievement thus far unheard of in animation, as previously mentioned,
with the production and release of 'South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut'81 the first ever adult
animated film with a theatrical release based on a broadcast animation.
This was a landmark achievement for both adult animated cinema and television, as well as
animation as a medium. Amusingly, when considering the history of adult animation and the
difficult journey animators had undertaken to get to this stage, and perhaps poignantly some of
the key themes in the film are; censorship, free speech, and unjustified parental outrage. The film
also employs a heavy satire of the MPAA with whom Parker and Stone battled constantly to get
the film an R rating instead of the toxic NC-17; which by this stage was considered a much harsher
rating than it once was, and almost guaranteed that a film would be a commercial failure due to
impaired critical appeal, a reduced number of potential theatres, and negative connotations resulting
from the annexation of it's uncopyrighted predecessor the X rating by pornography studios.82
Since this release, and its wild success, there have been a handful of films that successfully
followed this same path to a cinematic release, such as; 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie
Film for Theatres' in 2007, and to a lesser extent 'The Simpsons Movie'; with more planned for
coming years, showing that it was more than just a lucky break. Beavis and Butthead Do America
followed a similar path to a theatrical release three years before South Park, but with a PG-13 rating
while still notable as having appealing mainly to adults and teenagers it falls more in line with
the Simpsons than the explicitly adult South Park. This was a huge step in setting a positive
precedent for the development of adult animated films, and South Park, along with the films that
followed, showed that with enough support media could cross traditional content barriers, even
across platforms. Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was truly the exception that proved the rule of adult
animation; showing that it was still possible to make an adult animated theatrical release, but at the
same time proving how difficult it can be and requiring an enormous following built on a different
platform just to jump-start production.
All of this was a huge leap forward for adult animation, and in the past ten years there has been yet
another shift; not in the public acceptance of a given genre in film, but in the very nature of film
production itself; with the introduction and rise of two online services: Netflix Streaming and
Kickstarter, which would go on to see many other similar services springing up in the wake of their
success. Netflix was founded in 1997 as a service to distribute DVD rentals by mail as an
81 South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Dir. Trey Parker. Perf. Matt Stone. Comedy Central Films, 1999. Film.
82 Sandler, Kevin S.. The Naked Truth: "showgirls" and the Fate of the X/NC-17 Rating. Cinema Journal 40.3 (2001):
6993. Web...

25

alternative to rental stores like Blockbuster. They were hugely successful, delivering their billionth
DVD in 2007, roughly seven and a half years after their delivery service began; which was quoted
by one Texas newspaper as being ...about seven months less than it took McDonald's Corp. to sell1
billion hamburgers after opening its first restaurant in April 195583. Shortly after this milestone
sale the company made a move that would go on to revolutionise the broadcast industries, and even
have a notable impact on cinema, with the release of their streaming service an entirely new
media platform in direct competition with both television and cinema. As if this wasn't radical
enough; they expanded their business further in 2011 by beginning to finance and distribute their
own original programming, starting with David Fincher's House of Cards, and expanding constantly
ever since. Similarly to television before it Netflix has been extremely proactive with the production
and publishing of adult animation; seeming to have no qualms with hosting even the raunchiest
material television had to offer, as well as funding and producing several of their own animated
adult programs such as 'Bojack Horseman' and 'F is for Family' since 2011. They have not yet
introduced any animated adult films, but show no resistance to the idea by hosting popular adult
films such as 'South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut', and the 2009 cult classic 'Mary and Max'.
These platforms are shaping up to be quite hospitable for animation indeed, and it's not just
independent or low budget production. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, recently got
involved with Netflix to produce a new original animated show84. This shows that these platforms
are becoming appealing even to the biggest industry names who could easily get involved with any
traditional network of their choosing.
While rarely directly influencing Hollywood and generally keeping their productions exclusive to
their own platform, there is a clear competition between the two entities with Netflix offering an
alternative and more progressive source of media and as can be clearly seen throughout the
history of cinema; nothing drives development faster than stiff competition and the introduction of
new and alternative media to the market. Netflix has only released one of their productions
theatrically, Beasts of No Nation, and that came with a great deal of controversy; with most major
cinema chains in America boycotting the release due to Netflix's disregard of traditional cinematic
release regulations by airing the film on their own platform simultaeously85. This can be taken as a
sign of Hollywood's reluctance to change in the face of these developing new platforms, though if
83 Beck, Rachel. Netflix reaches milestone with delivery of 1 billionth DVD. The Victoria Advocate, 26 Feb. 2007.
Print
84 Littleton, Cynthia. 'Simpsons' Creator Matt Groening In Talks with Netflix For Animated Series. Variety, 15 Jan.
2016. Web. 21. Jan 2016.
85 Greenberg, Julia. THEATRE OWNERS ARE FURIOUS ABOUT NETFLIX'S NEW MOVIE. Wired, 16 Oct. 2015.
Web. 16 Jan. 2016

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the popularity of streaming media continues to grow then they will likely be forced to coexist or
risk becoming irrelevant just as the big studious of the 1960's did during the American New Wave
movement86.
Netflix also poses a threat to television networks, but since all they can do to compete is either
make more compelling content or become streaming services themselves there is a strong
possibility that television will be replaced by streaming services entirely in the near future; a theory
supported by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who was quoted as saying that he believes all television
will be online within ten to twenty years87,88. Hastings also shows very positive ideals of protecting
creativity that serve as a foil to the overbearing Hollywood system, saying that they will never
release the viewership ratings for their shows publicly as, Once we give a number for a show, then
every show will be benchmarked off of that show even though they were built sometimes for very
specific audiences...There is a very natural inclination to say, Relative to this show, this show is a
failure. That puts a lot of creative pressure on the talent.89
Kickstarter on the other hand presents a brand new solution to the funding, and perhaps publicising,
of film media. This website was founded in 2009 and quickly gained notoriety as creators flocked
towards the opportunity to independently fund their projects. Since it's inception over 250,000
projects have been funded, including many films and series with the 'Mystery Science theatre
3000' revival and the 'Veronica Mars' film being included in the top ten most funded projects of all
time, with over 5 million dollars each90. Unlike Netflix this platform clearly has no qualms about
working with the film industry, with over 150 films funded through the website receiving a
theatrical release so far91. This platform also has a clear and direct influence on adult cinematic
animation, with Eric Powell and David Fincher's 'The Goon' receiving funding in 201292, and
Charlie Kaufman's emotional stop motion film 'Anomalisa' receiving funding, also in 2012, with a
successful theatrical release in 201593 both films being branded with an R rating. Kaufman's film
86 Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.
Simon and Schuster, 1999.
87 Long, Stephanie Topacio. NETFLIX 2.0? HBO TO FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ITS STREAMING RIVAL.
Digital Trends, 16 Feb 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
88 Stevenson. Abigail. Netflix CEO: All TV will be Internet in 10-20 yrs. CNBC, 20 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
89 Koblin, John. Netflix's Opaque Disruption Annoys Rivals on TV. The New York Post, 17 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Feb.
2016.
90 Most Funded. https://www.kickstarter.com/discover/most-funded. Kickstarter, 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
91 Film & Video. https://www.kickstarter.com/discover/categories/film%20&%20video. Kickstarter, 2016. Web. 15
Feb. 2016.
92 The Goon Movie... let's KICKSTART this sucker!!!. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/624061548/the-goonmovie-lets-kickstart-this-sucker/description. Kickstarter, 2012. Web. 04 Jan. 2016
93 Anomalisa. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/anomalisa/charlie-kaufmans-anomalisa/description. Kickstarter,
2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

27

is incredibly noteworthy, not just for being one of the first adult animated films funded through this
new platform, but also for being one of the only non comedic adult animated productions, a further
barrier to animation as a medium which remains difficult to breach to this day.
Other notable artist to adult animation who have successfully availed of Kickstarter include Ren and
Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, who used the website to fund his latest animated show Cans
Without Labels, which follows in the footsteps of his previous work; and adult animation legend
Ralph Bakshi, who used the platform to fund his latest animated short film The Last Days of Coney
Island, which similarly revisits his roots for the first time since the 70's. During his Kickstarter pitch
video Bakshi stated, My pictures, done 35 years ago with spit and the blood of my great studio
artists are still playing everywhere. Y'know, it's time to do more. The net offers me the freedom of
not having to fight any-more., sarcastically adding Wow, what a concept, and following it up
with, I need your help. Help me do something for animation that isn't driven by making you happy
and stupid.94 These comments perfectly exemplify Bakshi's ideas about animation, his struggles to
see his visions realised all those years ago, and brings us full circle to show how these new media
platforms can circumvent all of those problems of the past as long as they are supported. Bakshi has
been the star of this journey and virtually personifies the adult animation industry, to this day
fighting for the medium and moving with the times as we progress. Similarly to Matt Groening
using Netflix as a platform, these examples also show that even well established artists find these
new services such as Kickstarter to be a very valuable service. Even if current successes are still
somewhat limited, all of these developments have extremely positive implications on the future of
adult animation.
It is clear then that television, and even more-so the emerging forms of alternative media, are much
more receptive to adult animated content than cinema, and that if recent trends and the history of
the film industry are any indication of things to come then there is likely to be a radical shift in the
near future. Even in it's current state animated cinema has progressed a great deal with a
combination of the positive influence from television, constant development from adult animators,
and more recently the support from alternative platforms such as Kickstarter. Aside from these
points one of the main issues that remains, and one of the more damning indications of the lack of
respect for animation as a medium, is the virtual absence of non-comedic adult content though
even this is currently improving with works like Anomalisa setting a positive precedent. There has
94 Last Days of Coney Island. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ralphbakshi/last-days-of-coney-island0/description. Kickstarter, 2013. Web. 13, Feb. 2016.

28

undeniably been a historic upturn in adult animated cinema in the last ten years, with many
productions currently in the works or in the process of looking for funding, and after a long history
of peaks and falls it seems as though we may finally be approaching the top.

29

CONCLUSION
It is clear then, if nothing else, that adult animation has had a rough journey to get where it is today.
Its future uncertain, it drags itself forward. It is weighed down by the baggage of one hundred years
of forced ideology and corporate exploitation, bloodied from its denied attempts to rise up, and yet
it moves. The future remains uncertain, though the sun crests over a distant hill, and storm clouds
have broken. It no longer walks alone; two young companions appear to accompany the weary
behemoth, and onlookers that once shunned it seem to gaze more intently with each passing day.
Times are changing.
Though I have spoken here of adult animation, simply creating more adult content remains but a
consequence of this journey. The adult element of this discussion discuss serves merely as a
metaphor for the baggage that animation as a medium is burdened with, and as the most visible
limit that we can push in our attempts to break the arbitrary barriers and cut loose the weights that
hold it back. Such draconian restrictions as there are currently in place show that animation is not
respected as a medium, but unjustly pigeon-holed into specific genres. Adult content happens to be
one of the best ways of pushing the boundaries of the medium and making people realise that their
previous perceptions of it were false. Only when the boundaries have been broken can animation be
looked at as a blank canvas, one upon which can be painted using the entire history of animation
and film, but without any of it being a necessity. This is how other, more respected mediums are
viewed to the extent that painting, another artistic medium, was my first thought as a metaphor for
an idealistic animation industry and it is how it must be if we are to ever realise the full potential
of animation. Nothing is excluded by the creation of a blank slate; all of the previous possibilities
still exist, but so do infinitely more, and an infinite combination of them. To relegate animation to
the genre of children's entertainment is comparable to defining all of painting to simple caricatures.
Even if they are mastered and made to be as beautiful and complex as can be, there is still an entire
world of possibilities being arbitrarily relegated to at best obscurity, and at worst oblivion.

30

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