From Mickey to Homer: The Evolution of Animation

Animation has come a long way since the early days of hand-drawn animation in the 1920s, thanks in large part to companies like Disney and creators like Matt Groening. In this article, we’ll trace the evolution of animation from its early days to modern classics like The Simpsons.

Early Disney Animation

One of the biggest names in animation history is undoubtedly Walt Disney. Disney’s early films, such as Steamboat Willie (1928), introduced the world to the iconic character of Mickey Mouse. Disney and his team of animators employed a technique called cel animation, where each frame of the animation is drawn by hand on a transparent piece of celluloid, or a “cel”. These cels are then stacked on top of each other to create the final animation.

Disney’s early films were often musical, with memorable songs like “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) becoming hits not just with children but adults as well. Disney also revolutionized the use of synchronized sound in animation with Steamboat Willie, which was one of the first cartoons to feature synchronized sound.

The Golden Age of Animation

The period between the 1930s and 1950s is often referred to as the “Golden Age of Animation” and for good reason – it was during this time that some of the most beloved animated films were created, such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Cinderella (1950).

During this era, Disney continued to innovate with new animation techniques, such as multiplane cameras that allowed for more complex scenes and the use of live-action reference footage to make character movements look more realistic.

The Rise of Television Animation

As television became more widespread in the 1950s, animation began to move away from the big screen and onto the small screen. One of the earliest successful animated television shows was Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones (1960), which followed the daily life of a prehistoric family and their modern conveniences.

Television animation allowed for longer, ongoing storylines as opposed to the shorter, self-contained stories of animated films. Shows like The Jetsons (1962) and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969) became popular with audiences of all ages, cementing animation as a staple of American pop culture.

The Birth of “Adult” Animation

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new type of animation began to emerge – one that was geared towards adults rather than children. Shows like The Simpsons (1989) and Beavis and Butt-Head (1993) tackled topics like sex, drugs, and social issues in a way that was irreverent and often controversial.

The Simpsons in particular has become a cultural phenomenon, with its witty writing and satirical take on American life making it one of the longest-running scripted shows in television history. The success of The Simpsons paved the way for other “adult” animated series such as South Park (1997) and Family Guy (1999).

The Future of Animation

Today, animation continues to evolve with advances in technology allowing for more complex and realistic computer-generated imagery (CGI) in films such as Toy Story (1995) and Frozen (2013). However, hand-drawn animation is still alive and well, with films like Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (2001) proving that there is still a market for traditional animation techniques.

The rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu has also opened up new opportunities for animated shows, with shows like BoJack Horseman (2014) and Rick and Morty (2013) finding a loyal audience online.


From the early days of Mickey Mouse to the irreverent humor of The Simpsons, animation has come a long way in the last century. With advances in technology and new platforms for distribution, the future of animation looks bright. Whether you prefer traditional hand-drawn animation or the latest in CGI, there’s no denying the impact that animation has had on popular culture and entertainment as a whole.