I see there's yet another controversy about whether cartoons had scripts which is going on at various websites. This is not a favorite topic of mine, since the argument follows the exact same pattern and the division is always the same, into the following three groups:
Group One: "Cartoons shouldn't have scripts."
Group Two: "Cartoons in the Golden Age did so have scripts."
Group Three: "Can't we all just get along and agree that what matters is good storytelling?"
Group One: "But in order to have good storytelling, cartoons shouldn't have scripts."
Group Two: "But Golden Age cartoons had good storytelling and they did so have scripts..."
But though I don't enjoy the argument, I think there is a point to it. Most animation (especially 2-D animation) is done for television and in television, the process is extremely important: when you don't have a lot of time to make episodes, every episode will be made more or less the same way, and the question of how to do them -- at the storyboard, in script form, or whatever -- becomes extremely important.
You'll notice that for animated feature films, the argument over scripting is much less contentious than for television or short cartoons; all but the most hard-core anti-script partisans accept that Brad Bird's movies are visual and "real cartoons" even though they have written scripts. But movies take a long time to make, and the script will be modified and expanded many times, so that the final result won't (or shouldn't) feel like a script translated to the screen. In TV or shorts, there's no time for that. Whatever the "blueprint" is for the story, whether it's the script or the story sketches, will be much closer to the final result than a movie script at that same stage of production.
The reason for the storyboard-vs-script battle is, I think, partly a result of the understanding that in TV, if you're working from a script, the finished product will often be just pictures illustrating the script. Whereas if the storyboarding starts earlier in the process, then the cartoon will develop in a looser and more visual way. That's the theory, anyway, and I think it's often true in practice. Even though I unabashedly love some TV cartoons that were completely scripted by writers who couldn't draw a line, I don't think that's the most efficient process for making a cartoon. And TV cartoons and seven-minute shorts have to be as efficiently-made as possible if they're going to deliver consistent results.
Also, in television, the script is the final blueprint that gets approved by the network or the executives. With a more informal production process, it's easier to sneak things by them. There's a legitimate, proven-to-be-true fear that if you start with a formal script, the higher-ups (producers, executives, whoever) will get mad if something new has been added (tm).
But even on shows that use the storyboard-first process, you really can't compare that process to the Golden Age (just as for the most part the cartoons don't compare). Why? Because in the Golden Age, doing cartoons at the storyboard was not primarily something that was done to exclude formal scripting. It was just the way these things were made, a process that had its roots in non-animated silent comedy. (A lot of silent films, obviously, went forward with more of a scenario than a fully-written script. And silent comedy movies were by far the biggest influence on sound comedy cartoons.) But of course they'd sometimes write stuff out in words, and of course there were some story men who couldn't draw much, like -- according to Barrier -- Bill Cottrell. Nobody would have objected to such things because there was never a formal decision that scripting was against the law and that non-drawing writers had nothing to contribute to animation. Non-scripted cartoons written by story artists were the rule, but that was just the process being used.
What has always bugged me about the post-Ren and Stimpy non-scripted cartoon is that the lack of scripting was not just a process decision but, really, a political decision: it wasn't just about adopting the older, more efficient, more cartoony process but about excluding certain kinds of jokes and ideas as not "cartoony" enough. Which might be how a lot of the R&S clones wound up with such weak dialogue, storytelling and characterization.
And yet maybe this kind of exclusionary way of doing things is the only way to go; it could be. In the Golden Age, Disney cartoons could be done with some non-drawing writing because, again, everyone was secure in the basic process. But today, a cartoon that starts using any scripting at all will soon find itself facing network/studio demands to do the whole thing with a script. (You can see this with the Disney features of the '90s, how the perfectly sensible idea of using some outside screenwriters got out of hand, to the point that the studio was bringing in three or four people to rewrite everything before the animators even came into the process.) But that's why it's not useful to talk about bringing back the Golden Age process. If a cartoon is boarded by people who are consciously excluding scripts, and consciously trying not to do anything "scripted," that's not the way things were done. There were many reasons why cartoons were produced the way they were; rebellion against scriptwriter tyranny was not really one of them.