What is the proper role of an animator in an animated cartoon? That's easy. I can answer in one word..."king!" In animation the animator is king. Everybody else's job exists to make the animator look good. The rest of us, even the director, are like the hairdressers and make-up people on a live-action set. We exist to make the actor, i.e., the animator, look good. We exist to maximize his chance of achieving glory on the screen.
In a saner world the animator would be a star. His name would be known to the public and the public would argue over who the best animators are. Animators would have groupies, artistic pique, scandalous divorces, punch-outs with paparazzi, would get fat for parts and write tell-all biographies. The best of them would also break their backs to make the performances that will be remembered forever.
It seems to me that the best way to achieve this is to bring the animation back under the roof of the parent studio. Why we ever let it leave is beyond me. Animators are our performers. In their absence we've had decades of souless cartoons. We've been trying to tell stories without actors.
We need to start training animators now. The studios should help art schools to organize their animation programs more efficiently. Good animators should be rewarded with good salaries and stories should be written with the kind of scenes that animators like to work on. Most of all we need cheap and easy to use pencil test programs and internet tutorials on their use.