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TV Review: Stanley Is Playing Catch Up

In a small, quiet cafe, motion-capture pioneer Chris Walker and outrageous stop-motion animator Corky Quakenbush got together for lunch and discovered that even though their techniques may appear to be night and day, they actually have a lot in common.

Welcome to the first of my new columns for Animation World Network, where I will review current TV series and specials on a weekly basis.

TV animation is certainly a unique breed of cartoon. Commercials and feature films have large budgets and longer schedules; shorts are usually the work of a solitary artist. Pity the poor TV cartoon, saddled with a bad rap due to a 40 year history of cheaply produced, badly written, horribly animated shows that have been blamed for every problem children get into.

But for every ten shows like The Smurfs or Super President or Turbo Teen, there is one Rocky & Bullwinkle,Ren & Stimpy or The Simpsons. And when those shows come along, it makes watching TV animation very worthwhile.

TV animation has changed, mostly for the better, within the last 15 years. Before 1990, most TV animation was churned out for the big three networks' Saturday morning schedules, 13 episodes usually produced within six grueling months. Between 1960 and 1989, cartoonist driven classics like Beany & Cecil and Underdog gave way to network dictated drivel like The Little Clowns Of Happy Town and The Gary Coleman Show.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse (1986), Bakshi's Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (1987), Disney's Duck Tales (1987) and Spielberg's Tiny Toon Adventures (1990), followed by Nickelodeon's initial trio of Nicktoons (1991) were the instigators of TV animation's renaissance. Today cartoon series are produced mainly for cable channels like Cartoon Network, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Disney, as well as broadcast outlets like Kids WB!, ABC, PBS and Fox (for both primetime adult and afternoon kids blocks) -- and that's just the U.S. market.

International co-productions and cartoon cable channels worldwide have created an insatiable demand for product, for both kids and adults, so much so that TV animation has become the genre to watch for the next big trends, popular characters and emerging creators.

You never know from where the next Rugrats, South Park or Powerpuff Girls will originate; I hope this new column will help locate and alert you to it first.