After years of struggling for a toehold in the U.S., anime now rules, and will no doubt influence programming choices for years to come. One glance at supermarket shelves, dominated by the likes of Kellogg’s Pokémon cereal or Digimon bandage strips, confirms how thorough the success has been. The U.S. variations of anime stylings also paid off for the producers of Batman Beyond, The Powerpuff Girls (in homage) and South Park (as parody).
However, the recent Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena showed signs of animated life beyond the anime obsession. While prime-time animation is retrenching, the daytime nets unveiled an optimistic slate of new homegrown shows and strong support for 2-D cartoon techniques. Despite a keen awareness of anime, and its grip on many a sked, it was essentially a non-issue in the nets’ presentations to the press.
To this observer, each network had a clear winner or two, even if it wasn’t what they were actively promoting. For example Nickelodeon showcased the live-action comedy series The Brothers Garcia and Klasky Csupo’s latest cartoon As Told By Ginger. While both will likely click with the Nick audience, the most exciting new prospect was the animated Pelswick. To produce a comedy about a quadriplegic (paralyzed below the armpits) boy, created by the outrageous cartoonist John Callahan (himself a quadriplegic), was a smart, bold move by Nelvana and Nick, and the clips were hilarious. This was about as far away from the current anime course as one can get, proving that good programming should be a priority over current trend.
PBS is coming on strong with its revamped Kids block which includes a book-based Saturday morning lineup. But among the many cuddly character shows presented (Corduroy Bear, Elliot Moose, Clifford, etc.), one series stood out as refreshingly different: George Shrinks from creator William Joyce (Rolie Polie Olie). Joyce’s delightfully retro designs and the story’s P.O.V.-from that of a three-inch-tall boy-give this series an edge that all the talking bears and tap-dancing horses may be missing.
The anime-immersed Cartoon Network has dozens of offbeat pilots in the works, but blew away the press corps with scenes from the wacko Sheep In The Big City. Series creator Mo Willems held a news conference with Fluffy, a live sheep. Breaking all the current format rules, Sheep consists of cliffhangers, variety-show ‘skitoons’ and, says Willems, ‘every episode ends with 30 seconds of a ranting Swede.’ Inspired by the madcap Jay Ward classics and the award-winning UPA cartoons of the 1950s, Sheep may well be the zaniest new toon since The Ren & Stimpy Show.
Fox Family continues to quietly support what may well be its signature show, Angela Anaconda. Fox has commissioned another season, and in a brilliant stroke of cross promotion, greenlit an Angela short to open October’s Digimon movie release.
While Disney has aggressively acquired the classic Hayao Miyazaki anime features (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, etc.) for U.S. theatrical, TV and video distribution, for Disney’s One Saturday Morning network block, the studio has long championed traditional homegrown fare. This year’s new Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command looks to provide comedy and adventure in a stylish way on ABC-adapted to 2-D cel from the original CGI concept from Pixar-and it has the buzz to be a winner this season.
U.S. kid programmers are nurturing creative life of a non-Pokémon nature. You just have to look between the cracks to see it emerge. Jerry Beck, West Coast Bureau Chief
Dear readers: After 11 years with Brunico Communications, KidScreen’s founding publisher Ken Faier has left the building-but not the business. He’s joining the Alliance Atlantis Kids unit as VP of distribution. You probably all know Faier (if you don’t, you should get out more), whose ubiquitous market presence and boundless enthusiasm for KidScreen was instrumental in building the brand, in league with KidScreen’s founding editor Mark Smyka, our eternally youthful Yoda-figure who recently retired from Brunico to pursue an out-of-office lifestyle. We miss the Scooby gang. . .
New to the team, Mike Connell joins KidScreen this month as copy chief and writer. An Ultimate Frisbee leaguer, Connell is intimate with youth culture via a stint as senior editor with lifestyle mag FW (he knows what grinding shoes are). Cheers,mm