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Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.

Cartoons were always so much better when we were kids. We had Dick Dastardly, Road Runner, Pink Panther, Bod, My Little Pony, err...

Except of course that it's total rubbish. Cartoons these days are as good as they ever were, if not better.

The main catalyst for this has been satellite TV, another evil of the modern age. But it has allowed stations like the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon to commission exciting young talents to come up with highly imaginary, stunningly animated, witty, intelligent and subversive series that have captured the hearts of our children and should be marvelled at by anyone who remembers the magic of cartoons when they were young.

Currently, the highest profile toon in town is SpongeBob SquarePants, riding high on the back of a deserved big box office payday.

But the best new cartoon around has to be Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, which deserves to be an all-time great just for the premise on which it is based.

However, when you combine it with a modern, savvy wit, completely loveable characters and an animation style that demonstrates a deference to cartoons of the past, it is a killer combination, and surely it is only a matter of time before it sweeps all before it to become the most talked about children's programme on the planet.

It centres on just what it says in the title - a home set up by Madame Foster where all the imaginary friends that children have can go to live and await adoption after being given up by their owners.

It is cue for a parade of some of the strangest creations you're likely to see.

Central to this is Bloo (full name: Blooregard Q Kazoo) and his former owner, Mac, who can't quite give him up, despite instructions from Mac's mum.

Then there is Wilt, tall with a wonky eye and missing his left arm; Coco, a crazy bird-like creature that only repeats its own name; Mr Herriman, Madame Foster's own imaginary friend, who runs the home; Duchess, a Picasso lookalike that can best be described as 'high maintenance'; and Frankie, Madame Foster's grand-daughter who really keeps the home going.

But the best character has to be Eduardo, a bull-like huge creature who looks extremely frightening - except he is terrified of everything. And he's Spanish.

Then there are the stories. Many of them concern Terrence, Mac's evil older brother, described by Bloo as 'the crown prince of jerkness', who will stop at nothing to keep the two separated.

Another episode had Eduardo, Wilt and Coco left at home alone on a stormy night watching a horror film. The three were sufficiently spooked to board up every door and window, thus barring Frankie from getting in. But their problems get worse when Bloo develops a cold that makes him go white and leave luminous green snot everywhere, thus convincing the terrified trio that the ghost of their horror film is among them.

There's also some lovely little touches. The home looks like something out of Scooby-Doo, and in the back garden they keep a cage for all the monstrous imaginary friends dreamt up by wicked teenagers.

But, like all good things American, everything is played for laughs, with one coming round every 30 seconds.

And crucially, like The Simpsons, while there may be chuckles aplenty, none of it is done with any cynicism, which makes it as heartwarming as it is entertaining.

Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends goes out on the Cartoon Network.

Duncan Higgitt Other great cartoons: Forget The Simpsons, these ones are made for kids, but you can love 'em too.

SpongeBob SquarePants 'Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?' Following the adventures of a sponge who wears square pants and his less-than-bright starfish sidekick, Patrick, who both live next door to the terminally grumpy Squidward, and work at Mr Krabs' Krusty Krab fast food franchise. Incredibly funny.

Fairly Odd Parents Timmy Turner has to put up with all kinds of pre-teen problems, like psychotic babysitter Vicky. But then he does have fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda, who will grant his every wish, often with disastrous consequences. Hilarious and highly imaginative.

Samurai Jack Manic, and often consisting of little more than 10-minute-long sword fights, this series bucked a broadside of criticism to be voted best toon of last year. It centres on a samurai trapped in the future by an evil, shape-shifting wizard. In-your-face fireworks.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 28, 2005
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