by Jason Waguespack

Verdict: RISE AND FALL OF THE 80’S TOON EMPIRE is a great read for cartoon fans desiring a deeper look into the origin and demise of their favorite childhood shows.

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In RISE AND FALL OF THE 80’S TOON EMPIRE, Jason Waguespack Ph.D. analyzes the pop culture ascent of cartoon stars such as He-Man and Strawberry Shortcake, and examines the factors leading to the industry’s near-demise. For anyone dismissing the business of kid’s television as child’s play, Waguespack reveals the risks, controversies, and money involved in bringing beloved characters like Inspector Gadget and the ThunderCats to millions of young viewers.

The overarching controversy is the role of toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel in determining a cartoon’s fate. Waguespack initially stresses that his focus is television, not the toys that spawn its characters. However, in a world in which Mattel’s latest merchandise affects plot points and one executive can shamelessly promote an animated show by extolling its ability to “send kids on a wanton buying spree,” the “marriage” of cartoons and toys is a necessarily recurrent theme in 80’S TOON EMPIRE.

At this book’s heart are questions of morality: Is it ethical to cloak toy advertisements in the guise of children’s shows? What are the consequences of depicting violence on TV? To Waguespack’s credit, he only occasionally takes sides. If you were a cartoon-watching, toy-loving kid in the 80’s, you’ll find much to enjoy in discovering the origin stories of your favorite shows, but this book is really written for avid fans, who will appreciate the highly detailed accounts that may bog down general readers.

Although generally easy to read, typos, unnecessary repetition, verb tense inconsistencies, and awkward sentences occasionally detract from Waguespack’s scholarly tone. The biggest issue in TOON EMPIRE is that the show summaries all start to bleed together, and even the narratives of toys’ paths to cartoon stardom are tediously identical. Of course, Waguespack can’t help that many 80’s cartoons were mind-numbingly similar, a weakness that spelled their doom, and he can’t help that the toy-to-cartoon pipeline was largely unchanging. Unfortunately, the industry’s monotony limits the author’s ability to keep readers engaged, and by the book’s end you can almost sense his fatigue at having to once again retell the same story about two warring factions of robots/super heroes/humanoids battling for power over their planet.

Still, there’s gripping tension in observing the various animators, producers, broadcasters, and toy companies alternately wooing and repelling each other, and cartoon aficionados will revel in Waguespack’s comprehensive foray into the gritty backstories behind the animated charm.

RISE AND FALL OF THE 80’S TOON EMPIRE is a great read for cartoon fans desiring a deeper look into the origin and demise of their favorite childhood shows.

~Amanda Penn for IndieReader

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