Beginning animation software recommendation

So I'm looking for something for home use to make some short animation movies.  I'm a heavy computer user/weathered systems admin, but this is a new area for me to use anything more than mspaint and gimp.  Also, the simpler the better as I would like this to be something that I can work on with my elementary school age kids for something fun to do together and hopefully put together a minute or two long clip in an afternoon while figuring it out, with the abilty to make longer 5 minute+ clips after getting experience with it.

If possible, I would like something that is a little more versatile than copy picture into frame, create next slide and repeat like Windows movie maker, although a less annoying software of that type would be nice too.  Web site styles I would like to emulate are jib-jab and newgrounds (which the slide type would work okay for if it handled layers well), as well as regular TV cartoon style where the characters move in a more fluid fashion.  Integration with sound would be nice, although I would figure more or all programs in this area would include that feature.

If there is something where I can start with a picture, define regions of it as being legs, arms, head, etc. and tell it to walk across the screen from point a to point b, that would be spectacular.  Being able to add glowing effects and such would also be great (think lightsabers).  If possible, getting other motion effects would be cool, like a rope being thrown or a snake slithering, combat sequences, etc. although I have a feeling that I'm hoping for too much here - a suggestion of any price for this type would also be appreciated if the initial projects go well I would be happy to spend the cash on more advanced software in a few months if the kids' interest level keeps up.

I would like a fairly simple interface, but more importantly I don't want to have to tweak things a million ways to get things to work right.  Freeware/opensource would be preferred, but something under US$100 is ok if it is really worth spending money on compared to freeware.

I do not want to have to modify any code directly for any reason.  I need a full GUI interface.  Dealing with layers is fine, and I think would be preferred.  I need it to be able to save in a readily playable format, nothing weird like movie maker does.

To sum it up: free or inexpensive, slide style and/or cartoon animation style, easy child-friendly GUI interface.  Will be running on Vista with plenty of system resources available.

Thanks!
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ParanormasticCryptographic EngineerAsked:
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lherrouConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Paranormastic,

Here's some options to look at:
Simple:
Synfig: http://www.synfig.org
CreaToon: http://www.creatoon.com (Development has ceased)
Pencil: http://www.les-stooges.org/pascal/pencil/

Advanced:
Blender: http://www.blender.org
Or, find an older version of Flash.

Cheers,
LHerrou
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ParanormasticCryptographic EngineerAuthor Commented:
Thanks!  Lots of fun!
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