The Animation Show

"Excellent"

The Animation Show Review


Animation fans in need of a pick-me-up in the wake of Sinbad's flop (and the subsequent return of small-minded chatter about non-computer animation being "dead") should check the web for the nearest showing of The Animation Show, a new traveling anthology of old and new animated shorts, in the spirit of Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation, now an institution. Actually, film fans disappointed by recent live-action offerings from studios and indies alike should go, too.

The Animation Show has been assembled by a pair of terrific animators: Mike Judge, creator of the sublime Beavis & Butt-Head and perennial underdog King of the Hill (yes, it's good!) and Don Hertzfeldt, who is less widely known but beloved by anyone who has seen one of the more recent editions of Spike & Mike. The idea is to collect the best new animation as well as lost gems, spanning time, genre, and form, and screen it in real live theaters, where short films have become an endangered species. The result, like any anthology, is somewhat hit-and-miss, but the cumulative effect is not only entertaining, but excitingly noble, if there is such a thing.

Hertzfeldt and Judge are both represented here, although Hertzfeldt's work has more screen-time. Judge contributes a collection of sketches and pencil tests from the early '90s, including the original Office Space short (which went on to appear on Saturday Night Live, and inspire Judge's cult live-action feature of the same name). Hertzfeldt's official selection is Rejected, his most recently completed short, and it is difficult to describe, except to say that it is a particularly astute marriage of, among other things, dancing fuzzy things and oceans of blood. Hertzfeldt's cartoons are typically minimalist, but the expressions he gives his stick-figure-ish characters are priceless; they must be seen to be believed, or at least fully comprehended. The program also includes a favorite short from Hertzfeldt's back catalog, and a trilogy of short-shorts produced especially for this show. It's fitting that in his seemingly casual, improvised way, Hertzfeldt's bumpers are as good as some of the fully-formed material and, more to the point, made me laugh harder than any live-action comedy has in months.

If there is a common thread of disappointment through the lesser shorts, it is the feeling that they exist more as attractive test reels for their technology than works of genuine expression. The Cathedral, for example, was nominated for a Best Animated Short Oscar this past March, but I swear that most of its running time consists of establishing shots (albeit visually stunning ones). The titular cathedral is, indeed, a triumph of computer-animated set design, but the movie itself is something of a bore.

The Ride to the Abyss is also structured in such a way that emphasizes technique -- it looks like a moving painting, and kind of plays like one, too, since there isn't really a story to speak of, as two individuals ride horses through the landscape while "La Damnation de Faust" by Hector Berloiz plays on the soundtrack. Unlike The Cathedral, though, the beauty of these images transcends the lack of story. This may very well be due to the lack of any resemblance to Final Fantasy. Mars and Beyond, unearthed from the Disney vaults, also resembles a demo, but works on that level, as master animator Ward Kimball takes the audience on a what-if tour of life on Mars.

Another highlight is The Rocks, a stop-motion film from Germany, clever in the way it shows time moving quickly around two rock-men, whose eternal lives are largely motionless, and Ident, a surreal claymation journey of social dysfunction (I think). I also enjoyed parts of Bill Plympton's Warner Brothers-ish Parking, although he's made better; and Fifty Percent Gray, a striking computer-animated short about the afterlife which is somewhat abrupt, leaving some of its conceptual possibilities about the nature of heaven and hell unexplored.

What's most arresting about The Animation Show is Hertzfeldt's and Judge's pure enthusiasm for getting animated shorts into theaters, rather than remaining confined to the occasional Spike & Mike DVD, Cartoon Network pickup (Rejected, appropriately, was purchased but never cleared for air), or internet bootleg. Hertzfeldt and Judge look hopefully toward a future where short animation re-enters the theatrical experience. Already, it is creeping back into the mainstream, with Pixar's habit of including one of their shorts with their features, and Sony's inclusion, last year, of the (quite dreadful, actually) short The Chubbchubbs on prints of Men in Black II (it was that crappy cartoon about the meek-yet-smarmy alien saving everyone from beasts with, get ready to laugh, a silly name!). Hopefully The Animation Show will show that there is an audience for animated shorts that aren't necessarily computer-generated or comedic. Even a dull piece like Cathedral or a middling one like Strange Invaders recognizes the transporting power of animation, its promise and possibilities, in a way that the lame obviousness of The Chubbchubbs seems not to comprehend. The marvelous goals of this enterprise carry it along, even when some of the shorts miss their mark.



The Animation Show

Facts and Figures

Run time: 94 mins

In Theaters: Friday 18th July 2003

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Don Hertzfeldt,

Also starring:

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