Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation is tougher to kill than the Terminator. So why fight it? They've been at it since the late '70s, highlighting the best and worst of non-kid-friendly animation shorts. The little fest that could gross you out continues to grow, even thrive, not slowed by time, money, trends, public indifference, death (Mike passed away years ago) or natural disaster. Its annual appearance is a cherished tradition for rabid fans, and really, what better way to spread some holiday cheer than through the magic of exploding bunnies?
Indeed, the once-taboo charms of Spike and Mike are now almost quaint. In the digital age, when any jackass with a cell-phone camera can post idiotic clips and become an Internet star, it takes dedication and a bit of moxie to lovingly hand-render drawings of animals performing outrageous sex acts. It also requires some dedication to slip on pants, leave the house and hunker down in an actual theater to watch fluffy critters hack each other to teeny, tiny pieces, when similar fare is often just a remote button or mouse click away. Yet the communal experience is probably the best part of the yearly S&M ritual, because, truthfully, this stuff gets way funnier in the presence of like-minded degenerates. It also doesn't hurt to have booze on hand.
The show has evolved over the years from a truly underground experience into a sort of boot camp for young animators looking to crack the big time, but not ready to take the safe, flower-strewn path laid out by Disney's House of Mouse. More than anything, this year's show resembles an advanced and adventurous extended student film showcase. That's not to say Spike is all amateur hour: The fest serves as a pretty important proving ground for up-and-coming talent, with a who's who of animation stars — with such exalted alumni as Jon Kricfalusi, Mike Judge, Bill Plympton, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Big shot Craig McCracken made megabucks with the Powerpuff Girls but his No Neck Joe shorts are a beloved festival staple, offering a ho-hum dose of the same old stuff (but at least it's funny stuff) featuring the exploits of a horny little fireplug-shaped golem whose impressive tongue dexterity is sure to please the ladies. Another favorite, Happy Tree, is back for the umpteen-millionth installment, yet remains at the pinnacle of comedic squirrel mutilation.
As expected, the quality wobbles now and then, but there's plenty of new-school eye candy to load up on that demonstrates the unique potluck pleasure of a show such as this. The sad-sack stick figures of Keith Reynolds Can't Make It Tonight seem lifted from a 1950s instruction manual, until they start playing out a ruefully grisly little existential drama.
Deep thoughts are second to laughs in bits like Sausage Party, The Mosquito that Gave Up Blood and Artie's Day Off, but all deliver the goods. They all seem tame next to the great-looking but unforgivably vulgar Cuddlesticks, a hilariously nasty bit of business, credited to an obvious total lunatic named Mike Geiger. And just when you've given up all hope for humanity comes a funny little absurdist gem like The Furious Little Cinnamon Bun to remind you why you ever liked twisted cartoons in the first place. —Corey Hall
Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation runs Friday, Dec. 12 through Thursday, Jan. 9, at The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030.