Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation 2000

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It’s always hit-and-miss at the annual Spike and Mike fest, but this year the cleverness quotient, not to mention the flat-out funny ratio, seems a little higher than usual. And though the crafty art of animation can reach a more layered level of sophistication than ever before, the best bits, whether inky or smudgy colored, flat or dimensional, seem to grow out of the simplest premises.

Kirby Atkins’ “Mutt,” for example, is five minutes at a comedy club where the patrons and the talent are all dogs and where Jerry Mutt, after a shaky beginning, hits his stride with some observational humor about the futility of chewing chew toys, the sculptural possibilities offered by taking a doggy dump (which is a variation on an old Cheech and Chong riff) and the pleasure of popping the top on a cool one (i.e. the commode) on a hot day. Not necessarily boffo material, but the facial expressions are priceless.

Similarly simple at heart, Konstantin Bronzit’s “At the Ends of the Earth” explores the ramifications of having a square house improbably perched on the pointed peak of a mountain. Add to this mix of geometry and Chaplinesque gravity (à la the teetering shack in The Gold Rush) a skittish cat, a dumb dog, a huge cow, two stout peasants and a visiting Greek Orthodox priest who likes to drink, and the thing pretty much writes itself.

Getting back to animals, there’s something about the anthropomorphic that’s not only instantly amusing but potentially poignant, as Pjotr Sapegin demonstrates in “One Day a Man Bought a House.” With its lugubrious Norwegian narrator, this vignette about a new homeowner and a seemingly indestructible rat starts out as deadpan comedy but becomes weirdly touching by the end. And Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’ “When the Day Breaks” is a subtle look at loneliness and big-city indifference — wonderfully implied by a series of visual asides — whose emotional impact is quite an accomplishment considering that its main characters are a rooster and a pig.

There are also a couple of retro-tributes, a rather pretentious interpretation of Rilke’s “Der Panther” filmed in annoying throb-o-vision, four brief epiphanies featuring the Angry Kid, and more. It’s a solid anthology, especially recommended to those who don’t think they can be moved by a farm animal wearing a babushka. You’ll be surprised.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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