There’s something going on with this year’s annual roundup of supposedly “sick and twisted” animation that may portend the demise of this once satisfying and unique presentation of dirty shorts, ultra-violent critters and turn-your-head-away shockers. With the exception of the always-reliable cruelties of the Happy Tree Friends series, there’s nothing particularly sick or twisted about the 2004 fest. As a matter of fact, the majority of the 25 entries are just plain boring. And that’s an incredible achievement when you’re talking about films that rarely run more than five minutes. I take no pleasure in reporting that this year’s festival just plain sucks.
Could it be that the Internet is swallowing up all the animation that once graced this festival? Who knows? There seem to be quite a few films this year that are the product of some last-minute cramming for end-of-the-year grading in film studies programs, and clearly state that in the ending credits. But if that’s the case, then where is the wild and immature abandon that previous festivals showcased in scatological and bloody triumph? It’s not here, and that’s a shame. Any veteran of these keenly anticipated anthologies would remember when there were handfuls of have-to-look-away moments and truly inspired perversion. This year, you’re going to have to settle for bong-toking skateboarders and wistful fairy tales about crabs that walk in a straight line at the bottom of the sea. Sick? No. Twisted? No. Your grandparents may dig it, but we came for the “goods.”
Some entries are well-told tales of fantasy that speak to a kind of naughty mirth, like the tale of Mr. J. Russell, whose life is transformed from happily married man to a guy who thinks he’s a dog. And there’s a clever send-up of Schoolhouse Rock entitled My First Boner that gets points for a rather catchy tune that could very well take hold in grade schools across the country if enough prepubescents were exposed to it. But it’s as mild as American cheese, and the only ones who could find it sick and twisted would be those people who come knocking on your door with copies of The Watchtower.
Fucking animals are way overrepresented this year. There’s Krazy Kock, with a song, “Chicken Walk,” that’s far more amusing than the repeated incarnations of the football team mascot dressed up in full chicken regalia balling everything in sight. Or the ridiculously lame The Answer, again involving our flightless friend in a really bad joke that answers the age-old question about “what came first?” Speaking of oldie and moldy, another bad joke heard by millions in taverns over the last 20 years is given a slightly surreal take in Mule Dick. Not sick. Not twisted. Just tiring.
There are two entries that have made previous appearances in the festival, the No Neck Joe series and the absolutely brilliant Here Comes Dr. Tran. No Neck Joe, fighting his handicap and the two dopes who torture him with aplomb and grace, is a sad reminder of how razor-sharp and unique the festival has consistently been up till now. But the whole thing is four minutes, and you may very well miss it when you get up for a beer. Dr. Tran, the outrageous spoof on coming-attraction trailers, is nearly worth the price of admission, but it too only reminds you how truly un-sick and un-twisted the rest of the shorts are.
When hippie-in-a-blender jokes and a fly that does a shitty re-creation of Tony Montana’s last moments against the “cockroaches” in Scarface is your idea of “sick and twisted,” the words lose their meaning. Oh well — maybe next year.
Showing Dec. 15 through Jan. 2 at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030; themagicbag.com).
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.