Cartoon heaven

A rich collection of animated expression comes to town

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If you’re looking for a collection of animated fart jokes, severed penises and flights of sadistic violence à la Spike and Mike, The 2005 Animation Show may not be your cup of tea. It’s not that Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt’s collection of 12 animated shorts doesn’t cross the line into the profane; it’s just that it has more class and style.

Tomek Baginski’s Fallen Art (one of the best pieces) is as horrific and disturbing as anything you might catch at the Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation but is far more visionary in its execution. This five-minute Polish film boasts first-rate computer-generated animation, depicting its deranged generals and hapless soldiers as grotesque cartoons — an approach that is as innovative as it is powerful. Pixar and Dreamworks would do well to study these character creations; they’re far more believable than the carefully rendered creations of American animation.

From the absurd to the profound, the poetically arty to the hypnotically beautiful, this 90-minute festival surveys just about every discipline of animation (hand-drawn, computer-generated, Claymation, etc.) and provides a little something for everybody.

Bill Plympton’s Oscar-nominated Guard Dog takes us into the mind of a paranoid mutt and features his trademark colored pencil animation and twisted sense of humor. Jonathan Nix’s whimsical Hello is the charming and clever tale of a cassette player that tries to win the heart of a CD boom box. Tim Miller’s sci-fi Rockfish plays like the animator’s CG audition, with its exciting big-budget visuals and Dune-inspired world.

When The Day Breaks by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby stands out with its beautifully rendered anthropomorphized animals and insightful look at humankind’s interconnectedness, with lush, hypnotic, dreamlike visuals. Equally delightful is Sarah Phelps’ far-too-brief Fireworks, with its explosions of pennies, candy corn and Easter Peeps.

The audience favorite, however, will no doubt be Peter Cornwell’s Ward 13. Combining the animation style of Davey And Goliath with the frenetic chase scenes of Wallace & Gromit, this horror-comedy about an accident victim taken to a sinister hospital filled with Lovecraft-like monsters is furiously paced and darkly comic.

There are a few misfires; Jen Drummond’s rotoscoped The F.E.D.S. is an amusing short about grocery store food sample clerks (Food Education Demo Specialists) that deserves to be a longer, live-action documentary. David Russo’s visual poem Pan with Us is lovely in its imagery but too precious for its own good. The final entry is Hertzfeldt’s The Meaning of Life, a misanthropic examination of evolution that depicts life and the universe as a series of shouting, disgruntled squiggles. It’s a bit too long, a bit too cryptic, and following so many wonderfully sublime shorts, a bit of a letdown.

Still, if you don’t like what you’re watching, wait five minutes and something new comes along. That’s the beauty of The Animation Show; its selections represent a terrific balance of artistry and entertainment. Given how few venues exist for these incredibly inventive films, fans of animation shouldn’t miss this festival.

 

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26, and Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2, and at 4 p.m. on Sundays, March 27 and April 3. Call 313-833-3237.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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