Spike and Mike's
2000 Classic Festival of Animation
feature by
Elias Savada, 13 October 2000

Itís been a few years since my last feature-length animation compilation and finding one playing here in Washington, DC, brings world class entertainment to those who canít find it in the White House or on Capitol Hill. Arriving for a two-week stay at Visions Cinema, a refreshing new art house twin/bistro/lounge with a mission statement that begs to answer "Why, on a normal Friday, are six films are reviewed in the New York Times but only 2 make it to DC?" with a slew of previously unseen indie and foreign features in this part of the world. If youíre in the Dupont Circle neighborhood (slumming or otherwise), check out this delightful alternative (www.visionsdc.com).

As for the anthology at hand, brought to you by ifilm.com (which cybercasts several of the shorts at their website), among the highlights are three films nominated for the 1999 Best Animated Short Film Academy Award. Those share time with more than eleven other titles, ranging from a few minutes (the German Bsss, a CGI effort by Felix GŲnnert, taking an amiable slap at a fly enamored of a picture book), to the nearly thirteen-minute National Film Board of Canadaís Village of Idiots. This award-winning pen-and-ink subject is the first-person doppelganger tale of Schmendrik, a Sholom Aleichem character with a chuckleheaded view of life and Talmudic mysticism in the small shtetl that bears an uncanny resemblance to his home town of Chelm.

One of my favorite discoveries is Angry Kid, actually a series of four minute-and-a-half length items by Aardman Animation, who unleashed Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run on the world. They all feature a carrot-top clay animation monster, a nasty child usually stuck in the back seat of his dadís car and causing all sorts of commotion. Another has him and his younger, orange-haired sister wide-eyed as they watch (off-screen) a sex education program. Apparently the action becomes too graphic for them, but switching channels just gets a show about liposuction with a vacuum cleaner!

The show begins with the capricious puppet cartoon Graveyard Jamboree with Mysterious Moose, a four-minute ode to stop-motion, silhouette, and puppetry, not to mention road-kill cemetery syncopation. A perfect Halloween treat by Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh

Fishing is a whimsical daydream by American David Gainey, a line drawn fisherman who, like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, gets more than he wishes for, even if it might be a wet dream. Expect a kicker and youíll get two.

At the Ends of the World is a seven-minute French short by Russian Konstantin Bronzit that feels like a European short of years ago. Itís a tilted view of a house teetering atop a mountain peak (visions of an old Charlie Chaplin film echo in my brain as I watched). Itís a hilariously precipitous life for the family, more than stuffed in their wooden box with a cow, dog, cat, and a sports car.

Among the several entries with a Tim Burton feel is Slim Pickings, a two character Australian parable about manís inability to choose between his friends and his stomach. This morality play offers "many thanks to the people upstairs" as one of its credits.

The three Oscar-nominated shorts all have their pluses:

Paul Driessenís Dutch fractured fairy tale Three Misses overlaps a trio of heroes in animated search of their damsels, with twists and turns in store for the maiden tied to the train tracks, the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, and cameos by Puss ní Boots, Red Riding Hood, and a host of other grim and Grimm characters.

Hum Drum, also from Aardman Animation, is a reflective bit of shadow puppetry, with two English blokes, bored of the too many Musak variations of La Cucaracha that the radio spouts at them, decide to play shadow puppets. "Itíll be fun!" Boy is it.

The second NFB short, When the Day Breaks, by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, is a fate-filled story, complete with flashbacks and glimpses of memory, that reveals the connective tissue of the universe when a stranger in the neighborhood dies.

Panther, my least favorite of the batch, is a impressionist German look of a Greek sculpture inspired by R.M. Rilkeís poem Der Panther. Itís a think piece for those who need a break from the laughter.

Will Vinton Studios (TVís The PJs) contributes Kirby Atkinsí Mutt, a stand-up comic bit featuring a computer-generated Jerry Mutt doing Jerry Steinfeld doggy laughs for a smoke-filled comedy club peopled with dogs. Itís more satisfying as a technical victory (particularly the illusion of using a hand-held camera) than for the humor.

Ghost of Stephen Foster is the winner of the spirit award for honoring Max and David Fleischerís old style 1930s short with a dizzying pace set to the music of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. It hops and jumps like an animated MTV video. A knockout by Raymond S. Persi and Matthew Nastuk (a director on The Simpsons).

From Norway comes a Huset pŚ kampen (One Day a Man Bought a House), Pjotr Sapeginís funny and tender clay animation tale of a man, his house, and a big rat. Itís about near extinction (by a Malaysian pit bull cat) and found affection (it wonít be a stylish marriage). Effectively narrated by Odd BÝrretzen. Love does indeed work in mysterious ways.

The closer is the sadistic Billyís Balloon, a tale of rubbery revenge on stick-figured children from the morbid mind of Don Hertzfeldt. This fantasy will blatantly deflate those fond memories some of you harbor for the Oscar-winning 1956 French classic The Red Balloon. Youíll leave laughing in spite of your sensibilities.

Thatís not all folks. Turn off your computers and head off to the theater now. Subvert yourselves.



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