As animation continues its long, slow slog out of the showbiz ghetto, and with Pixar masterpieces such as UP nabbing awards buzz and massive box-office receipts, it's nice to see that good-old perverts Spike and Mike are still working overtime to drag cartoons back to the gutter. The average toon in this granddaddy of subversive animation festivals is brutal, crude, violent, vaguely gross and blissfully short, though many of them are also funny, sad and weirdly beautiful.
This season's program continues S&M's proud tradition of exploiting Cal Arts undergrads for cheap labor, and many of the clips look exactly like the student films they are, but they also have a manic energy and reckless inventive abandon that only comes from drinking too many flat keg beers at campus parties.
It takes guts or total derangement to start a fun night of movie-going with a comical short about a child killing, but that's just what happens in the disturbing yet breezy "Who's Hungry?" This twisted little black-and-white shocker involves a sadistic, predatory ice-cream man getting his just deserts at the hands of some plucky toon tots, and it's as tasteless and delightful as it sounds. Another winner is the great Bill Pylmpton's zippy little spoof, "Santa Claus the Fascist Years," which reveals old Kris Kringle's secret history of aggression against the other holiday mascots.
This year show reflects pop culture's rampant zombie fixation, with several different entries depicting brain hungry goons in silly blood-soaked vignettes. The best of these is "Chainsaw Maid" about a housekeeper using household tools to dispatch a horde of nasty, oozing ghouls that Gumby never had to deal with. Remember kids, it's always easier to slice somebody into pieces when they're made out of Claymation putty.
Spoofing nature films also seems to be in vogue this season, with the clever, mean and bittersweet tale of "The Burrowing Owl" leading. There's also the delightful little Euro action piece called "Oktopodi," about a brave little octopus rescuing his lady love from the butcher's cleaver. Fortunately this piece isn't set here in Hockeytown, with the additional hazard of dodging Zambonis.
There are also stinkers, such as the half-live action "Tights Robot" which never delivers on its campy ultraman parody theme. As generally happens in these sorts of events, there's a touch of recycling, with bits from last year's show popping back up, including a hilariously cruel ditty about happy little bubbly wrap critters who don't realize how precarious their existence is. The repeats are infrequent, and probably won't bother casual viewers who aren't forced year after year to find new adjectives to describe cuddly animal gore.
Sneak preview showing at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17. The festival begins on Sunday, Dec. 27, and runs through Saturday, Jan. 2 (except on New Year's Eve). At the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030; themagicbag.com.
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