Spike & Mike's 2001 Classic Festival of Animation

This is the respectable annual Spike & Mike throwdown, not that Sick & Twisted crap, and the offerings this year are of a consistently high quality. True, the funny stuff may not be as funny as it could be and the poignant stuff may border on the precious, but the level of visual inventiveness is continually impressive.

It’s a well-paced 90 minutes ranging in tone from the fast and furious hallucinations of Patrick Smith’s Drink, a literal illustration of what happens when one is rushed through a series of altered states, to the stately classicism of Michael Dudok De Wit’s Father and Daughter, whose subdued ambience is achieved by placing tiny figures in a landscape whose very immensity seems threatening.

Of the humorous entries, Bruno Bozzeto’s Europe and Italy stands out for its creative use of circles and squares — its audacious minimalism is more droll than its jokes about what anarchic louts Italians are — while Jonah Hall’s Metropoular enhances its potentially corny take on regional stereotypes by presenting them in the context of a popularity contest among personified cities. (Detroit, it should be mentioned, gets off pretty easy.) And in the humorous and sad category, Brother, Adam Elliot’s gritty vision of growing up benighted in Australia, finds the absurd in an unfortunate life without copping out as to where it can lead.

There are a few repeats from past fests, including Ralph Eggleston’s For The Birds, a cute entry which just won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, but if I were handing out statues it’d be a tie between Jonathan Hodgson’s The Man With The Beautiful Eyes and Marilyn Zonado’s Insect Poetry. The Hodgson piece is set to a Charles Bukowski poem, one that finds the poet in a bitterly ironic rather than profane mood — and the way its drawings suggest realism while continually shading into abstraction captures the poem’s theme of adolescent incomprehension. Zonado’s work is much more elaborately conceived and the gravity of its weighty details nicely counterbalances its feather-light premise of a poetry reading given by a group of various insects.

These are standouts, but every entry this year has some degree of felicitous singularity, and the festival is recommended, especially to those under the mistaken impression that it consists of a bunch of cartoons.

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

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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