Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Animation Show

Posted By on Wed, Jun 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Not to be confused with Spike and Mike's endless spool of fart jokes, violence and misogyny, Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Office Space) curates this fourth anthology of traveling animated shorts gathered from around the world, this time without partner Don Hertzfeldt. And, unlike last year's omnibus of death and destruction, this year's collection is lighter in tone and decidedly comic in spirit, boasting an energetic mix of lowbrow and highbrow efforts.

As you might expect, the program runs the gamut from eye-popping, groundbreaking innovation to crafty simplicity to head-scratching bizarreness to the inevitable Bill Plympton contribution. And as with any compilation, the quality varies according to taste. The true joy comes from experiencing animation that goes beyond the kiddie efforts of cable television and big-budget CGI films. Sure, The Venture Brothers and The Simpsons are fashioned for adults, but The Animation Show approaches its subject as both entertainment and art. The vivid imagery on display includes hand-drawn, computer-generated, stop-action and mixed-media work that evokes moods and stories you simply won't find on Adult Swim. It's the kind of stuff that only animation obsessives, commissioned French film students (from Gobelins L'Ecole de L'Image, in this case) and grant recipients from the National Film Board of Canada have the time and resources to make.

The best of the bunch is Grant Orchard's Atari-meets-Jackson Pollock Lovesport: Paintballing — an incredible two-minute video game killing spree of vibrant paint splatters — and Burning Safari, a Pixar-like encounter between robotic aliens and a very angry ape.

For something with a little more narrative thrust, there's German filmmaker Stefan Muller's impressive Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker, an entertaining mixture of Tarantino-esque storytelling and psychedelic imagery as an angry police officer responds to a noise complaint at a skeevy apartment building.

For those looking for something more "Judgian," there's Steve Dildarian's Angry Unpaid Hooker, the precursor to his soon-to-debut animated HBO show The Life and Times of Tim. Its Bic pen-drawn animation is easily reminiscent of Beavis and Butt-Head, while its deadpan humor harks back to Comedy Central's Dr. Katz series.

In direct contrast, Matthew Walker's very British John & Karen recasts its lover's spat over tea and biscuits with an offended penguin and contrite polar bear. And if anthropomorphization is your thing, Satosho Tomioka's recurring Usavich episodes, featuring a pair of criminal bunnies and their frog and goldfish sidekicks, are simultaneously creepy and cute as only Japanese animation can be.

After nearly two-dozen shorts, the program wraps up with Smith & Foulkes' wonderfully choreographed computer-animated This Way Up, featuring a pair of undertakers whose wayward coffin gets caught up in a series of Rube Goldberg-style mishaps. It's the kind of gothic, stylized animation that has Oscar-nominee written all over it.

Despite a trio of predictable Claymation crotch-biting gags and the amusing but obviously destined-for-TV Psychotown, this year's Animation Show once again does a terrific job of introducing audiences to a wide palette of styles and storytelling, proving that animation provides filmmakers with endless artistic freedom and that, whatever your taste, you're never more than seven minutes from the next selection.

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 4, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 20, and Saturday, June 21; and 4 and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 22. Call 313-833-3237.

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

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