October 26, 2000

Cornell Cinema

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Jem and the Holograms, Thundercats, Transformers, Voltron, The USA Cartoon Express, The Muppet Show. What would my suburban, 1980s childhood have been without them? I remember my baby boomer mother suggesting a trite game of cowboys and Indians. At that point I usually stood up on my booster seat, raised my fork toward the ceiling, and screamed with my less than bombastic voice, “By the power of Greyskull! I have the power!” Mom loved that.

Yes, it was Saturday morning entertainment to keep me from waking up mom and dad, but it was also the only tool of empowerment available to a frisky first grader. Cartoons transported my six-year-old mind to new planets, alternate universes, and places where animals spoke proper English and wore sneakers. To this day, a glimpse of the cartoon network during a session of channel surfing will fixate me for a good twenty minutes despite the slightly immobile animation, simplistic story lines, and 1970s color schemes.

Nevertheless, there is just something about animation that will forever entertain. The combination of fantasies, portals, and tempered insanity just appeal to that less than exercised imagination muscle of a retired child now in their twenties. This is the essence of Spike and Mike’s 2000 Classic Festival of Animation. It makes you want to chill out with your armchair pillow, a fruit roll-up, and a Capri Sun and let your mind go on a magic carpet ride into a world of puppets, cartoons, and claymation.

The festival offers a smattering of short animation films that tickle your belly, touch your heart, and stimulate your cortex. Ranging from pure fun to pure philosophy, Spike and Mike take the audience on a roller coaster of laughs and reflection. The fourteen shorts featured satisfy a wide scope of tastes from the most pretentious coffeehouse snob to the crudest frat boy.

Some of the films are merely studies in animated art with fluid sketches and expressions of color such as the poetically visual Panther. It is a highly symbolic and canvas-like visual interpretation of R.M. Rilke’s poem, Der Panther. The hypnotic movement of each sketched line and the swirl of sedated colors place the viewer in a seven-minute trance. It’s a nice stress reliever.

Others are geared toward social commentary and satire like the hilariously sarcastic Angry Kid. This flick features a claymation character who looks like a cross between a forty year old junky, Bozo the Clown, and Chucky from the Child’s Play movies. Sound like a good premise? It is. You’ll be laughing for a quality five minutes at its quirky British humor.

In the spirit of Bambi, Slim Pickings will have the audience sighing a big, collective “ahhh”. Starring an adorably chubby green clay character and his equally green and chubby plant, it’s a touching story of friendship and sacrifice under the oddest circumstances. The bizarre nature of the short keeps the eyes dry, but still solicits a twang of sympathy in even the hardest heart.

Village Idiots will transport you back to the days of Reading Rainbow with its animated interpretation of a Jewish folk tale. Despite its antiquated Wizard of Oz type message, the story is cute and the animation is moderately entertaining. It may not engross the twenty-something crowd, but my five-year-old cousin and seventy-year-old granny would be glued to the set. It offers a few good laughs and a humorous rendition of the Jewish stereotype.

A few of the films have some rather impressive technological feats of computer animation. Mutt, a glimpse into the canine comedy scene, is astounding. You’d almost believe that on Friday nights, your own dog might pull on khakis and join the boys downtown for drinks and a few laughs at The Dog Pound nightclub. The fledgling comic, Jerry Mutt, who bares a striking stylistic and physical resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld, squeezes a few quality chuckles from the quadrupeds as well as the bipeds.

One of the highlights of the festival is When the Day Breaks, the winner of the 1999 Cannes International Film Festival Palme D’Or for Best Short Film. More than a simple cartoon, this short is a touching narrative brought to life with high quality animation. It tells a short story about the unexpected and deep effect of a stranger’s death on a neighbor. Surprisingly, the direction and symbolism are executed exceptionally, which leads to a well-communicated and penetrating message. It’s the most grown up piece of work in the collection. It’s a good note to end on to return the inner child back to it’s corner of the brain for the time being.

All in all, Spike and Mike’s 2000 Classic Festival of Animation harkens back to the days when cartoons were the sole mode of escapism for the playground crowd, too young for the joys of alcohol. If somewhere deep inside, you still harbor a secret wish to be She-ra or Danger Mouse, then you might want to transverse the portal of Spike and Mike and take a trip to Toon Town.

Archived article by Laura Thomas