Before I begin blathering about how unpredictably interesting The Animation Show 2008 is, let me make two things abundantly clear. First, this film is intentionally fragmented, consisting of about 20 shorts that are entirely unrelated and make for an unavoidable choppy flow. Second, this picture — in spite of the quasi-misleading title — does not feature any Disney variety of kid-friendly animation. So for those of you looking for a cutesy storyline that is both cohesive and G-rated, this film isn’t for you. However, those of you intrigued by a dizzying duration of sometimes raunchy, always edgy shorts from around the world, keep on reading.
The Animation Show 2008 marks the fourth installment in a series of semi-annual, touring festivals, produced by award-winning animators Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt, that feature animated short films. Following the demise of other American touring festivals of animation, Judge and Hertzfeldt set out to bring animated short films back into proper cinemas, and together were able to produce the first-ever festival of animation by working animators.
Now on his own without Hertzfeldt, Mike Judge and company’s latest compilation of diverse animated shorts is entertaining however inconsistent — intriguing one moment while falling flat the next. At its best, there are stunning wonders to be glimpsed in this film that redefine the landscape of contemporary animation. And yet, the compilation as a whole is a bit uneven, bogged down by a few segments that are nonsensical and erratic.
One particularly bizarre short — which was only a few minutes long but put me in a bad mood for far longer — was a claymation short called Yompi by animator Corky Quakenbush. Both obnoxious and off-putting at the same time, it’s a prolonged one-joke misfire that finds a strange little creature named Yompi (who resembles the Pillsbury dough boy, but on crack) who silently prances his way around unsuspecting human characters, charms them to no end, then opens his mouth to reveal rows of razor-sharp teeth and bites each horrified victim on the crotch. To exacerbate its un-funniness, executive producer Judge saw it fit to reprise that plump little bastard’s role innumerable times, regurgitating the same “original” punch line again and again until it’s painful.
However, what makes this film intriguing is that its biggest weakness —the inconsistency of funny moments — is also a reason why it is appealing. Surely, it is pretty difficult to justify moving from the perversion of Yompi directly into John and Karen, a sweet and irresistibly pleasant, low-key British fable by Matthew Walker about a polar bear and a penguin sharing a house together. In fact, audiences who like one of the two will almost invariably hate the other. Nevertheless, that’s the inherent appeal of this compilation, as the diversity of segments will charm some and appall others.
While this schizoid nature definitely made for some off-putting moments, The Animation Show 2008 more often than not zings with on-target quips and dazzling effects. Fans of previous Animation Shows will thoroughly enjoy Stefan Mueller’s Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker, an outlandishly comical piece that dramatizes the travails of a little man at an apartment complex, who summons a pitbull-like policeman to quiet his riotous neighbors down — completely oblivious to the perverted activities happening behind the closed doors. The segment deftly uses two different perspectives to replay the same events that conclude with one of the goofiest acid trips ever committed to celluloid.
The film also includes Georges Schwizgebel’s mesmerizing Jeu — a vivid portrayal of pastel-colored geometric abstractions that transform themselves into images of sportsmen and orchestral performers — as well as Steve Dildarian’s Angry Unpaid Hooker, a hilarious narrative about a guy whose girlfriend returns from vacation and finds a black prostitute on the couch. The latter sees the female protagonist side-splittingly relaying the details of her sordid night with the in-denial boyfriend.
The compilation triumphs with closing short This Way Up, a funny, evocative and visually resplendent sketch (with more than a hint of Rube Goldberg influence) about two wizened British pallbearers who set out to bury a casket and wind up jetting down the River Styx toward the fiery cauldron of hell. Each of these segments are delightful enough to stand alone — and the package contains several additional shorts of like brilliance.
Even with its flaws, The Animation Show 2008 has enough dazzling nuggets and raw invention to please. However, some viewers may find it easier to watch on DVD — where they can skip over the barrel-bottom segments and go straight for the gold. Trust me, give this film a chance. It’s surely a wild ride.
Catch The Animation Show 2008 at Cornell Cinema Nov. 6 – 10 in the WSH theatre. For more info point your web browsers to cinema.cornell.edu.