Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Spike and Mike's 1999 Classic Festival of Animation

By Marc Savlov

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999: 

D: Various. (Not Rated, 81 min.)

Seventeen semi-new offerings are compiled in perennial faves Craig "Spike" Decker and Mike Gribble's ongoing animation fest. Not to be confused with S&M's far more earthy Sick and Twisted festival, this is a more mainstream group of shorts, though in the world of animation the word "mainstream" has a much looser connotation than elsewhere, natch. Like nearly all animation fests, this one's a somewhat mixed bag, albeit one that favors computer animation and surreality over more traditional forms (though pretty much everything is represented in one form or another). Among the highlights are the German "Balance," by Cristophe and Wolfgang Lauenstein, which took the 1989 Academy Award for Best Animation Short Film. It's easy to see why this scored high points at the tail end of the Reagan-Bush Red-scare decade: Animated clay figures, clad only in gray overcoats and sporting grimly expressionless eyes, battle for territory while perched perilously atop a flat plane, floating in a void. As a metaphor for imperialistic greed and rampant nationalism, it's pretty obvious, but the edgy animation and overall somber mood of the seven-and-a-half minute piece are undeniable. Also of note is the truly bizarre (and oddly touching -- an emotional pairing that is reiterated throughout the collection and is common to animation in general) "L'Homme Aus Bras Ballants (Man With the Pendulous Arms)" from Laurent Gorgiard of France. Recalling German Expressionist films of the Twenties, complete with dank shadows and off-kilter angles, this brief tale of -- yup -- a guy with long arms, resonates long after its four-minute running time is over. The 1998 Academy Award winner, "Bunny," from Blue Sky Studios and Chris Wedge, is another keeper, the tale of an elderly hare and her battle with the tiny moth that invades her kitchen one night. "Bunny" is memorable not so much for its elegiac, rose-tinted storyline as it is for the technical wizardry behind it, which employs advances in radiosity that allow the CGI animation to look far more realistic than, say, Pixar's old standby Tin Toy. Basically, better light replication equals realism. Despite this, CGI work too often comes off as chilly and sterile, a compact disc to traditional cel animation's vinyl album. Thankfully, S&M don't let themselves get carried overboard by technology and include a fair amount of other techniques. Notables include Don Hertzfeldt's "Billy's Balloon," the evil doppelganger to Albert Lamorisse's 1957 Academy Award winner The Red Balloon, Aardman Animation's "Hum Drum" (no Nick Park this year, sadly), and Pierre Coffin's "Pings." There's not any outright claptrap here, thankfully, just solid animation from across the globe served up in an easy-to-digest format: Spike and Mike at their weird, wild best.

3 Stars

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