February 19, 2005

MOVIES: The Animation Show 2005

This is the second installment in the not-quite-annual collection of animated shorts assembled by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt. This one's made up of ten films, with a combined running time of about an hour and forty minutes.

Most of the shorts are very recent, with only one made before 2002; that oldie is Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbes' "When the Day Breaks" (1999), a lovely contemplation on interconnectedness that follows several anthropomorphized animals through a typical city day, with particular attention to a pig who's badly shaken up after witnessing an accident.

Of the newer films, only a couple left me completely cold. David Russo's "Pan With Us" is an overly artsy jumble of images set to a Robert Frost poem; Jennifer Drummond's "The F.E.D.S." is a mini-documentary about the folks who hand out food samples at the supermarket, animated in the jittery tracing-of-live-action that Richard Linklater used in Waking Life. It's a technique that gives me a headache, but even if the film had been animated differently, Drummond's subjects don't have much to say.

Many of the films in the collection are quite good. Peter Cornwall's "Ward 13" is the longest of the bunch, running about 15 minutes; it's a fine piece of clay animation set in a sinister hospital. The protagonist's attempts to escape from the evil doctors feel something like an action sequence from TV's Alias, and Cornwall does a terrific job of keeping the tension high.

Tomek Baginski's "Fallen Art" is a dark look at how the military turns young men into interchangeable, expendable gears in the war machine. Jonathan Nix's "Hello" is a charming tale of romance between the technological generations (he's a beat-box kinda guy; she's a Walkman kinda girl).

Best of all is Bill Plympton's "Guard Dog," one of this year's Oscar-nominated animated shorts, which follows the attempts of an unusually vigilant dog to keep his master safe from any potential threat during their daily walk in the park. Plympton gets canine psychology just right, I think, and this is a very funny film.

The nice thing about a collection of short films is that if you don't like what you're watching, you know that there'll be something new along any minute. The hit rate is certainly high enough here to recommend this show to any animation fan.

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