Getting Animated

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Spike & Mike's Classic Festival of Animation, not to be confused with Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation (currently Korn's opening act), has always seemed like something that never should have gotten remotely popular.

The concept is simple - a whole bunch of pick-of-the-litter animated short films that the entire family can theoretically enjoy. Yet nothing similar to this has ever really drawn public attention. It's as if suddenly people went out and actually attended independent film festivals. Yet the reason for the limited but reasonable success of Spike & Mike is what makes it so different from your average independent film. You see, Spike & Mike's Classic Festival of Animation is interesting, well done, not hugely self-indulgent, and an overall credit to it's genre. With its 2000 run, we get a fairly varied collection of mostly humorous films - though there are three serious ones thrown in the mix - that show off a variety of styles and are usually pretty damn good.

The festival starts of on a wrong foot with "Graveyard Jamboree with Mysterious Mose," a beautifully animated but ultimately tepid music video about Mysterious Mose, a creature of the night who you can identify by his whistle. While everything looks good in it, the design and song are so lifeless as to put you to sleep. Luckily, it lasts only four minutes, and then we are treated to "Fishing," an interesting and bizarre computer animation by PDI (creator of the film, ANTZ), which is most fascinating in how it looks like a hand drawing. A surreal and trippy piece about daydreaming and fishing, it's the start the festival should have had, and one of the better pieces.

After this we get to see "At the Ends of the Earth," a Russian animation about a farm house on the top of a pointy hill that rocks back and forth depending on the weight. The best comedy of the entire festival - excluding the last film - it is bizarre but understandable. Building on a simple animated structure with comically animated caricatures, it tells a simple story about literally living on the edge. And like most good short comedies, it keeps it simple and therein lies the magic.

After this lite fare we are given the quasi-serious "Village of Idiots," based on one of the many stories out of Jewish folklore. Illustrated in an abstract, purposefully colorless manner, this film is a nice vignette with a reasonably interesting story. This is the sort of work which allows short animated film to retain a certain credence, because the story fits the time allotted and the animation is both beautiful and haunting. Of all the serious stories shown, this is the best by a lot.

Unfortunately, after such a nice succession we come to realize we've seen the best material for the festival already. The rest of the films are of good quality and reasonably funny, with the exception of "The End of the Day" and "The Panther," two serious pieces which end up being more pretentious than anything else and just horribly boring. Stories such as "Hum Drum," with two shadow puppets playing shadow puppets, and "Three Misses," where three heroes fail to save three damsels in distress, work reasonably well though they can get tiresome after a while.

The only other films of note, beside the final one, are "Bsss" a humorous and very short film about a fly trying to imitate an elephant in a book and "The Ghost of Stephen Foster," a tribute to Max and David Fleischer of Betty Boop fame that is set to the Squirrel Nut Zippers song of the same name. While the latter is billed as a tribute, it's more a total copy of the duo's work, but it still is a nice and amusing interlude.

The true great of the festival returns from last year's run and gets its place at the end - "Billy's Balloon," the winner of the award for best short film at Sundance. A masterpiece of minimalism, this film is pretty much a mockery of the stupid French film, "The Red Balloon." Anyone who enjoyed the overly maudlin tactics of that piece of junk probably won't appreciate "Billy's Balloon," but otherwise this film is about as funny as anything else that ever had a five-minute lifespan. It is sadism at its most humorous.

Spike & Mike is one of those shows that may come once a year, but it's really the only chance for the mainstream public to appreciate short animated films - a genre which really gets no exposure. This year's batch is a bunch that is at least as amusing and interesting as any comedy you're going to see this year, and even though it isn't the Sick and Twisted festival, sick and twisted stuff does happen at times. So I highly recommend you get out there and support this, it's a lot more creative than most anything else you'll see on the big screen this year.


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