Spike & Mike's '97 Festival of Animation

1997, NR, 99 min. Directed by Various.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 12, 1997

Another day, another animation festival from those wacky guys at S&M. As always, it's a mixed bag, with various styles and sensibilities represented, from the sublime to the superfluous, and from the goofy to the really goofy. Stiffy, by Canadian Brian McPhail, is a simple claymation look at a lonely little lad who receives that most treasured of birthday gifts, a dog. Unfortunately, the shipper has neglected to drill the prerequisite air holes in the pooch's packing crate, and the gift arrives postmortem, which sets things up for an extended riff on the joys of dead dog ownership. Nicely done, and grotesque to boot. Who could ask for anything more? I could, and was richly rewarded by Hilary, a brief work from Brit Anthony Hodgson that combines the sensibilities of Franz Kafka with some engagingly rudimentary puppet work to tell the tale of a young girl and her father and a very, very surreal bedtime story. Full of barely repressed menace and plenty of dark corners, Hilary puts you in mind of some of Henry Selick's work (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach), though it's much more challenging. The Devil Went Down to Georgia is actually a music video for one of Les Claypool's Primus offshoots, but as such it's a keeper. Classic claymation, it features the best devil this side of Tim Curry's in Legend, and though it seems a tad too slick for its own good at times, it's still a remarkable achievement. Which brings me to the most remarkable achievement of all, the Oscar-winning A Close Shave from Brit Nick Park and his Aardman Animation team. Another in the ongoing Wallace and Gromit series, this much-balleyhooed outing has the cheese-addled (and rather dull) window washer Wallace and his trusty canine companion Gromit stumble onto a mysterious sheep rustling ring. On top of that, Wallace falls in love with the wrong girl, and Gromit gets to fly a plane in some truly amazing animation from this wildly popular animation studio. Park and his crew can do more with a raised clay eyebrow than any human actor, and the amount of care taken to bring Wallace and Gromit to life remains astonishing. Like Wallace's beloved Wendsleydale, Park's work only gets better with time. Other notables include Political Correction by Steven Fonti, a parody of the old Schoolhouse Rock Saturday morning cartoons that takes a stand for political correctness, and Trainspotter, a take on Trainspotting sans junk from Jeff Newitt. It's a better lineup than you might expect from the long-running Spike and Mike team, with nary a clinker in sight, and emcompassing a vast range of styles and themes. True to their word, Spike & Mike continue to offer up the finest animation around.

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Spike & Mike's '97 Festival of Animation, Various

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