The Austin Chronicle

Spike & Mike's Classic Festival of Animation 2002

Not rated. Directed by Various.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 30, 2002

Both punk rock and Spike & Mike's animation festivals (Classic, Sick & Twisted, et al.) are 25 years old this year. On a good day, either one of those cultural signifiers still has the power to make you jump up and down like a kitten in a blender, and both frequently feature creative expressions of rage, sorrow, and goofy-ass teenage hooliganism. While the titular Mike (last name Gribble) has gone the way of Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, Spike (real name Craig Decker) is still working year-round to cobble together what is essentially the only touring vehicle for all manner of modern animation. And like most film showcases (and not a few punk-rock compilations), the results are mixed, with a couple of standouts, a handful of mediocrities, and one or two cartoons that might work to good advantage in the government's “information extraction” programs down in Guantanamo Bay's newly minted Cage City. Classic 2002 isn't the best of the lot and leans heavily on a cluster of previously seen works that will forever be surefire attention-getters, the most obvious of these is Don Hertzfeldt's “Rejected,” an honest-to-goodness animation classic that rivals the best black-and-white work of early animation pioneers in its power to make an audience gasp with surprise or explode into outright laughter. Hertzfeldt's grimly fiendish short, which uses crude stick-figure animation to document the overstressed animator's mental collapse is so pure in its intent and methods that it's the animated equivalent of, yes, the Ramones (and one of Hertzfeldt's previous shorts, “Billy's Balloon,” might as well be the visual equivalent of that band's classic “Beat on the Brat”). It's a short, sharp shock of sophomoric humor and ultra-violence that dares you to chuckle even as it beats the living daylights out of you. Smart, shocking, and hilarious, “Rejected” is the apex of Spike & Mike's Classic 2002, but many of the rest in the current crop fail to match a decent (or any) story to the animation, which has always been a major problem with short animation. Nearly everything here is in one way or another visually exciting, but precious few of the shorts match their message to the medium in any but the most obvious (and sometimes downright annoying) way. Pixar's Oscar-winning “For the Birds” (which played in theatres before Monsters, Inc.) only goes to show what a weak year it must have been for animation back in 2001. Marilyn Zornado's “Insect Poetry,” while featuring some clever stop motion animation, curdles the mind with some truly heinous rhyming, and Patrick Smith's “Drink” is close enough in style and spirit to the work of longtime Spike & Mike (and Hertzfeldt) favorite Bill Plympton that the latter ought to begin legal proceedings immediately. On the plus side, there's Adam Elliot's morose ode to a vanished sibling in “Brother,” and Michael Dudok de Wit's elegiac “Father and Daughter,” which picked up a 2000 Academy Award for Best Animated Short -- with its stark animation and haunting, lachrymose storyline, it's easy to see why. Animation -- and especially short-form animation -- is always difficult to pull of with any degree of certainty. Often the images override the story, or vice versa, which is what too often happens here. Still and all, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. (For that you get Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation.)

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