17th Annual Animation Show of Shows
2015, NR, 97 min. Directed by Various.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 1, 2016
I say bully for any opportunity to see animated shorts on the big screen; there aren’t very many, save Spike & Mike’s long-running touring programs or the annual Oscar-nominees showcase. There’s no unifying principle behind the international array of films grouped in the Animation Show of Shows – currently in its 17th annual lap around the country – other than: They’re all pretty good. Some of them are even great.
More than a few of the 11 selected films (curated by Ron Diamond) examine what it’s like to be an outsider. There’s a boy determined to live his life on stilts in Australian rhymer “The Story of Percival Pilts”; a shy guy crushed to discover his crush doesn’t like boys in Conor Whelan’s affecting silent “Snowfall”; and a factory worker inspired to curlicues in a vertical-line world in “Stripy,” bouncily choreographed to Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5” and just as classically composed in 2-D.
A folk song (by Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth Laprelle) narrates “The Ballad of Holland Island House,” about the slow demise of a house set on a sinking island in the Chesapeake Bay. Director Lynn Tomlinson apparently used an innovative clay-painting technique to achieve the film’s lovely, painterly effect. That’s something I discovered by Googling, and not from the program itself, which inserts four short behind-the-scenes docs that disappointingly focus almost exclusively on animators explaining the themes already obvious in their work, and not on the actual painstaking and fascinating work that went into making their films.
Nothing in the program is a dud, although a few weren’t to my taste. (I don’t have the antipathy a lot of people do to anything to which Amanda Palmer’s name is attached, though I did find her and Avi Ofer’s “found dream” piece inconsequential.) I’d rather talk about the two that left me rapturous. Both consider the cosmos; indeed, it’s spelled out in the title of Russian Konstantin Bronzit’s film, the dialogue-free “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” about two best friends and hopeful cosmonauts. Bronzit’s training montage was a kick for this former Space Camper – gravity’s a bitch, but losing it in a spinning anti-gravity simulator is even worse – and the film broke my heart with its more spiritual consideration of what happens when you lose the feeling of solid ground underfoot.
Finally, there is the show-capping “World of Tomorrow” (also available currently on Netflix). You can’t accuse us of hometown bias – the Academy already gave Austin animator Don Hertzfeldt its stamp of approval with a 2015 Oscar nom, his second. At this point, you could craft a whole syllabus around the sublimeness of Hertzfeldt’s stick figures – aesthetically crude, maybe, at first glance, until you consider their scope, detail, and witty editing, and how perfectly his scripts – ironic, melancholic, bleakly funny to the cliff’s edge of why-not-just-jump – complete the picture. The story of a clone from the future sharing wisdom with her 5-year-old past self, “World of Tomorrow” is at once charming and the kickoff to your next existential crisis – simply, a masterwork.