Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Animation Show 4 (2008, presented by Mike Judge)

Since their beginning of The Animation Show four years ago, I've been a supporter of their goals- to bring animated shorts by established and up-and-coming animators to theatrical venues in order to educate moviegoers in the diversity of the medium. But while the previous years have showcased some fascinating work, 2008's crop was pretty thin. I'm such a lot of this has to do with the increasing numbers of animated shorts programs that have gotten released in theatres since TAS's inception- for example, no Oscar nominees are included this year, probably because they just played two months ago with the Oscar shorts program. But I wonder if the dip of quality might also be reflective of TAS founder Don Hertzfeldt's lack of involvement this year. Between his artistic cachet and Judge's marquee value and particular brand of comedy, the first three programs struck a worthy balance between art and entertainment, showcasing everything from new short films by Bill Plympton to gorgeous, deadly serious works like last year's Overtime. But without Hertzfeldt on board this year, the balance has tipped toward snarky, wiseass comedies. Sure, there's still some art in the proceedings, although these films aren't of the caliber of previous years- there's an occasional keeper like Georges Schwizgebel's Jeu, a geometric, Escher-inspired short about human leisure. But most of the arty stuff is flashy and soulless, like Animation Show regular PES's Western Spaghetti and BIF Productions' Raymond. Meanwhile, a large percentage of the funny stuff is more loud and shrill than humorous. The introductory short, Joel Trussell's fittingly-titled Show Opener, feels like little more than a lo-fi homage to the priceless beginning of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. In addition, for the first time this year, several of the animators contributed series of shorts, which unfortunately are among the most tiresome on the program. Usavich, a Japanese CGI series about a pair of silent bunnies, is flashy but never entertaining; Dave Carter's Psychotown series plays like an Australian version of Terrance and Philip but quickly wears out its welcome; and Corky Quackenbush contributes Yombi the Crotch-Biting Sloup, which has little going for it other than the title. There's the occasional genuinely funny short film- the low-key Operator and Nieto's live-action/animation combo Far West are pretty fun- but not enough. All in all, there's not enough good stuff to wholeheartedly recommend this year's incarnation of The Animation Show. If Judge wants to compete with the other theatrical animation programs out there, he'll have to try harder next time around. And distribute it on film like he used to, for that matter. Overall rating: 5 out of 10.

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