I had the pleasure of watching the first Animation Show in an actual theatre. At the time, I didn’t know the Mike Judge/Don Hertzfeld-curated collection from any other collection of cartoons. And you had to wonder what kind of animation Judge, the mind behind Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill, would select. But that first Animation Show was a bit of an eye-opener, including material that ranged from crass to elegant, from numerous parts of the globe.
Still, the experience of watching them was pretty much like other anthologies I’d viewed. Some of it worked for me, and some of it didn’t. And the crowd around me felt the same way. You could feel their attention lagging during shorts that just didn’t hit the mark, and some people laughed at work that left others stonefaced. Occasionally, something would seem to grab everyone, such as Hertzfeld’s own Billy’s Balloon, a hilarious and black-hearted depiction of malicious revenge visited upon stick-figure children by their balloons.
Things haven’t changed with Volume 3, but that’s not necessarily a negative. In the process of compiling the best work from the Animation Show‘s 2007 theatrical run, this latest collection seeks intriguing animation without losing its overall accessibility. So envelope-pushing technique and what-the-hell? weirdness aren’t the point. Instead, story takes the forefront on many of the animated shorts featured here.
Granted, Volume 3 kicks off in surreal style, with the one-two punch of Run Wrake’s Rabbit and Gaelle Denis’ City Paradise. City Paradise, a mix of live action and animation, has all the feel of a Technicolor dreamworld where it’s never clear what’s real and what’s imagined, while Rabbit, done in the style of an old children’s book, tells the tale of two children scheming to get rich off of a jam-loving idol they find inside of a cut-open rabbit.
The highlights, for this viewer, at least, come from the more leisurely pieces. Stretching out for more than 15-minutes, Hertzfeld’s sad tale of modern ennui and sickness, Everything Will Be OK, is the polar opposite of Billy’s Balloon. Everything Will Be OK teems with dream imagery, medicine-induced hallucinations, and stick figure faces displaying a surprising range of emotions.
Likewise, Matthew Walker’s Astronauts doesn’t quite adopt the snail’s pace of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, but its gentle humor effectively conveys quiet and isolation of floating through space. No Room for Gerold depicts a roommate conflict between a rhino, a hippo, a water buffalo, and an alligator that turns out to have an all too human theme. The William Blake-inspired Tyger is a stately mix of puppetry and animation that presents a city and its residents blossoming into a golden-lit jungle as the tiger passes.
Humor is well-represented by Versus, the tale of two samurai clans that concoct increasingly elaborate plots to control a sliver of land between their island fortresses. Carlitopolis meets the sick humor quota, depicting bizarre experiments on a (computer-generated) mouse in a box. Naturally, mainstay Bill Plympton is here as well, with the manic tale of a hapless mutt who aspires to be a seeing eye dog, with disastrous results.
Overall, the Animation Show‘s stories are a case of what you see is what you get. For all the computer-generate animation, puppetry, line drawings, and stop-motion work, these are straightforward tales. There are very few hidden messages or subtexts to be found. Chris Harding’s Learn Self Defense, however, does set its satiric sights firmly on President George W. Bush with its tale of a man getting mugged, then learning very questionable self-defense tactics such as God is On Your Side and Preemptive Self Defense. Max Hattler’s Collision, a commentary on the current conflicts in the Middle East, is far more abstract with kaleidoscopic clashes of noises and patterns.
Three volumes in, the Animation Show is still finding satisfying, quirky animation to share. Unfortunately, Volume 3 doesn’t do all it could to help viewers understand the artists’ techniques and thought processes. Three short video interviews help shine a little light on things (especially an entertaining piece with Joanna Quinn, which helps explain the continuum of her work that led to Dreams and Desires), but the majority of information must be found in text interviews in .pdf format, which must be viewed on your computer—better than nothing, but a little unwieldy.