Reviews

Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: Caught in the Act!

Tim O'Neil

The animators here have, with a few exceptions, yet to outgrow a fascination with the satirical possibilities of putting wholesome cartoon characters through their R- and X-rated paces.


Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation

Subtitle: Caught in the Act!
Network: Shout Factory
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-02-08
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

Animation has been around in one form or another since the dawn of motion pictures. But where live-action cinema quickly became a vehicle for every conceivable type of narrative and expression, animation was effectively castigated to the kid's table from a very early point. To this day, despite occasional efforts to create animation for a more discerning adult audience, the cartoon medium is for kids.

Spike & Mike's Animation Festival is famously dedicated to juvenilia, but of a decidedly more risqué type than Pokemon. While most people outgrow Mad magazine, the young journeyman animators featured on Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: Caught in the Act! have, with a few exceptions, yet to outgrow a fascination with the satirical possibilities of putting wholesome cartoon characters through their R- and X-rated paces. It gets tiresome, but it's not really disheartening: even Mike Judge, who has elevated understated animated satire to new heights with King of the Hill, got his start with the gleefully stupid "Frog Baseball."

So you have cartoons with names like "Love That Pussy," "My First Boner," and "Rez-Erection," all fairly self-explanatory. One step up from the sex humor, you have the somewhat more nuanced (but not by much) observational satire of "Refrigerator Art: My Family" and "Beat The Brat," both of which refute the clichés of the established nuclear family by introducing elements of depravity such as spousal abuse and emotional blackmail.

From here, you move on to the gleeful misanthropy of "Hippie Juice," featuring the indelible image of a wrathful Uncle Sam feeding a hippie into an enormous food processor attached to his giant SUV. "The Treasure of the Salted Tadpole" is probably my favorite short on the disc, and it's also the only cartoon created from claymation. It's the charming story of a pirate digging for treasure at the bottom of the ocean, and the playful shark who gets in the way.

But if the majority of these skits exploit pre-digital technologies, there are also reminders that the advent of the personal computer, along with the Internet, has radically altered the balance of power in the animation world. Previously, cartoon shorts like these were the unmistakable product of small teams or individuals with limited resources, and their work reflected the shoestring nature of their projects. But with the advent of Flash animation and applications like Avid, those same bedroom animators are capable of creating featurettes that could easily stand next to half the shows on the Cartoon Network in terms of quality. So, next to 30-second homegrown gags like "Schindler's Fist," you have the elaborate adventures of the Happy Tree Friends (represented here by "Milkin' It"). These cute and lovable cartoon animals just happen to get graphically eviscerated with clockwork regularity. In the case of "Milkin' It", two sinister squirrels who try to kidnap a cow just happen to end up impaled by pine trees and dismembered -- which is something at which you will probably laugh despite yourself.

It's slightly odd to see such unabashedly twisted cartoons presented with the same attention to craft and quality you would expect from The Powerpuff Girls -- and that dichotomy is the point. The Happy Tree Friends have become something of a brand name on the Internet, with their own DVD compilations and merchandise. But while "Milkin' It" was funny, I can't really imagine sitting through more than a handful of Happy Tree Friends episodes before the joke got very old.

The longest feature here (but still only around five minutes long), "Dr. Tran" is also the slickest. It's still essentially one joke, though: Dr. Tran is a five-year-old Asian kid who doesn't want to be an action movie star even though the voice-over keeps telling him he is. It's a bit repetitive but it betrays a slightly more developed sense of humor than the majority of shorts included here, less dependent on scatology or innuendo (although there is no shortage of that).

Festivals like Spike & Mike's offer one of the few outlets for independent animators to showcase their product and gain wider recognition. The tradition will undoubtedly continue, even if the vast majority of the material remains monotonously puerile. It will be interesting, however, to see what kind of impact the Internet has on the field of animation in the years to come. It used to be that up-and-comers like Judge, Jon Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy), and Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park) had to work their way up from the button rung of the ladder into a notoriously cloistered industry, either through festivals like Spike & Mike's or circuitous backdoor methods (such as Stone & Parker's infamous Christmas video featuring the first quite primitive South Park episode - they hardly expected to get a TV deal based on something that was essentially a lark, and for their troubles they won the resentment of luckless veterans such as Kricfalusi).

But now anyone with a computer can put up his own cartoons and become an overnight success, to the point where the appearance of the immensely popular Happy Tree Friends on this disc seems an anomaly, almost like they're slumming. When everyone has broadband and can download homemade cartoons like Happy Tree Friends at his or her leisure, what place will anthologists like Spike & Mike have in this brave new world?

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image