Saturday, June 05, 2004

New England Animation Bash: Competition Show

The first thing I saw at this mini-festival hosted by the Brattle and Coolidge theaters was the thirteen cartoons in competition. Competition at festivals is kind of a strange thing; if the idea is to see lots of great movies, why single one out as the best? Apparently that gets filmmakers to come, so that they can put little laurel leafs on their posters and advertising. Crazy.

Anyway, the shorts:

"It Is What It Is"
* * ¾ (out of four)

A nifty little short that doesn't have any story to it; it's a collaboration with a bunch of kids at a Maine summer camp. From what I can gather, they each drew a picture, with the previous few for reference, and then director Tim Finn did the in-betweening; you can hear the kids in the background.

The result is kind of neat, though it winds up being mostly a novelty

"Remy the Two-Legged Cat"
* * * (out of four)

The title says it all - a cat without its forelegs is pestered by a fly. Lacking paws with which to swat it, the cat winds up rearing up on its hind legs and falling on its face a lot. Fortunately, the bit has good comic timing and the title character is a good likeness of what a cat would look like with only two legs, which works to highlight the absurdity of the idea.

"Boxed In"
* * * (out of four)

An obviously CGI short which works a goofy premise pretty well - an old man receives a box with both a mouse and a mousetrap in the mail. The mouse, however, doesn't go for the trap, so the man tries to catch it, generally not doing well because, hey, he's an old man. It gets a little repetitive, and there are some fade-in/nothing/fade-out stretches, but the pay-off is good.

"Bride Of Frankenstein"
* * ½ (out of four)

Carlyn Whick uses cut-out animation to show a Frankenstein type disassembling a plain-looking girl and reassembling her such that each of the pieces seems slightly "improved" but the end result is grotesque. Kind of nift, and doesn't stretch its one joke out too long.

"The House"
* * ¾ (out of four)

There's something both sweet and creepy about this short, where a camera enters a house where a variety of elderly and/or mentally retarded women are drawing as some sort of therapy, and we see their drawings get animated. It's somewhat uncomfortable to watch them try to articulate verbally, but most can draw fairly well; even if they're not the greatest draftswomen, most have clean, unique styles that show some talent. It's interesting how they see themselves: One woman starts to erase the glasses she'd drawn on a character because she hadn't even realized she'd drawn them and hates her glasses; another, describing a date she went on, draws a strikingly elegant blonde that stands in marked contrast to her actual appearance.

"My First Job"
* * * (out of four)

A warm, soft-looking animation of a teenage girl trying to babysit two kids who fight over a ball. Cute, and features more of the cat abuse that began in "Remy".

"Circuit Marine"
* * * ½ (out of four)

A cute (but somewhat morbid) short from France with a darkly humorous look at the circle of life, as a fish caught in a net appears to be spared, getting placed in a bowl as the head fisherman's pet (though the fishermen bear a striking resemblence to pirates). The captain's cat has other ideas, though, as does his parrot, once he sees other birds diving for and catching fish out the window. Eventually, of course, everything in nature is food for something else. This got one of my votes for the audience award (we each get to cast three).

"The Great Escape"

I can't remember a single thing about this one. I don't remember whether it involved animals, people, or things; whether it was CGI, hand-drawn, or cut-outs. Nothing. That can't be a good sign.

"Lines & Shapes"
* * ½ (out of four)

One of those abstract cartoons which takes advantage of how, in a two-dimensional cartoon, it is easy for one thing to become another. Mostly, it involved shapes growing out of a horizon line. Unfortunately, at least for this show, it was something of demonstration of the trouble MPEG-2 has compressing black-and-white, as much of the DVD-based presentation was even more muddy and indistinct than the short (which seemed to involve a lot of smudged pencil effects) was meant to be.

* * * ¼ (out of four)

A cute short, as a married couple tucks themselves into bed and dreams. They needle each other a bit, calm and secure in their relationship while overhearing their neighbors fight. Their dreams (in color as compared to the black-and-white outlines of their real life) feature peril and adventure, but they are always saved by the actions of their sleeping partner, with a snore perhaps being integrated into the dream as a gush of water that puts out a fire. Cute and sweet with nice linework.

* * (out of four)

A four-year-old short from the director of "It Is What It Is", this reminds me in style of "Teen Girl Squad" on Homestar Runner without much of the funny. It features rough, minimally animated figures with silly voices and little in the way of storytelling skills.

"Showa Shinzon"
* * * ½ (out of four)

A rather striking story about a girl who went to Hokkaido to live with her grandparents after her father was killed in Tokyo during WWII. While there, the ground shakes, but that has less to do with the war and more to do with a mountain being born in a volcanic eruption that ironically stops just as the war ends. Though a lot of the CGI seems primitive, the director mixes media well - those oddly-modeled CGI characters have a child's innocence, and the sketches of the rising ground by the grandfather are a neat sort of meta-comment on the nature of animation, that it's a sequence of drawings creating motion when their seen in sequence. This was the second of my three votes.

"Penguins Behind Bars"
* * * ½ (out of four)

Produced for Cartoon Network, this is simplicity itself - a women-in-prison movie... with penguins. Lili Taylor is the voice of Doris Fairfeather, a young, not-so-bright penguin who doesn't realize the man she's dating is bad news until she winds up in jail as an accessory to a pearl heist. Once there, she confronts various prison-movie tropes: The vicious warden, the experiened old bird, the girl who cracks under pressure. The latter, here a nervous-looking penguin with the name of Flotsam (Catherine Fitch) who carries a giant shrimp doll around, and is responsible for many of the 22-minute short's funniest moments. A very funny send-up of the genre, which got the last of my votes for the Audience Award.

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