I love animation, all kinds of animation. When I first started reviewing films in 1987, there were many different animation anthologies floating around, shows like “Animation Celebration” and the annual “Animation Tournees.” There were collections distributed by Spike and Mike, Mike Judge and others. These programs showcased animated shorts in many different styles from around the globe, and the variety of media and personality was astonishing; I got my first look at artists like Judge and former Pixar head John Lasseter early in their careers via these collections.
“The 21st Annual Animation Show of Shows” was scheduled to screen last March and had to be canceled. This is the first time that the program is available virtually.
This year’s edition also includes mini-documentaries about two of the filmmakers, and the whole program, including introduction and closing credits, runs 83 minutes.
“Kids” (Switzerland) by Michael Frei & Mario von Rickenbach, is all black line on white background: identical gingerbread-like figures fight, fuss and make formations, starting with one figure and winding up with a teeming mass of humanity, pulsating and reforming into strange social shapes.
Gil Alkabetz’s “Rubicon” (Germany) posits a simple riddle: How do you transport a cabbage, a sheep and a wolf across a body of water without them eating each other? Alkabetz establishes the dilemma and in just a few minutes, runs through every conceivable scenario, and many unconceivable ones, too. His animation style reminded me of a slightly funkier “Schoolhouse Rock” combined with some animated bits George Carlin commissioned for one of his HBO specials. In the documentary about him, Alkabetz reveals that “Rubicon” is his take on the absurdity of political solutions.
“Five Minutes to Sea” (Russia) by Natalia Mirzoyan and “Récit de soi” (Self-Narrative) by Géraldine Charpentier of Belgium are similar in that the animation lines flow in and out in a dream-like way, one illustrating a day at the beach and the water, and the other, Charpentier’s plaintive and frank account of her realization that she is transgender. “Le jour extraordinaire” (Flowing through Wonder), from Joanna Lurie of France, tells a spellbinding tale of an adventure at sea with vivid graphics and not a word of dialogue.
An utterly domesticated dog — he sits at the table, eats with utensils and washes his own dishes — succumbs to his animal nature when several stray “Hounds” (Israel) approach his home. Animators Amit Cohen & Ido Shapira achieve an Edward Gorey look with crosshatched white strokes on black background. They were inspired by their own upbringing and the eternal debate about nature vs. nurture.
“The Fox and the Bird (Le renard et L’oisille),” by Sam & Fred Guillaume of Switzerland, creates a dark fairy tale with stylized characters cavorting within photo-real CGI backgrounds for a truly unique look and feel.
I wrote about the Oscar-nominated “Daughter (Decera)” (Czech Republic, 2019), directed by Daria Kashcheeva, in a previous column about the year’s short film nominees: a daughter sits by her dying father in the hospital, and the memory of a childhood moment involving an injured bird leads to a moment of clarity. Most stop-motion puppet films are done with static, locked-off shots, but Kashcheeva experiments with camera motion to make everything rough and hand-held.
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