Author’s Note: This week’s column is a bit of a surprise to us all. I wrote this review last October. Its publication has been on hold for the last six months, and it has just been finally rejected. Now that I have this column, I can keep it from going to waste. I saw this Show of Shows at the DreamWorks Animation campus theater in Glendale, CA on October 19th.
Every year Ron Diamond, the founder of Hollywood’s Acme Filmworks animation studio (specializing in animated television commercials), puts together an Animation Show of Shows, consisting of his pick of about a dozen of the best animated short films of the year, from those shown around the world at international film festivals. The winner of the following year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film has often been included on an Animated Show of Shows program.
This year’s is the 14th Annual Show of Shows, screening from October 16th for approximately the next month and a half, with scattered screenings over the next few months, at selected animation studios and animation colleges around the world. It presents thirteen films, including the grand prix winners from the Annecy, Hiroshima, Zagreb, and other festivals.
All thirteen films are excellent, but the subjects and animation techniques are so varied that each viewer will doubtlessly have different favorites.
The Show leads off with the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new Paperman, directed by John Kahrs (7 min.), unreleased theatrically until November 2 (with the Disney feature Wreck-It Ralph). This black-&-white romantic comedy-fantasy, set in 1950s NYC about a man who tries to get a woman’s attention with paper airplanes, is noted for, to quote Disney’s publicity, “Introducing a groundbreaking technique that seamlessly merges computer-generated and hand-drawn animation techniques …” To audiences who don’t know, it just looks like really, really good traditional 2D cartoon animation. The love story looks like an only-slightly-exaggerated romantic comedy until the fantasy happy ending.
The Centrifuge Brain Project, directed by Till Nowak (also 7 min.), winner of the Aspen Shortsfest 2012’s Best Short Short award, looks like live-action at first glance. Dr. Laslowicz (played by Leslie Barany), a scientist-engineer, describes his thirty-year experiment to “conquer gravity” by constructing ever-larger and more exaggerated amusement-park rides. Nowak, at his Framebox studio in Germany, used live-action footage combined with digital animation to make this realistic-looking pseudo-documentary comedy about impossible amusement-park thrill-rides.
Here and the Great Elsewhere, produced by the National Film Board of Canada and directed by Michele Lemieux (14 min. 24 seconds), was the winner of the International Animation Festival of Pernambuco’s Best Short Film prize. A man looks into the next room and sees phantasmagoric imagery. What makes this very slowly paced, abstract film of interest is that Lemieux animated it using the rarely-used Alexeïeff-Parker pinscreen technique, in which the animation is of the shadows of pins projecting through a screen.
Una Furtiva Lagrima, a personal project directed by Pixar animator Carlo Vogele (3 min. 8 sec.), sets a 1904 recording of Enrico Caruso singing the lament from Donizetti’s Italian opera, L’elisir d’amore, to photography of a black bass lamenting its fate while being bought at a fish market and being fried for dinner. Vogele has an equally-hilarious hilarious blog describing trying to animate a dead fish. Winner of the grand prix at both the Animastyros 2012 (in Styros, Greece) and the 2012 Neum Animated Film Festival (in Neum, Bosnia-Herzegovina).
I Saw Mice Burying a Cat (Ya videl kak mishy kota horonili), directed by Russian animator Dmitry Geller and animated by students at China’s Jilin Animation Institute (5 min. 31 sec.), is a dreamlike story of a field mouse watching a cortege of mice carrying a bier with a dead cat for burial – or is the cat only asleep? Although this looks like standard 2D cartoon animation with a unique design style, it was computer-generated. Winner of the Hiroshima 2012 International Animation Festival Grand Prix.
Případ (The Case), director Martin Živocký’s graduation film at the Czech Republic’s Tomas Bata University (4 min. 46 sec.), is a moody psychological thriller, mostly in blues, yellows, and browns, about a detective’s and a killer’s attempt to kill each other through a drenching rainstorm and heavy traffic.
7596 Frames, by Bulgaria’s Martin Georgiev (4 min. 55 sec.) is black-&-white 3D computer animation. Otherwise, it is difficult to describe. An official synopsis is, “In a black-and-white geometric world, something is born out of a particle and starts its existence in the indefiniteness. Its choices will shape its form and its form will shape its choices.” A surrealistic jagged-edge thing struggles to maintain its identity and add to itself as other particles hurtle by in the opposite direction.
Le Taxidermiste, directed by Antoine Robert, Dorianne Fibleuil, Paulin Cointot and Maud Sertour at France’s Supinfocom – Arles school (6 min. 49 sec.), is a combination of 2D and 3D animation. “A taxidermist has just died. His widow and a team of funeral directors pay him their last respect.” This morbid comedy is set in a house so filled with a lifetime’s creation of stuffed animals that the characters hardly have room to move.
The next two shorts are in 3D; the Show of Shows provides Dolby glasses.
Flamingo Pride, CGI directed by Israeli animator Tomer Eshed at Berlin’s Talking Animals Animation Studio (6 min. 2 sec.), is about the only straight flamingo in a flock of thousands of outrageously gay flamingoes, and how he falls in love with a stork. It is either hilariously funny or very insulting, depending on your sense of humor.
Daffy’s Rhapsody, a new Warner Bros. 3D CGI “cartoon” directed by Matt O’Callaghan (4 min. 22 sec.), is new CGI imagery set to a 1950’s children record of famous voice artist Mel Blanc, about Daffy on stage singing a faster and faster song about how every hunter (and Elmer Fudd in particular) wants to shoot him, to the tune of Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Maybe it’s just me, but this lush CGI imagery and in-your-face 3D animation seems misplaced for these very well-known 1940s-1950s cartoon stars.
There is a ten-minute intermission here, both for the audience to stretch and for parents with children to leave, because the last three films are definitely for Adults Only.
Oh, Willy, by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels, a co-production of Beast Animation/Vivement Lundi!/Polaris Film Productions/il Luster Films of Belgium (16 min. 50 sec.), is a bizarre stop-motion film about a very fat man who travels to an isolated nudist colony to pay last respects to his elderly mother. He becomes lost in the vast woods surrounding the camp, and is rescued by a motherly Sasquatch-type monster who adopts him as her own son. Winner of the grand prix at the Animafest Zagreb 2012.
Tentation, 3D computer animation by Loris Accaries, Marie Ayme, Claire Baudean and Audrey Janvier at Supinfocom – Arles, is 4 min. 24 sec. of plotless erotic imagery: a female statue masturbating herself, a sexual orgy as far as the eye can see, overripe fruit, and so on.
The final film is Tram, a 2D computer cartoon directed by Czech animator Michaela Pavlátová for Paris’ Sacrebleu Productions. This 7 min. 50 sec. cartoon got a Euronews headline in its coverage of the 2012 Annecy International Animated Film Festival: “Sex fantasy comic cartoon scoops Annecy prize.” “It was jury member and Irish film producer Darragh O’Connell who announced that the Cristal award for best short film went to “Tram” by Michaela Pavlatova. The erotic short film by Oscar-nominated Czech director Michael Pavlatova, about the sexual fantasies of a female tram driver, also won praise from the International Federation of Film Critics.” This comedy about an oversexed female streetcar driver who has lustful daydreams about her staid businessmen passengers is naughty more than erotic; very funny but definitely for mature audiences only.
So that is this year’s Animated Show of Shows. As usual, some of the fare will delight you, while others will bore you even as you marvel at the technical excellence; but overall you will not want to miss it.