Re-Animate Me, Part 2!



The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows 

The history of my personal love for animation (and the history of the Annual Animation Show of Shows) is laid out in my review for the 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows.

The newest collection of animated shorts had its initial premiere screening in Fall 2017. It was then shown at the Quad Cinema in January 2018. Unlike last year -- when there was only a single showing of the collection, at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia on the Upper West Side -- this year the show ran for two weeks, with two to four screenings per day.

As noted in my earlier review, in watching these series' one is immediately struck by just how wide a variety of animation types and styles there are: from "traditional" to watercolor, from stop-motion to claymation, from collage to puppetry, and beyond. Also interesting is the sheer number of countries from which the animators hail: the current grouping includes France, Belgium, U.S., U.K., Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden.

The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows opens with "Can You Do It" (set to the song of the same name by Charles X), which features a horse race through the streets of a large city. Using mostly black, blues and whites, with the figures drawn in a quasi-geometric art deco style, the metaphor of a drag race (replacing the cars with horses) is clever and well-handled. This is my second favorite film of this grouping. Following this is "Tiny Big," a delightful series of related (?) vignettes using simple line drawings. With no narrative, the only sound one hears is the ambient sounds of each vignette. Lack of narrative -- or using only music or ambient sound -- seems to be one of the themes of this collection of shorts.

Next up is the hilarious "Next Door." Using vibrant, mostly primary colors, it relates the story of a rigid, grumpy businessman and his next door neighbor, a very loud and imaginative young girl. (He and his house and possessions are drawn in a block-y fashion, while she and her house and possessions are all rounds and curves.) As he tries to settle in quietly after work, she is across the street playing imaginative games, making lots of noise. I do not want to give away the ending, which is as sweet as it can possibly be.

"The Alan Dimension" unfolds like a comedic episode of the Twilight Zone. Drawn in what looks like (but is not) "standard" animation, we are introduced to Alan and his wife, who live what seems to be a normal post-retirement life -- except that Alan gets "visions" of the future (which he draws while in a trance), but only a minute or two before the event. His wife is eventually driven to leave him out of neglect, at which point he has a vision that is a true realization for him. The denouement is both amusing and touching.

Opening with grainy black-and-white footage of a car careening off a cliff, and then using a truly wide variety of animation styles, "Beautiful Like Elsewhere" seems to be a meditation on the aftermath of the crash, both temporal (e.g., grieving family) and spiritual. The images evoke an equally wide variety of feelings, which are given even greater force by the slow and mostly melancholy music to which the film is set. This is one of two films that I felt were too short: I loved what it did, and simply wanted more.

"Hangman" is one of many such films that used to be shown in classrooms in the 50s and 60s to foment discussion on various topics. Done in traditional style, the film is a series of animated stills, with Herschel Bernardi narrating Maurice Ogden's famous poem. It is a wonderful treat to see this newly restored version in all its glory. "The Battle of San Romano" takes the Uffizi portion of Paolo Uccello's masterpiece and "animates" it -- both literally and figuratively, as the painting comes alive and figures morph and re-morph, in a cycle of violence, death…and life.

"Gokurosama" is positively my favorite film of this group. As a Japanese mall prepares to open for the day, an old woman in one of the shops throws out her back and cannot move. Her daughter rings up the chiropractor's office in the mall. What ensues as they try to get to the office is hilarious. Done in a palette of gorgeous colors, this is a funny, charming and wonderful film.

"Dear Basketball" is Kobe Bryant's encomium to basketball, written and narrated by him. Using intensive pencil sketch animation, it tells of his lifelong love of basketball, and his mixed emotions upon retiring. "Island" is a too-short trip to an island with unusual flora and fauna. Another film without narration of any type, this one uses the sounds on the island to create a sonic stew of melody and rhythm. Its finale is unexpected and hysterical. "Unsatisfying" is another way-too-short film that takes a look at situations that frustrate people (e.g., a soda that does not make it out of a vending machine, a dart that just misses the center of the dartboard, etc.). As one of the two people who joined me at the screening noted, this film could have gone on nearly forever and remained hysterical at all times.

Each screening has a "big" film, one that is the "centerpiece" of the group. "The Burden" is this year's entry. And it is truly extraordinary. Using stop motion animation with stick puppets, this mini-musical gives the inhabitants of a small town an opportunity to present their various "burdens" to the audience. Oh, did I mention that the inhabitants are anthropomorphic fish, monkeys, dogs and other animals -- and that they are singing in Swedish? The effect of this film is unlike that of any other film I have seen in the past four years (with the possible exception of last year's "Manoman"): a strange combination of humor, melancholy, and (at least for me) even a bit of discomfort. But utterly brilliant.

"Les Abeilles Domestiques" is yet another too-short film featuring a series of vignettes that are interconnected via "cells," with actions often occurring between the cells. Using colorful line and simple figure drawing, it adds cells one or two at a time, creating a hive-like structure of circular -- and increasingly funny -- scenarios.

"Our Wonderful Nature -- The Common Chameleon" is unquestionably the funniest film of the group. Done in hyper-real computer animation, the narrator gives us some background on the chameleon, including its insatiable and uncontrollable appetite. It is this appetite that gets our friendly lizard into serious trouble.

"Casino" is a fast-moving montage of quasi-impressionistic casino-related images, set to Oscar Peterson's "Something's Coming." Using primary and other bright colors, the sheer kinetic energy of the film brings you in and does not let you go.

"Everything" is a perfect ending to this group. Narrated using the (multi-cultural, ecumenical, playful) philosophy of Alan Watts, the film explains the interconnectedness of everything in the universe, from atoms to galaxies, using bright images of hundreds of different things (including some somersaulting lions and bears). Informative, fun, and absolutely charming.

As I noted in my previous review, for me any good animation is worth watching. But it is particularly worth watching when it is of the consistent caliber of these groupings. Look for screenings of The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows throughout the country for the next couple of months. If it is coming to your area, go see it. You won't be disappointed!