Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Ron Diamond-curated 20TH ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOWS OF SHOWS hits theaters

Based upon the fifteen animated shorts seen in this year's (the 20th) rendition of the annual ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS, the past 12 months or so (since last year's version made its debut) have perhaps not been the most creative or spectacular for the animation industry, particularly when compared to the general excellence of last year's batch.

Not that there is much wrong with this 20th edition: As curated by Ron Diamond, the films -- 15 of 'em which range in length from one minute to 16 -- are enjoyable, sometimes funny, often charming, and even now and then dark and/or moving, and only occasionally shrug-worthy. Too often, though, too many of them rely on the tried, the true and the sentimental. Here, below, is a brief critical description of each film, from the first on the program to the last.

French and running seven minutes, THE GREEN BIRD offers up an oddly humanistic green fowl that tries to protect its lone little egg -- with colorful and amusing results. It may bring to mind those old Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. But classier.

From the USA and running eight minutes, ONE SMALL STEP tracks a young girl and her helpful dad (or is it grandad?) as she tries to become an astronaut. Full of hope, joy, disappointment, anger and grief, it's pretty but also fairly standard stuff.

TrustMovies once had a friend and co-worker who told him of the epiphany she had when she realized one day that every single thing ever manufactured first had to have been designed. This came to mind while viewing the French short GRANDS CANONS that begins with the drawing of a pencil and then quickly moves on to just about every useful object you can imagine. Driven along by a jazzy and propulsive musical score, this is one of the more creative and unusual of this year's offerings.

In BARRY (from the USA), the theme of everyone's favorite pig movie, Babe, has been distilled down to four minutes of cute and relatively simple animation that goes by so fast it may barely register as more than a blip.

Faster still is SUPER GIRL (also from the USA), a one-minute-long endeavor about a child's hope and dream that is here and then gone before you even know quite what to make of it.

Germany is represented by one of the more unusual of the shorts -- LOVE ME, FEAR ME (seven minutes) -- using some marvelous claymation (in which the clay seems still moist and ever evolving) and some well choreographed dance, first by a man, then a woman, a warrior and a bird. The animation here is not simply interesting; it's alternately sexual, creepy, and very creative.

What the hell is BUSINESS MEETING (from Brazil and running 2 minutes) even about? Maybe the nonsense of Capitalism? The power/ridiculousness of words? Copycatting?  Your guess is as good as mine. This one also features the simplest black-and-white line drawings of all the shorts.

The Netherlands' example, FLOWER FOUND!, offers some very cute animation in which a mouse teams up with a bird, rabbit, pig, stag and owl (and maybe more) to find a missing flower. Moving from cute quest to horrific mistaken identity, this bit of brightly colored animation turns out to be exceedingly dark.

In BULLETS (from the USA and running maybe 90 seconds), a child's voice over some beautifully colored and conceived animation tells us, "Relax, world!" and commands our attention with a message that's short, sweet/sad and quite timely.

Argentina's A TABLE GAME proves another head-scratcher. It may (or may not) be about the idiocy of sports of all kinds, as viewed by the world's population today, and how we give these way too much attention and importance.

Difference and "the other" get a good and very unusual working out in one of the stronger shorts, CARLOTTA'S FACE (Germany, five minutes). How do you manage when you cannot differentiate faces? You'll find out in this fascinating and often darkly beautiful tale.

At twelve minutes, AGE OF SAIL (USA) is the second lengthiest on the current program. It's a kind of ode to a drunken sailor as he ages and sees his life and work upended and replaced. When he rescues an overboard damsel, everything changes. This one is nicely animated and has a strong narrative pull.

The five-minute-long POLARIS (USA) offers polars bears and penguins and involves a young polar bear who has decided to set off on his own and leave family behind. Pretty animation, sure, and sweetly saccharine as all get out.

MY MOON (USA, 9 minutes) gives us some of the more impressionistic animation of this go-round, as it takes us on a romantic tour of our current world and a way maybe around and/or through it via imagination and fantasy. The widescreen anime is different and often quite lovely but finally perhaps a little too sentimental to soar.

The final (and longest: 16 minutes) selection, WEEKENDS, is also the best of the bunch. Set to Erik Satie's music, a mom bids good-bye to her son, as he leaves in the car with his dad. Clearly, the parents are separated or divorced, and the boy is negotiating his way, via reality, fantasy and dreams, through this difficult passage, as first mom, and then dad, gets a new lover. The usual male activities -- violent games and bad eating habits -- are set against mom's more solicitous leanings, and the animation is beautifully conceived and executed to bring all this to alternately jarring, sad and hopeful life. This one manages to avoid the usual sentimental cliches and is all the stronger for it.

With eight out of the 15 shorts coming from the USA, one wonders why more from abroad were not included. Surely, worldwide, there were some better examples than are seen here via a few of the more ordinary American submissions? Nonetheless, this year's compilation is certainly worth viewing, some of them more than once.

The 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows will open in Los Angeles this Thursday, December 13, at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and then at Laemmle's new Glendale on Friday, December 14, and simultaneously in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center. New York City will see it open at the Quad Cinema on Friday,December 28. To view all current and upcoming playdaytes, cities and theaters, simply click here and scroll down. 

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