The annual "Animation Show of Shows" has become an important event, bringing the more personal and experimental films from the international festival circuit to larger audiences. Although uneven, this year's "Show" (the 18th) featuring 16 shorts from 11 countries offers some excellent films, including several likely candidates for the animated short Oscar.
Vladimir Leschiov uses color to chronicle the passing of the seasons in his gently comic "Waiting for the New Year" (Latvia). Drab sepia interiors give way to pastel green gardens to bright flower beds to autumnal trees while a woman stolidly goes about her daily tasks. It's an understated little film that provokes chuckles rather than guffaws with its gently skewed look at mundane life. In contrast to Leschiov's simple drawings, Oscar-winning director Patrick Osborne ("Feast") uses cutting-edge CG technology and brighter colors to tell the story of father and daughter folk musicians in "Pearl" (U.S.A.). This striking film is part of Google's experimental Spotlight Stories series, and it will be interesting to contrast the VR version with the 2-D one in theaters.
Chris Ware, John Kuramoto and Ira Glass riff on Ware's New Yorker cartoons to illustrate a woman's recollections of a potentially traumatic exchange with her mother in "Mirror" (U.S.A.). The artists use magazine covers and pages to frame the animated images in this visually clever film. In the handsomely designed "Shift" (U.S.A.), Maria Cecilia Pugliesi and Yijun Liu use CG to depict a prim Victorian woman lured away from her fustian existence by the freedom nature offers. Many viewers will have already seen Alan Barillaro's charming "Piper," as it screened in front of Pixar's hit feature "Finding Dory." The story of a timid hatchling learning to overcome its fear of the water, "Piper" is vividly animated and a sure crowd-pleaser.
Not every film in the "Show of Shows" achieves the same level of excellence. The textures and abstract forms in Kristian Pedersen's "Bøygen" (Norway) recall the work of pioneer experimental animator Oskar Fischinger. It's a nicely subtle abstract film, but it doesn't gain anything from the live-action explanation that precedes it. Russian animator Dina Velikovskaya drew on her family relationships to make "About a Mother," but it's not clear why she tried to reimagine her story as an African folk tale.
Joshua Gunn, Trevor Piecham and John McGowan spoof the current mania for apps that promise to solve everyone's problems in the minimal "Exploozy" (U.S.A.). Seoro Oh captures the boredom of the endless hours wasted in high school in "Afternoon Class" (Korea). Both films are amusing, if a bit slight.
But Iris Alexandre's "Crin-Crin" (Belgium), which juxtaposes very simple animation of four crudely designed animals with live action footage of a four-piece band, feels pointless. In the dark "Corpus" (France), Marc Héricher uses mechanical devices and human organs in a weird chain reaction that evokes both the eerie shorts of the Brothers Quay and the cartoons of Rube Goldberg, but its payoff lacks the necessary punch.
"Manoman" (England), Simon Cartwright's nightmarish puppet evocation of madness, is interesting technically but unsatisfying as a narrative. The voice over in Chloé Alliez's stop-motion "All Their Shades" (Belgium) sounds so sardonic, it comes across as more anti-feminist than feminist.
In the United States, animation has largely become synonymous with big-budget, studio CG features. The 18th "Show of Shows" provides a welcome reminder of the tradition of animation as a vehicle for personal artistic expression that goes back to Winsor McCay in the early 20th century.
'The Animation Show of Shows'
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes; a 1-hour, 9-minute "family friendly" version plays at matinees in some theaters
Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; The Frida Cinema, Santa Ana