"Animation Celebration," a collection of short films from around the world (at the Westside Pavilion and the Rialto Theater in Pasadena), provides a welcome alternative to the threadbare, treacly holiday cartoon specials on television.
Two zany new films from the National Film Board of Canada bracket the program. In Les Drew's "Every Dog's Guide to Complete Home Safety," a little blue pooch offers common-sense safety tips while ducking a series of insane disasters. This bright, funny film makes its points without lecturing or sermonizing: It should be a strong contender for the Oscar for animated short. Brad Caslor tries to achieve a similar balance of comedy and instruction in "Get a Job," but he devotes so much of the film to outrageous, pseudo-'50s images that the minimal lessons get lost in the shuffle.
Four films by English artists attest to the continuing vitality of animation in Great Britain. Paul Vester's lovely, upbeat "Sunbeam" deftly blends New Wave graphics with the jazzy look of '30s cartoons. Vester puts so much color and motion into each frame that it's impossible to see it all on the first viewing. Stephen Weston and Taylor Grant combine color and black-and-white artwork to illustrate a ballad about a nautical disaster in the haunting "The Wreck of the Julie Plant." Alison Snowden's Oscar-nominated "Second Class Mail" has been shown in various programs locally, but it loses none of its wry humor the second time around. A beer commercial from Richard Williams, about a cat who'll risk all nine lives for the product, recalls the freewheeling humor of old Hollywood cartoons.
"Celebration" contains several examples of computer animation from the United States, most of them very brief. "Quest: Long Ray's Journey into Light" by Michael Sculli, "Tuber's Two-Step" by Chris Wedge, and "Chromosaurus" and "A Comic Zoom" from Pacific Data Images are technically impressive--even dazzling--but they look like snippets from studio sample reels, rather than complete films. Only "The Adventures of Andre and Wally B," by John Lasseter and Alvy Ray Smith, tells a real story.
The polished work of Drew, Williams, Weston/Grant et al. makes a few of the other entries in the program look like home movies. Intended as an homage to the cartoons of the '20s and '30s, Osamu Tezuka's "Broken Down Film" (Japan) is just a collection of badly told old jokes. Sally Cruikshank tries to recruit backers for a proposed feature in "Quasi's Cabaret Trailer" (USA): Did the National Endowment for the Arts really fund this garish, amateur attempt at self-promotion? Three very short films from the Sofia Studio in Bulgaria seem completely pointless.
Despite these weaker films, "Animation Celebration" is a program the entire family can enjoy, one that demonstrates the flexibility of the medium as it entertains.