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ANIMATION REVIEW : 23rd International Tournee Is Definitely a Mixed Bag

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The annual International Tournee of Animation remains the most prestigious showcase for short films from around the world, but the 23rd Tournee, which opens today at selected theaters, is a very mixed bag, in which certain parts are far more interesting than the whole.

A doughty little clay man stalks a herd of rampaging Russets in Timothy Hittle’s hilarious “The Potato Hunter” (United States), a stop-motion spoof that might be subtitled “Dances With Spuds.”

Bruno Bozzetto offers a pointed ecological parable in “Big Bang” (Italy): A frowzy little couple and their ratty dog discover there’s only so much room for trash on the planet--a little too late.

The father-and-son desk lamps from the Oscar-nominated “Luxo, Jr.” (United States) return in two very brief segments illustrating the concepts of “surprise” and “light/heavy,” made for the Children’s Television Workshop by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. The irrepressible little lamp and his patient father remain the only genuinely endearing characters computer animation has produced.

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Gregory Grant won a Student Academy Award for “Ode to G.I. Joe” (United States): A veritable regiment of the popular soldier dolls wreak havoc on a boy’s bedroom in this skewed recollection of the early ‘60s.

Garri Bardin parodies films ranging from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to the postwar Gene Kelly musicals in “Grey Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood” (Soviet Union), a freewheeling send-up of the classic fairy tale. The film suffers from some technical problems and, at 22 minutes, is bit too long. But some memorable sequences, including the Wolf belting out a re-written version of “Mack the Knife” a la Sammy Davis Jr., infuse “Grey Wolf” with a rambunctious energy that’s hard to resist.

Ironically, the Tournee is sadly lacking in examples of fine animation. “G.I. Joe,” “Grey Wolf” and many of the other films have clever premises and are imaginatively executed, but, with the exception of the “Luxo” shorts, they lack the nuances of motion that communicate a character’s thoughts or mood.

Stephen Barnes captures the fears of a little boy trying to muster the nerve to get out of bed and go to the bathroom on a spooky, stormy night in “Capital P” (Canada), but he sets the mood through camera angles and editing, rather than the movements of the character.

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“The Wrong Type” (Great Britain) continues Candy Guard’s series of comic films about Lillian, a dumpy British “bird.” Lillian demonstrates her utter ineptitude as a temporary office worker (“Typing: No words per minute”), but the humor comes from the clever script and vocal performances, rather than the simple drawings.

The weakest films in Tournee are lacking in both ideas and execution. Chel White uses Xeroxed images of body parts to suggest movement in “Photocopy Cha Cha” (United States). Although not very interesting as a film, “Cha Cha” offers a new way to relieve office boredom: Photocopy your hand in various positions and make a flip book. Watching the jerky pixilation and pretentious statements about the nature of film and photography in Paul and Menno de Nooijer’s dreary “At One View” and “I Should See” (Netherlands) could probably cure anyone’s insomnia.

Bill Plympton uses animation more limited than the worst Saturday morning kidvid to depict two frumpy little men repeatedly mutilating each other in “Push Comes to Shove” (United States). These brief interludes of deadpan mayhem are supposedly taken from a forthcoming feature--a daunting prospect.

The 23rd Annual Tournee of Animation plays at the Nuart in West Los Angeles, the Town and Country in Encino, the Rialto in Pasadena and the Balboa in Newport Beach.

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