U.S. Celebrates Animation of the World


For 30 years, international festivals have celebrated the art of animation. These festivals took place around the world from France to Canada, Japan to Wales--but never in the United States.

This conspicuous absence ends this week with the six-day World Animation Celebration opening today at the Pasadena Center. The festival begins with an all-day “Internet Pow Wow” and a marathon workshop for an anticipated 2,000 high school and college students from 400 schools in 35 states.

The two daylong events kick off an ambitious program of salutes, discussions, awards, conferences and screenings, including showings of all five Oscar nominees for best animated short film.


Despite the importance of American artists and studios in the history of animation and its popularity, the medium hasn’t always been taken seriously as an art form here. The World Animation Celebration attempts to bridge the gap between the art films that make up the bulk of festival programming and the expectations of American audiences, who regard animation as a vehicle for cartoon slapstick and adventure.

“In other countries, national, regional and city governments subsidize the major festivals,” says Celebration founder and honorary chairman Terry Thoren. “In Los Angeles . . . if it weren’t for the studio support, the Celebration wouldn’t happen.

“The challenge is to create an event that captures the excitement Americans expect, and build the base audience to the point where the art films in competition become the primary attraction. A lot of the activities are designed to bring in a wider range of people, beyond the core audience who want to see the films in competition.”

For more serious students and fans of the medium, the 260 films in competition offer an overview of world animation. Two of this year’s Oscar nominees for animated short are in competition: “Famous Fred” (England) by Joanna Quinn and “Geri’s Game” (United States) by Jan Pinkava.

The other three--"La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons” (The Old Lady and the Pigeons) (France and Canada) by Sylvain Chomet, “The Mermaid” (Russia) by Alexander Petrov and “Redux Riding Hood” by Steve Moore (United States)--appeared in last year’s Celebration; they’ll screen out of competition.

Other standouts among the films in competition include “Stage Fright” (England) by Steve Box of Aardman Studios, a clever spoof of performers struggling to move from vaudeville to silent films, and “T.R.A.N.S.I.T.” (England), Piet Kroon’s elegant, Art Deco mystery.


Also of note: Louise Johnson uses a quarrel between two prairie dogs as a parable for the need for cooperation among neighbors in “When the Dust Settles” (Canada), Tim Cheung examines the work of a singularly inept magician in “Gabola the Great” (United States) and Gil Alkabetz finds absurd humor in the old riddle about how to get a wolf, a sheep and cabbage across a river in “Rubicon” (Germany). Be warned however: The decision to offer prizes in 43 categories threatens to turn the awards ceremony on Saturday into something of an endurance contest.

Other programs that will appeal to general audiences include a compilation of the best recent commercials, featuring work by Will Vinton, Aardman Studios, and Kurtz and Friends, and a collection of outstanding computer films from around the world.

Comedian Harlan “Rocketman” Williams will host a show of the funniest shorts of the last 15 years, including “The Big Snit” (Canada, 1985), “Charade” (Canada, 1984) and “Creature Comforts” (England, 1990). Lifetime achievement awards will be presented to special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, to John Coates (“The Snowman,” “When the Wind Blows”) and to famed American cartoon producer-directors Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.

Events aimed at more hard-core fans include seven Japanese “Anime” features (three of them U.S. premieres) and a salute to “Speed Racer,” the Japanese TV show that aired in syndication in America in the late ‘60s. (An additional 13 episodes were done by an American studio for MTV in 1993.)

At the “Spawn-a-Thon” on Friday, HBO will screen all six episodes of the darkly violent, puerile series based on Todd MacFarlane’s popular comic book.

For viewers whose tastes run to the unusual--and the outrageous--the “Artists Who Rock” programs pay tribute to Henry Selick (“Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach”) and Chris Wedge (“Joe’s Apartment”), as well as to the directors of two of the more dubious features of the early ‘80s, Gerald Potterton (“Rock and Rule”) and Clive Smith (“Heavy Metal”). Both films show why many animators regard that time as the medium’s nadir.

Also in the “Artists Who Rock” series is the biggest question mark of the festival: Bill Plympton’s second feature, “I Married a Strange Person,” which makes its West Coast debut Wednesday. Plympton has acquired a following for his absurd short films, notably the Oscar-nominated “Your Face” (1986) and his 10-second “Plymptoons” on MTV. But his minimal first feature, “The Tune” (1992), was excruciating.

* The World Animation Celebration at Pasadena Center, today through Saturday. For further information, show times and prices, call the Celebration hotline at (818) 991-5275.