IT'S inherently compelling to see a cute little dog wearing human clothes. But Mr. Winkle is something else. This "Canine Cindy Sherman" stars in the 47-minute "Big Top Winkle," and the silent-film-informed action sort of swirls around its surreal toy star. The miniature's cuteness beguiles in such a way that it ceases to be only about the comedic baddies who line up to exploit Mr. Winkle. It's also about the viewer and her or his own animal trip.
The subterfuge of Lara Jo Regan's "Big Top Winkle" is a reason why this year's edition of the REDCAT International Children's Film Festival is arguably more compelling than last year's -- an event that featured a preview of "Ratatouille" and a harp-accompanied screening of the original "Peter Pan." This year's festival, which runs on weekends beginning Saturday and going through March 2, offers narratives that work on multiple levels, and whose modesty is a stark contrast to Hollywood's formulaic, cloyingly sweet family fare.
"Los Angeles is focused on new, blockbuster films," observes Elizabeth Shepherd, festival curator, "and I think it's important for this city to cast a wide net." With more than 70 films from 16 nations, REDCAT certainly has something to get "Alvin and the Chipmunks" off a family's brain. "It's kind of like a mini-trip around the world," says Shepherd.
Programs are organized around kid-friendly themes ("Four-Legged, Finned and Furry Friends" and "Can-Do Kids," for example) and made age appropriate. ("Four-Legged" is suggested for children 3 and up, "Can-Do" works for those 8 and older.)
Some pieces on the REDCAT slate are most remarkable for their spirit. "Peace," a 17-minute movie from 15-year-old directors Stephen Sotor and Trace Gaynor, shows youngsters around the world offering their definitions of the word. Before providing their thoughtful take, two Pakistani kids joke about terrorism with an innocent savvy that only teen boys might possess. Viewers are left with the sense that those who know best about peace are those who have been deprived of it.
Will Vinton coined the word "Claymation" and is best known for his California Raisins, but his experimental 1976 film "Mountain Music," a self-described "naive attempt at an environmental message about technology," amazes in a freewheeling way that computer animation can only ape.
And then there's Mr. Winkle, who, at 12, is living in quasi-retirement with Regan in Altadena. The filmmaker insists her dog playing at REDCAT is as huge as the quality of the film itself.
"To have it shown in a location that celebrates alternative visions," Regan says, "that's important to me."
REDCAT INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FILM FESTIVAL
WHERE: 631 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A.
WHEN: Sat. and Sun., Feb. 23 and 24, March 1 and 2; see website for schedule
PRICE: $5 per session; special 2-for-1 ticket price for downtown loft residents (up to 2 free tickets)
INFO: (213) 237-2800; www.redcat.org