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Review: Annual ‘Animation Show of Shows’ highlights diverse styles and stories of international shorts

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A scene from the animated short film “Love Me, Fear Me” by Veronica Solomon.
(Animation Show of Shows)

The annual “Animation Show of Shows” provides a welcome reminder that the art form can be used for more than CG studio features. The styles and subjects of the 15 films from six countries in the 20th edition demonstrate that in the right hands, animation can be a vehicle for personal expression as powerful and intimate as drawing, painting or sculpture.

Veronica Solomon uses stop-motion animation of a metamorphic clay figure in her arresting “Love Me, Fear Me” (Germany). As the figure shifts from spotlight to spotlight, it changes color, gender and styles of motion in response to an unseen audience’s applause. Solomon references break dancing, gymnastics, the work of Martha Graham and martial arts kata in this strikingly original celebration of movement. “Love Me, Fear Me” was Solomon’s graduation film from Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg, and she is clearly a talent to watch.

In “One Small Step” by Bobby Pontillas and Andrew Chesworth (U.S.), a gentle Chinese American shoemaker helps his daughter realize her dream of becoming an astronaut. The bright colors and clean, straightforward designs underscore the warmth of the characters’ bond. Child-parent ties are also at the center of Hikari Toriumi’s understated “Polaris” (U.S.). As a young polar bear contemplates the food and utensils she’s been given as a send-off, she realizes she can’t set out on her own until she bids her mother a properly loving farewell.

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A scene from the animated short film "Polaris" by Hikari Toriumi.
(Animation Show of Shows)
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Three drawn films offer intriguing contrasts in style and subject matter. The simply rendered animals in Jorn Leeuwerink’s “Flower Found!” (Netherlands) present a powerful lesson in the dangers inherent in a rush to judgment. The charming naiveté of the animals’ looks belies the folly of their actions. Alain Biet moves intricately detailed watercolors of everyday objects in “Grands Canons” (France), an almost overwhelming portrait of contemporary consumerism that recalls Frank Mouris’ Oscar-winning “Frank Film” (U.S., 1973). In “Carlotta’s Face” by Valentin Riedel and Frédéric Schuld (Germany), starkly minimal stipple drawings in black, white and gray echo a woman’s struggles to overcome prosopagnosia, a rare neurological disorder that leaves individuals unable to recognize faces — even their own.

John Kahrs evokes the paintings of Winslow Homer in “Age of Sail” (U.S.), a nostalgic maritime adventure that laments the transition from graceful sailing ships to more prosaic but reliable steamboats. Created as part of the VR “Google Spotlight Stories” series, this handsome film is probably even more striking in three dimensions.

Not every film reaches these levels of excellence. Guy Charnaux’s nattering, minimal “Business Meeting” (Brazil) feels pointless, as does “A Table Game” by Nicolás Petelski (Argentina), in which two crudely drawn figures try to bounce a tennis ball into each other’s mouths.

At a time when viewers often watch films on their phones, it’s important for independent and foreign animators to have their work seen on a big screen — just as it’s important for audiences who love the art of animation to see these personal alternatives to studio features.

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‘Animation Show of Shows’

Unrated

Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Laemmle Glendale; Also Dec. 15-16, 10:30 a.m., Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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