"Festival of Animation," which opened Friday night at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, offers viewers a look at 17 short films from the United States, Canada and Europe.
Over the last few years, the festival has introduced some of the best new animated films from the international festivals, including several Academy Award nominees, to Southern California audiences. This year's program relies heavily on older films.
"Elephantrio" (Canada) combines the distinctive, personal styles of three well-known animators: Paul Driessen, Graham Ross and John Weldon. A lumpy, dumpy, funny-looking elephant returns home from a day at the office (?), and reads three stories about eggs--and the odd things people do with them. Weldon's fast-paced story of dedication is the funniest of the lot, although it's interesting to compare how each artist approaches the theme differently. But the film lacks a real focus, and remains less than the sum of its parts.
Commercials have long provided the most entertaining animation on television, and Will Vinton's clay animated ads for the California Raisin Board provide one of the highlights of a collage of new ads. The lines of little clay raisins doing a funky dance to "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" have proved so popular that elementary school classes have begun to imitate them.
Most of the remaining films have screened at various theaters in Southern California within the last year. The most interesting of the familiar shorts is Oldrich Haberle's intriguing "Bartakiad" (Czechoslovakia), a graphically striking vision of a bizarre, alienated society. This slightly chilling film should be a strong candidate for the Oscar for animated short. Evert de Beijer creates an even weirder world of gigantic letters, musical notes and graphic symbols in "The Characters" (Netherlands).
Repeated viewing improves some films. The complicated interactions of the characters in Driessen's split-screen triptych, "On Land, at Sea and in the Air" (the Netherlands) become clear only after the second or third viewing. Richard Conde crowds so much insanity into three minutes in "Pigbird" (Canada) that an audience can't catch all the gags the first time.
Conversely, "And She Was" (U.S.) by Jim Blashfield, set to the Talking Heads song, just looks weary the second time around. Additional viewings only make it increasingly clear that the jokes in Peg McClure's "Housecats" (U.S.) are neither well timed nor well animated.
John Lasseter's computer-animated "Luxo Jr." (U.S.) was unavailable for preview.
"Festival of Animation" continues at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, 700 Prospect St., La Jolla, through March 8. Various artists and animators are scheduled to make special appearances, including Jean "Moebius" Giraud (Jan. 30 and Feb. 1) and Bob Kurtz (Feb. 13 and 14).
For show times and information: (619) 454-2594.