SAN DIEGO — The Best of the Festival of Animation at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art has something for everyone, ranging from the cute to the sick, from the silly to the sentimental. Most of the shorts have been seen in past festivals. But that only makes them seem like old friends, back in town for a brief visit.
Certainly the annual winter festivals, now augmented by these annual "Best of . . . " collections, offer the rare opportunity to see such classic shorts as Danny Antonucci's "Lupo the Butcher," a disgusting and hilarious three-minute cartoon about a butcher who gets a little carried away with his ax.
Besides Lupo, the current collection, which screens for the next three weekends, includes other shorts that have become classics of the industry.
Claymation wizard Will Vinton, who created those dancing raisins of TV commercial fame, is well represented by "The Great Cognito," a five-minute blur of faces and voices emerging from a single clay character.
A glimpse at the early work of Tim Burton, who directed "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice," is provided by "Vincent," his first film. Narrated by Vincent Price, it is an engaging tale about a young boy who dreams he is the macabre Price. It is not only an excellent piece of animation, it's a witty and light story full of playful references to the horror films that made Price famous.
Many of the films are engaging because of the themes and scripts more than the animation. Richard Condie's "The Big Snit" is hardly an artistic masterpiece, but it is a silly tale of a couple playing Scrabble while a nuclear war is being launched. He is annoyed by her constant habit of removing her eyes from her head; she can't stand his cheating at Scrabble and constant desire to use a hand saw on the furniture. They make up just as the bombs drop.
"Elbowing," by Canadian Paul Dreissen, also strikes a moral stance. A line of look-alikes methodically elbow each other until the person at the end of the line falls into an abyss. Only a sole, daffy-looking, multicolored individual breaks up the routine. But even he falls into line and, eventually, the abyss.
In sharp contrast to the well-drawn, Oscar-winning "Every Child," which was made to commemorate UNICEF's "Year of the Child," Christopher Simon's gritty "Hello Dad" has the look of a hastily drawn Ernie Pook comic. But it's searing, spitting narration--"Hello, Dad, I'm in jail and I like it . . . happy birthday, Dad"--mixes well with the lightning-quick montage of images.
Many of the shorts pay tribute to animation as a craft. Bill Plimpton's "Your Face," an Academy Award nominee, was a highlight. A simple illustration of a man's face becomes a wild swirl of images and shapes.
"Sisyphus" is nothing more than black-and-white line drawings, illustrating the classic story of a man pushing a rock up a hill. It is one of the festival's most powerful entries.
Local cartoonist Rick Geary's first attempt at animation, the folksy "Murder at the Hollywood Hotel," which debuted last weekend, was also an example of a well-drawn short. But it lacked an engaging story and suffered from following Burton's dynamic "Vincent."
As a fitting tribute to animation as craft, the festival opens with a vintage episode of "Superman," which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The story of the "bullet car" terrorizing Metropolis was a perfect opening act for the festival, displaying the imaginative roots of the art form.
The festival continues Friday and Saturday, with shows at 7:30 and 9:45. Sunday shows begin at 2 p.m., 4:30, 7 and 9:30.