With six Oscar winners and five other nominees, "Spike and Mike's Best of the Fest 25th Anniversary Show" offers some of the best animated shorts of recent years. These interesting and often hilarious films introduced audiences to several artists who have become successful directors of longer works.
John Lasseter won his first Oscar for "Tin Toy" (USA), and the metal musician who flees a monstrous baby is clearly the ancestor of Buzz, Woody and the rest of the gang from Andy's room in the "Toy Story" films from Pixar. The uproarious lisping jaguar in "Creature Comforts" (Britain) brought Nick Park widespread attention before "Chicken Run" and the "Wallace & Gromit" films. The cranky old rabbit in Chris Wedge's "Bunny" (USA) prefigures the Scrat character who tries unsuccessfully to bury an acorn in "Ice Age." "Bob's Birthday" (Canada), in which a middle-aged dentist picks a wildly inappropriate moment to undergo a midlife crisis, was expanded into the "Bob and Margaret" cable series by Allison Snowden and David Fine.
Several of the less familiar films showcase different styles of puppet animation. In "Screenplay" (Britain), Barry J.C. Purvis presents an exquisite blend of stop-motion and drawn elements to evoke Japanese theater traditions. Had he ended this love story happily, rather than with a Kabuki-style tragedy, Purvis probably would have won the Oscar the film merits. "Balance" (Germany) by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein remains an eerie evocation of the futility of greed, while Mike Johnson's upbeat "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (USA) offers some stylishly animated dance movements by the young violinist who outplays the devil.
Not all the films in the program have aged gracefully. Will Vinton's "The Great Cognito" (USA), in which a comedian transforms as he does impressions, remains a lame stand-up routine with elaborate visuals. The infinitely subtler clay animation in "Creature Comforts" makes "Cognito" look downright amateurish. "Your Face" (USA) seemed novel when it first screened in 1987, but Bill Plympton subsequently used the same very limited animation of scribbly drawings in shorts, MTV bumpers, commercials and two features, and the style wore out its welcome.
Despite these caveats, the 16 shorts in "Best of the Fest" represent some of the finest independent animation of recent decades. Many of these films are unavailable or difficult to find on video, and it's a pleasure to see them again on a big screen.
Unrated. Times guidelines: brief nudity, some grotesque or violent imagery, racial stereotypes in "The Great Cognito."
'Spike and Mike's Best of the Fest 25th Anniversary Show'
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