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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

August 5, 2008
RATING: 6.5/10
There is a scene in Pixar's Wall-E where its title character is protecting a newly befriended immobile robot-love interest from a rainstorm. The umbrella is inevitably struck by lighting and destroyed, and Wall-E reaches for a new one, only to have it struck down once more. This process repeats itself several more times with increasing amounts of hilarity for the audience. Ostensibly, this is a simple joke with a predictable punch line but is enriched by the sympathetic heart at its foundation. The animated shorts found on Mike Judge and Don Hertzfelt's Animation Show Vol. 3 collection are, despite their best efforts, unable transcend their one-dimensionality (pun intended) to reach above their technical achievements into something more substantive and powerful.

Culled from Animation Show screenings across the country (Vol. 4 is currently in select theaters), the shorts presented on the recently released Vol. 3 DVD comprise a wide spectrum of visuals. While many of the films are executed with 3D rendering assistance, some employ the more traditional techniques of 2D and stop animation, which are able to maintain just as much aesthetic quality as their more technically advanced counterparts. The animators themselves are just as varied, representing many different parts of the world, as well as many stages of artistic development. It is noble of the curators of the Animation Show series to include student work alongside that of professional illustrators, but this democratic approach perhaps contributes to the lack of complete satisfaction that comes when the show is over. Many of the shorts feel like technical experiments without direction or an editor's discerning touch. Of course, it seems that the goal of the collection is to expose the viewer to a more experimental side of animation, but there is a difference between experimentation for the sake of itself and pushing the boundaries of a medium. Often, and with good reason, the former instance is attributed to progress and kept out of the critical public eye; with Animation Show some of the developmental growing pains are on display. The featured animators seem to be well on their way to contributing to something much larger but many of them, like architects with a refined sense of doorknobs but lacking the scope needed to complete a house, are still figuring out the details.

Despite its shortcomings, The Animation Show Vol. 3 DVD remains an enjoyable viewing experience. There are some definite highlights that merit repeat viewings with friends and family. Some personal favorites include:

1. No Room For Gerold (Daniel Nocke) - A hippo, rhino, alligator, and deer discuss roommate troubles in a metropolitan apartment.

2. Versus (Francois Caffiaux, Romain Noel, Thomas Salas) - Two samurai armies duke it out over the ownership of an island between them, only to destroy themselves and lose their own land in the process.

3. Learn Self Defense (Chris Harding) - 1950s Jim Flora-style educational film that serves as a thinly-veiled message about gun control.

4. Astronauts (Matthew Walker) - The most "Pixaresque" of the bunch. Two astronauts in a tiny ship make life and death decisions about their relationship to one another.

5. Game Over (PES) - Arcade games recreated with stunning accuracy with stop-motion animation of household objects. [video clip]

6. Collision (Max Hattler) - A cacophonous stoner delight.

Also worth noting is the "introduction to MTV's The Maxx" in the DVD's Special Features section. This short synopsis contains easily the most sophisticated animation sequences in the entire program, and makes me yearn for the days of late nights spent with Aeon Flux, The Head, and other classic products of MTV's Liquid Television revue.

The remaining films presented by The Animation Show tend to fall in the art-for-art's-sake category. This can be a perfectly acceptable form as long as the piece instigates an emotional response of some sort at its conclusion. It may be that I lack an appreciation of the abstract necessary to enjoy these sorts of things, but in general it feels as if something is missing from Vol. 3's selection of shorts. Their seems to be a stagnant state of potential and many pieces give the impression of reaching towards a goal they will never reach. Those who enjoy process as its own form of expression might get more out of this experience; I was simply left with a sense of emptiness at its conclusion.

It would be nice if Mike Judge (Hertzfelt left the series after Vol. 3) could use this collection to leverage MTV into returning to the heyday of their animated programming, which contained some of my favorite shows as a young fellow. Animation has always embodied a unique form of escapism for me, and it is a medium capable of stretching and molding reality to its own whimsy without the constraints and baggage that come with human actors and settings. The most successful animated works in my eyes are those grounded enough in reality to be recognizable, while still allowing room for the surreal and fantastic to seem possible in that world. This way when something bizarre or outlandish happens, it is especially jarring and resonant. The short films of Animation Show Vol.3 fall short of reaching any level of true escapist impact, but not for lack of effort. I would be intrigued to come across the future work of many of these animators, but until they hone their craft a bit more for the time being, if given the choice, I would probably just watch Wall-E again.

TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=a15V4cH1Fyk

SEE ALSO: www.animationshow.com

--
Mike Shea
A staff artist for LAS magazine, Mike Shea is bringing comics all up in the ish from his home in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit his blog at www.mikeshearules.com.

See other articles by Mike Shea.

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