One Take on 1 Reel

The live-action stuff may be slow, pretentious, and laugh-free, but thankfully there are still the cartoons to provide some Bumber-relief.

Bumbershoot's eighth annual short film fest boasts some 149 titles this year, and I've only seen about 18 of them—perhaps not a representative sample, although they came on what were purportedly highlight reels, the cream of the crop. As usual, the festival, curated by Warren Etheredge, is divided into animation and live-action components. Both genres mix freely in themed hour-long blocks of programming, which allows the tired, overstimulated, sunstroked Bumbershooter to duck out of the clamor and into the Intiman Theater for some relief and entertainment. Odds are that there will be plenty to like among the 131 flicks I didn't preview, although my picks below are entirely from the animated side of the film family tree.

Hike Hike Hike Imagine the Iditarod dog-sled race rendered in charcoal on white paper, and you'll have some idea how this hand-created animation looks. Apparently director Anouck Iyer filmed real dogs giddy with anticipation about going into harness, then based his minimalist drawings on their fitful underlying motion. The effect is something like cave paintings: We recognize the canines from their barest outlines and slightest details-a nose, a paw, a wagging tail. The sounds are entirely real; the yipping and yapping feels as fresh as today, yet also as old as Lascaux. Noon. Sat., Sept. 4.

Bid 'Em In Again proving that hand-drawn line art possesses all the power and mystery that no supercomputer CGI can match, this musical short derives additional power from the eponymous tune to which it's set. Sung by Oscar Brown Jr., the song is an angry, accusatory spiritual of sorts, a recollection of the heartless slave auctions that put a particular price on African-Americans' teeth, muscles, and presumed breeding ability—commercial assets all. Animator Neal Sopater uses a suitably blunt, blocky style of sketch work that quickly morphs in anger-rather like a hybrid of the styles of Bill Plympton and Herblock. 5:30 p.m. Sat., Sept. 4.

Free Radicals Owing a lot to Antz and A Bug's Life, this CG-animated insect tale seems to take place in some imaginary French alpine setting, where Marcel, Jacques, and Fabrice engage in "the sport of extreme hotdogging." Like snowboarders bickering over who gets to hold the video camera and who gets to risk his neck jumping over something really big, the three bugs trade insults and taunts before finally strapping poor Marcel, bound and gagged, into the Evel Knievel position. Will their antics earn them a trip to Hawaii? Will Marcel live to enjoy his fame? The drama here is slight, but cute. Noon. Sun., Sept. 5.

Joe Blow A lonely desert trailer-home denizen ordering a blow-up sex doll sounds sad and pathetic, but this Will Vinton produced claymation film is anything but. Director Mark Gustafson savors the comic details of the man's sweaty desperation (and unexpected payback) as his O-mouthed paramour gradually takes shape, breath by uncertain breath. When the movie deflates, it does so with droll, unexpected authority. The moral may be that when it comes to mail-order sex toys, caveat emptor. 8 p.m. Sun., Sept. 5.

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