Spike & Mike’s New Generation Animation Festival: 19 Shorts, Most of Them Good

Moving away from the "Sick and Twisted" compilations that built the Spike & Mike brand, this new collection of 19 animated shorts is light on gore and notably lacking in sex. (Yes, you can take your kids.) The absence of a guiding gross-out spirit actually makes it easier to appreciate the virtue of simple ideas executed in diverse styles. Portland's Bill Plympton continues to hand-draw every individual cel, and he's represented this year by the amusing Santa: The Fascist Years, executed in '30s newsreel parody style with breathless Walter Winchell–style narration by Matthew Modine. (A pity the Hitler/Santa nonaggression pact is no longer taught in schools.) At the CG end of the spectrum, the charming French Oktapodi shows the international influence of Pixar, as a very determined, lovelorn orange octopus sets out to rescue his purple mate from ending up as a sushi roll. (In a battle between windshield wipers and octopus, bet on the latter.) Some of the most interesting new animation is hybrid in form. In the fake nature documentary Hidden Life of the Burrowing Owl, for instance, photographed desert landscapes are incorporated into the background while a vengeful, flatly animated owl flaps in the foreground. After an innocuous start, the bird shows the resourceful spirit of Wile E. Coyote in hunting his prey. The bloodletting is tame, but the kill is just. And your children will probably approve of the message.

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