Arts & Culture

‘Animation Show of Shows’ displays stylistically diverse shorts

17th annual event features eclectic collection of video shorts from around the world

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The best animated short films from across the globe — cute, creepy and everything in between — were screened at the traveling 17th annual Animation Show of Shows on Sunday at the Rhode Island School of Design.

For almost a decade Ron Diamond, the Show’s creator and ACME Filmworks founder, has brought the showcase to RISD to personally present the year’s top films­, free of charge.

One of the most memorable films in the Show was the stop-motion animation “Edmond” by Nina Gantz. Using felt figures and somber colors, “Edmond” begins with the eponymous protagonist dragging a boulder through a shadowed forest to an alpine lake. As he pauses on a dock, the audience suddenly realizes he intends to jump into the lake with the boulder tied to him.

The contrast between impending death and serenity brought the audience to the edge of their seats, where they stayed for the rest of the film.

The animation travels back in time through Edmond’s memories, showing his alarming compulsion to bite off chunks of people he loves, referred to as “all-consuming love” on the film’s website.

Each scene ends with Edmond in despair. After trying to swallow a lover’s leg or biting off a friend’s ear, he sulks and melts through the floor, and the camera flips to follow him clambering into an older memory. It’s a magical transition that demonstrates the benefits of stop-motion animation.

The combination of sexual themes, horror, humor and a beautifully composed sequence of sets makes “Edmond” an entertaining but enigmatic film. Thankfully, Gantz has enough respect for the audience to let them take away their own message without spelling it out.

Other films were not as thoughtful. I never want to hear an accordion, or any other kind of arbitrary soundtrack, ever again. I’m looking at you, “Air Mail.”

“Air Mail” — or “Messages Dans L’Air” in the original French ­— told the classic story of a cat attempting to catch a fish from a fishbowl.

“The Story of Percival Pilts” plays up the cute factor much more successfully than “Air Mail.” With picturesque claymation and a singsong New Zealand-accented voiceover, “The Story of Percival Pilts” shows a young boy who decides to walk on ever-growing stilts his whole life, gaining the respect of his town after initial resistance, before eventually vanishing into the clouds forever. It’s a heartwarming film for children, but the moral of the story is nothing new.

“Stripy” had a very similar life lesson but wasn’t nearly as effective. In it, a worker defies an oppressive, uncreative bureaucracy by painting boxes with curlicues instead of stripes. After initial resistance, society finally accepts his change, but he then moves on to something else — splatters. Ironically, “Stripy” is the most stylistically conventional of the films in the Show.

Along with “Edmond,” another well-received film was one by Don Hertzfeldt, who is famous for his violent, bizarre and fragmented short, the Academy Award-nominated “Rejected” from 2000. “Rejected” opens with a bug-eyed stick figure standing over a bowl with a giant spoon, repeatedly exclaiming, “My spoon is too big!” with increasing emphasis. After an awkward pause, a banana walks in.

Just like “Rejected,” which is premised on rejected animations for corporate advertising, Hertzfeldt’s film in the Show, entitled “World of Tomorrow,” is a criticism of dysfunctional cultural values.

The central character is a toddler, Emily, who is contacted by one of her future selves and learns that she will perpetually clone herself to live forever.

Hertzfeldt creates a wonderfully comedic, sci-fi universe comparable to that of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” though “World of Tomorrow” is far more unsettling. Hertzfeldt finds humor in the digitally uploaded minds of grandparents going insane while stored in little black boxes, depressed solar-powered robots who are programmed to fear the dark side of the moon, and general lack of fulfillment.

While Hertzfeldt is very adept at walking the line between hilarious and depressing, it’s a pity that the life lesson the clone imparts before leaving is a little forced. The lesson amounts to “live in the moment” — quite a Hallmark-y sentiment to give after showing shooting stars formed by the plummeting corpses of the poor. But “World of Tomorrow” is still extremely funny and continues Hertzfeldt’s beautiful and modern synthesis of media.

In the polished, digitally manipulated world of modern film, it is refreshing to see animators that embrace expressive styles.

Correction: A previous version of the story said that solar-powered robots in Don Hertzfeldt’s animation feared death. In fact, they feared the dark side of the moon. The Herald regrets the error.