- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

“The Animation Show,” exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, revives a familiar art-house format of previous decades: the periodic anthology of animated shorts from far-flung international contributors. This collection, attributed to Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt, welcomes a variety of illustrative techniques but favors allegorical narrative over abstract flights of imagery.

Two of the 12 titles are caprices that run less than a minute. The remaining 10, which range from four to 15 minutes in length, acquire an odd feature-length configuration: disappointing at the start and finish and impressive down the middle.

One of the conspicuous disappointments is an Oscar nominee from last year, Bill Plympton’s facetiously grotesque “Guard Dog,” in which a paranoid pet runs amok during a walk in the park. Two later selections, “Ward 13” and “Rock Fish,” possess funnier specimens of lunatic mutts.

The finale is Mr. Hertzfeldt’s “The Meaning of Life,” which doesn’t justify an overextended scenario. If anything, it peaks at the outset. The wittiest illustrative idea is an opening “Descent of Man” image: A scrawny figure shrivels up into a kind of pencil ash while sinking slowly from the top to the bottom of the frame. The movie’s big scheme involves accentuating the soundtrack in order to orchestrate a babble of human voices and cliches. All superfluous, because Mr. Hertzfeldt has summarized the vulnerability of the species in his first sight gag.

The best selections commence with David Russo’s “Pan With Us,” an inventive cascade of imagery using stills, cutouts, props, silhouettes, reflections, overexposures and even some incongruous live-action footage to accompany the reading of a Robert Frost poem in celebration of the woodland deity Pan. Mr. Russo propels his images with the frame-advance technique known as pixillation, an ideal rhythmic and metaphoric choice for this conception.

In the clever “Ward 13,” a clay-animation spoof of slasher movies, Peter Cornwell, an Australian, sustains about 15 minutes of headlong slapstick while a reluctant patient is chased around the grounds of a hospital that proves a morbid obstacle course.

Imposing computer-generated imagery predominates in a pair of bewildering futuristic fables, “Rock Fish” from Tim Miller of the United States and “Fallen Art” from Tomek Baginski of Poland. It’s possible that some of the bewilderment would diminish if these films turned out to be excerpts from projected features. We’re dropped into settings — respectively, a mining operation on a desert planet and a post-apocalyptic wasteland — that appear to need a little explaining. Both filmmakers have a flair for prodigious machinery.

The good stuff culminates in a French-Canadian film, Georges Schwizgebel’s “The Man With No Shadow.” The content contradicts the title because Mr. Schwizgebel spends about 10 minutes elaborating nothing but shape-shifting shadow patterns, starting with a simple box and concluding with a display of shadow puppets. By that time, a long-striding figure has taken his shadow halfway across the world.

During this grand spin, Mr. Schwizgebel also finesses a transition from black-and-white to color. The fade-out seems a little abrupt, but “No Shadow” remains an exceedingly graceful eye-opener.

***

TITLE: “The Animation Show”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence and nightmarish thematic elements)

CREDITS: Produced by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt. Segments directed by Jakob Schuh and Saschka Unseld, Bill Plympton, Jen Drummond, David Russo, Peter Cornwell, Jonathan Nix, Tim Miller, Georges Schwizgebel, Tomek Baginski, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, Sarah Phelps and Mr. Hertzfeldt

RUNNING TIME: About 85 minutes

WEB SITE: www.animationshow.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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