- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

“The Animation Show” remains a virtual stick in the eye to the folks behind “Kung Fu Panda,” “Toy Story” and every other glossy animated feature churned out by Hollywood.

Produced by “Beavis & Butt-head” creator Mike Judge, the theatrical showcase gathers the world’s most eclectic animators for a compilation like no other. The shorts can be silly, garish or bawdy. Yet regardless of the quality, they’re bracingly original - and not for mass consumption.

Eccentricity, not the ability to inspire a fast-food tie-in, serves as the series’ prime directive. Narrative cohesiveness too often gets shoved aside as a result.

“The Animation Show 4” continues that tradition with more than 24 original shorts, several commissioned specifically for the film series.

Today’s animated fare leans heavily on computers, but the media used here run the gamut from clay to the crudest of pencil sketches. Traditional animation - the kind that powered everything from Popeye to the Smurfs - is featured prominently throughout the latest “Show” grab bag.

It’s hard to find fault with the array of stylists chosen for this fourth installment. No two shorts look remotely alike. However, for every dazzling segment comes another that will leave audiences numb.

The film introduces us to some animators we’ll be seeing more from soon enough. Steve Dildarian’s “Angry Unpaid Hooker,” for example, provides a glimpse of the tone behind his upcoming HBO series, “The Life and Times of Tim.” The animation here may be rudimentary, but it’s in support of relentlessly funny material. A woman comes home to find her husband sharing their couch with a prostitute. The low-key humor and resulting slow burns are priceless, even if the cranky animation means the figures barely move a muscle.

Other shorts are nearly as dizzying as anything conjured up by Pixar. “This Way Up” brings a lyrical beauty to the tale of two undertakers trying to move a casket to its final resting place. The computer-generated imagery here is stunning, and the visual humor is just as accomplished.

Far less engaging is a series of segments starring Yompi, a cute creature who likes to chomp on people’s nether regions. These bits feel like something that might have gotten pitched, then rejected, during a “Saturday Night Live” story meeting. The Claymation process here is more advanced than the classic “Mr. Bill” shorts from “SNL’s” past, though.

“John and Karen” marks the most astute use of animation, at least from a storytelling perspective. It follows a man pleading forgiveness for mistreating his love. However, when the male in question is a large polar bear and his betrothed is a penguin, the gag takes on a fresh dimension.

Even segments that tickle the senses too often end with a thud, like the noirlike story “Key Lime Pie” and the visually provocative “Jeu.” “The Animation Show 4” provides a fine showcase for some of the world’s most imaginative minds, a group unencumbered by the real world’s limitations. Yet imagination alone isn’t always enough to make for compelling theater.

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TITLE: “The Animation Show 4”

RATING: Unrated (Cartoon violence, some disturbing imagery and adult language)

CREDITS: Mike Judge, executive producer RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes

WEB SITE: www.animationshow.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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