Imagina Trips Vol. 2
Personally, I don't find that entirely acceptable. There was a time when there were several touring animation festivals, where you could go to your local repertory theatre and catch an hour or two of the latest and hopefully greatest independent animation for a couple of dollars. Even if you missed that, you could buy compilations from those festivals on videocassette or laserdisc. (The home-video options weren't cheap by today's sell-through DVD standards, but they were still affordable.) If you mirrored those conditions today, then animation fans who didn't have Internet access still had a good chance of seeing a pretty good variety of independent animation.
With only two touring festivals (the Spike & Mike Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation and the Animation Show) in existence and the demise of excellent efforts like the Short Cinema Journal series, there isn't much of a venue for a broad range of animated shorts—which is why Imagina Trips Vol. 2 is such a nice treat. A best-of collection from the 2004 digital animation and visual effects festival held annually in Monte Carlo, it presents a nice mix of work from students, smaller studios and commercial houses.
The collection gets off to a great start with Annie & Boo, a German entry from the Institute for Animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Wüttemberg, in which the young Annie misses a subway train and meets Boo, an agent of chaos whose job it is to cause coincidences. Boo's job requires that he stays hidden, but his loneliness prompts him to reach out to Annie. The story has a slightly disturbing undercurrent (in some ways, Boo isn't that far off from being a stalker) and the shaky-handheld-camera effect gets old pretty quickly, but what really makes the film is director Johannes Weiland's depiction of Annie. Her acting is understated when it should be, and her poses and facial expressions convey the attitude of a young teenage girl with startling clarity. It's the animated equivalent of a good actor rising above a so-so director, except in this case the director and the actor are one and the same.
It's also nice to see that the hand-drawn aesthetic is still alive, even if it's not actually hand-drawn. Trap, with its fantastical mystery (a numbered man runs a course, trying to find the trapdoor with a matching number—why?) and brief but clear storyline could have been done in any medium, but director Lionel François makes it work with a shaky camera and sketchy imagery. On the other hand, Anamorphosia's painterly anime aesthetic is just tightly controlled enough that it could only work in the digital realm, but Biondo Samuel's minimal use of line and colour and the unnamed character's graceful dancing come as close to Erika Russell's sensual Triangle as any film I've ever seen.
There are some clunkers in here; the overlong Le Musicien's imagery crosses Tim Burton, Paul Berry and Jill Thompson, but it quickly becomes wearying, and Petite Routine drags on just long enough that the you're not sure if the final gag doesn't work because you see it coming from a mile off, or you've just run out of patience. But overall, this DVD is a welcome addition to the animation aficionado's shelf. We're still not back to the old days, but Imagina Trips Vol. 2 brings us that much closer.
DVD Features: Widescreen (1.78:1); French subtitles; Region 2 (PAL).
DVD Extras: Trailers for Imagina Trips Vol. 1; clips from Imagina 2004; the making of Hochbetrieb; stills gallery; Easter egg (Paf le moustique and Eddy, by Jérôme Calvet and Jean-François Bourrel); link to Imagina website.