The Animation Show Box Set
Armen Boudjikanian · January 22, 2007 | The Animation Show is a short film festival organized by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt that celebrates groundbreaking independent animation. The Animation Show two-DVD set is a treasure box for every fan of the medium. The shorts on these discs will hit you from the left and steal your heart while you are laughing. Independent-animation fans will recognize many of the recent festival favourites found here, but this is for anyone with an interest in animation and short-form filmmaking. If you get this mini-box set, you will be treated to over two hours of beautiful storytelling, surreal and absurd concepts that somehow make sense, insanely original characters and design, twisted technical accomplishments and, last but not least, a refreshing, animated perspective on the rituals of everyday life. In addition to the shorts, there is an hour's worth of featurettes including commentaries, deleted scenes, making-ofs, animatics, art galleries and more.

The artists represented on the two volumes (festival editions 2004 and 2005) are of different generations and backgrounds. A handy, well-researched booklet provides biographical anecdotes and production info.

Jonathan Nix's student film Hello, which appears on volume two, has had a trial-and-error genesis—a situation that is typical to many animated films. In this short, a cassette boom box character attempts to communicate with a slick digital player. The drama that builds up between the two characters is warm and genuine. The romantic essence of the movie never feels forced because it is superbly directed and the film's audiovisual construction is so very interesting. Watching a character alternating quickly between cassettes tapes until it finds the right pick-up line or icebreaker is a playful reminder of the awkwardness of flirting. The organic, drawn animation of Hello emphasizes the symbolism of its subjects as opposed to their mechanical/technological nature (that aspect of the film is carried out thoughtfully by its well-crafted sound and music.) In the booklet's liner notes, the director explains how the story elements came together only when he cast his main character as a boom box that communicates with cassette tapes.

The Animation Show Box Set
Distributed by Paramount Home Video, 2007
180 minutes

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Another film that tackles early romance successfully is Magda, by Chel White. This indie stop-motion short is unusual because the roles of writer, director and animator are filled in by different artists. The film was produced by Bent Image Lab, an animation house co-founded by White. Magda is based on a short story by Joe Frank, a long-standing radio monologist. Technically and in terms of design, it remains simple and effective, much like the best short stories. The main characters are represented by faceless artists' mannequins and the backgrounds are rendered and photographed in a non-stylized, cinematic fashion. A male teenager, enthralled by a female circus contortionist, diligently re-visits her performance. One day, he saves her from a dangerous, complicated contortion, and they fall for each other. Their relationship turns sour after they turn the way they met into a popular circus act, and eventually they lose interest in each other. The slice of life, romantic and social commentary aspects of this film work together principally because its visuals are handled in a bold and efficient fashion.

The two DVDs also contain shorts by indie veterans such as Bill Plympton and Don Hertzfeldt. Plympton's Parking and Guard Dog are included. Guard Dog, a riot from start to finish, features a dog with an extremely wild imagination that wants protect his master from potential harm. He attacks a squirrel and a flower among other things. The gags and the point-of-view shots in this film are wonderful. It is interesting to compare it to Parking, which features the same type of exaggerated humour and dynamic cinematography. The latter's proud parking lot owner's struggle against an obtrusive blade of grass somehow remains uninspired. Perhaps the jokes are too recognizable. In the commentaries, the director actually mentions how they are similar to many Road Runner gags.
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