Mark Segall reviews Manga Entertainment's debut theatrical compilation of short animated films, General Chaos: Uncensored Animation
Manga Entertainment, an Island International Company and distributor of anime, enters the scant market of touring theatrical animation releases with General Chaos: Uncensored Animation. It's about time another player steps into the ring, but unfortunately, for this first bid, the program is uneven in quality and inconsistent in tone. However, is the intent of Manga's first adult shorts compilation to compete with Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation or to expand the category to include more mature, thought-provoking fare?
The Down Side
Series creator Jan Cox helped Spike produce Sick & Twisted for five years, and she's taken some artists along with her. One holdover I can do without: Tony Nittoli. His one-joke film about a cracker-addicted parrot fails to develop the idea in any interesting way and quickly becomes tedious. (The puppet animator made a slightly better film for Spike a few years back featuring a depraved Santa Claus.) Another one-joke wonder: American Flatulators. The title's enough. Why make the film? The clay- animated pseudo-trailer No More Mr. Nice Guy doesn't have one-quarter of the wit found in action-movie parodies regularly tossed off by The Simpsons' writers. In the just plain mystifying category is Sunny Havens (A.K.A. Meat!!!). In Kathryn Travers' 1:16 minute cel animation a truck full of Francis Baconesque sides of beef pulls up to a trailer park. A toothless man gets out, hollers, "Meat!" over and over, then drops dead.
Those are the shorts I would have ditched completely if I were the compiler. I'd also lose the "wacky cast of characters" created by Bardel Animation in Canada to introduce the show. This on screen audience of uninspired stereotypes (a granny, a beauty queen, the tough-talking General Chaos himself) fairly shout out, "Look at us! We're filler!" The sexy, bloody, funny vignettes from Bill Plympton interspersed throughout already provide a framing device, or through line, if one is needed. They also provide a visible reminder that few cel animators come close to Plympton's level of draftsmanship. (Perhaps Sex and Violence -- the seven minute Plympton short commissioned for this collection should have been shown in one piece just in order to not show up any of the other contributors.) My favorite Plympton gag: a man stops mid-orgasm to floss.
The Bright Side
Outside of Plympton's tour de force, and the wonderfully obvious punning of Beat The Meatles, Uncensored Animation has its best moments when it doesn't try to compete with Sick & Twisted. "There are many films in my show that Spike would pass up," Cox points out. Example: Mike Booth's The Saint Inspector, a wordless story in which a buddahlike figure meditating on a high platform is fussily scrutinized by a whirring, clicking, mechanical bureaucrat. The Inspector, created by Lee Wilton and Natalie Clark, is an inspired assemblage of bits and pieces.
Cox's collection also diverges from Spike's by introducing two strange and sexy films by women: Frances Lea's Oh Julie!, and Emily Skinner's The Perfect Man.
Cox's collection also diverges from Spike's by introducing two strange and sexy films by women: Frances Lea's Oh Julie!, and Emily Skinner's The Perfect Man..
Oh Julie! chronicles a night of passion aided by augmented body parts and other accouterments. Julie won't be seen naked before she has tucked her excess fat out of sight with alligator clips and put on a big blonde wig, and a special pair of "oral sex lips". She greets her lover under a blue light, a là Flashdance. As he switches the music to change the mood, she puts on larger breasts. Julie's not the only one worried about superficial inadequacies. The man is ashamed of his pot-belly and he fussily relocates unsightly tufts of body hair. When Julie is less than impressed by his sexual equipment, he straps on a giant flashing glow-in-the-dark dick, and is pleased to see it inspire her operatic appreciation. There is also an unexpectedly happy ending: they wake the next morning, their apparatus cast aside, and find they have genuine affection for each other.
Emily Skinner strikes a more macabre note in her puppet film, The Perfect Man. A mustachioed dandy gallops up and scales a high tower to "rescue" a sweet, innocent-looking damsel. She captures him and ties him down, for what he thinks will be a kinky little tryst, but turns out to be a bit of unasked-for surgery. The golden-tressed beauty is building the perfect man and she wants his contribution.
Good Lookin' Stuff
I found some of the films notable for their looks, like the computer tweaked Victoriana of Laurence Arcadia's The Donor Party. Flat cutouts are assembled into hallways using "2.5D software" from Apple. Through his opera glass, our hero/spy observes a corseted belle, a dog-faced man, and some experimental surgery eagerly watched by a roomful of the surgeon's past mistakes. I'm partial to Eric Fogel's Mad-Max-like student film Mutilator. I always liked the weird look, atmosphere and pace of his MTV series The Head. In Espresso Depresso, some handsomely stylized beanery stereotypes meet a bad end at the hands of a distracted valley-girl waitress. The splatteriffic Performance Art by Chainsaw Bob is surprisingly well-designed and pleasant to watch. I also enjoyed Beat The Meatles' misshapen "Head" Sullivan, and the gloriously ugly "Meatlemaniacs" who say things like, "I wanna touch one afore I die!" Joel Brinkerhoff's Zerox & Mylar has an interesting half-drawn, half-sculpted look, but it's Tom and Jerry derivative humor failed to amuse me.
I've got mixed feelings about the Manga-commissioned Hungry Hungry Nipples, a deliberately crude and under-animated piece carried by music and wall-to-wall narration. The fake French accent is funny, especially saying things like, "He killed their happy motherfucking asses". It bothers me, however, that the "Nipples" rap song which retells the character-crammed tale of Jean-Jean, his nasty Mom, the bow-tied, two-legged Nipples, the Evil Cat and "the flying Richard Nixon baseball bat" is a hell of a lot funnier than the story as pictured.
Long Term Plans
If Manga's collection is going for fewer gross-outs and more female points of view, it will achieve an identity distinct from Spike and Mike's. Cox is aiming for a more international flavor and a wider release that will make her festival "less of a cult thing" than that of her former boss. She sees the theatrical market as big enough for the both of them, plus several others. "Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a couple of compilations a year to choose from?" she said. For her, "adult" doesn't just equal "shocking and perverse." For Manga's collections, Cox envisions an audience that's less exclusively male, and more equally composed of women and couples. In fact, acting as a "teaser" in front of General Chaos is Quest, the Academy Award winning short from Tyron Montgomery and Thomas Stellmach, which will be showcased in a later all ages show entitled Art Gallery. Bringing a more diverse selection of films into the mainstream American marketplace is surely something we should all support.
However, my overall verdict of this show? Not bad for a first outing. Spike has had twenty years to get his act together (and even it's still pretty uneven!). So, good luck, Manga Entertainment. I'm looking forward to a stronger selection next time around.
General Chaos: Uncensored Animation is now touring theaters around the country. For more information call 1-888-4MANGA1. General Chaos will be released on video in September 1998 by Manga Entertainment.
Mark Segall has won awards for labor journalism and public service copywriting. He co-authored How To Make Love To Your Money (Delacorte, 1982) with his wife, Margaret Tobin. He is also editor of ASIFA-East's aNYmator newsletter.