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Malicious Balloons and Flying Lingerie:
Spike and Mike's 1999 Classic Festival of Animation

Illustration by Kirsten Ulve.

by Wendy Jackson

With the disappearance of Expanded Entertainment's Tournees of Animation and Manga Entertainment's General Chaos, the short-lived touring theatrical compilations of animated shorts, Spike and Mike, aka Mellow Manor Productions, has an opportunity to choose from the best animated shorts. Spike and Mike's 1999 Classic Festival of Animation is 79 minutes of evidence that the genre is alive and well. Spike, who has managed the festivals since the death of his partner Mike Gribble in 1995, said, "We have been receiving more films than ever," citing the proliferation of animation schools and the widespread use of computer animation as fueling factors.

And if the current demand for "creator-driven" animation keeps up, we may be seeing more of the Spike and Mike brand, now that Mellow Manor is represented by agent Jim Strader, whose client roster also includes Celebrity Death Match creator Eric Fogel.

Pings. © Ex Machina.
The Films:
Taking it from the top, this year's festival opens with Pings by Pierre Coffin of Ex Machina, a French CGI studio known for its commercial work. The film is at first cute, almost too cute, with roly poly baby penguins bouncing around. But soon enough the thin plot thickens to include one of the animator's favorite storytelling tools: malice. It's worth a good chuckle.

Next up is Tightrope, a computer-animated short from effects house Digital Domain and director Daniel Robichaud. While the film's depiction of atmospheric effects and facial expressions is quite realistic, its failings are also symptomatic of a visual effects artist. A lot of smoke and mirrors covers up where good animation and story would have done the trick.

The Blue Shoe by Peter Reynolds of Boston-based studio FableVision is a charming tale of unexpected love between a blue shoe and a green boot. Presented with limited 2D computer animation, the film demonstrates a type of drawn filmmaking, more like a colored animatic than a cartoon, that need not be elaborately animated to tell a great story.

Sientje, a first film made by Christa Moesker at the Netherlands Institute for Animated Film, introduces a little girl having one hell of a temper tantrum. Drawn in rough black lines on white paper, it has a visual appeal that emulates a child's drawings and is well-suited to the story. Parents will enjoy this one!

The Blue Shoe. © FableVision Studios.
The Queen's Monastery is one of those beautiful art films that is entertaining purely for its visuals, making the story almost incidental. Director Emma Calder combined watercolor and graphite on paper, a technique that adds a secondary level of motion -- a squiggling, breathing quality -- to the animation.

Balance is the 1989 Oscar winning animated short by German twin puppet animators Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein. Asked why the film was included in the festival a decade after its debut, Spike answered, "It is one of Mike's and my favorite films, and we've had a lot of requests from a lot of people who wanted a chance to see it on the big screen." And rightly so...the film is a masterpiece for its puppet animation and storytelling, not to mention its captivating sound design.

Busby is a tribute to Busby Berkeley acted by human hands. Using computer animation in a refreshing way, director Anna Henckel-Donnermark brings us elegant abstraction of a universal human form that is like a cross between a synchronized swim team and a Salvador Dali painting. Absolutely mesmerizing.

Wide-eyed Billy is in an abusive relationship with his balloon. © Don Hertzfeldt.

Just in case the audience got a little too relaxed watching Busby, Spike follows it with Billy's Balloon, a film that this reviewer feels is (ahem) far better suited for Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival. Simple line drawings depict a child holding a red balloon that proceeds to come to life and beat the kid senseless. Fans of the gruesome can look forward to the next Sick & Twisted in August, which will include this film in good company with Hut Sluts and Home Honey I'm High. However you see it, director Don Hertzfeldt (Lily andJim) is a true, if twisted, talent that we will likely be seeing more of.

Hum Drum is one of those rare films that makes you wonder, "How did they do that?" Created by Aardman staffer Peter Peake, the film depicts two bored friends (are they monsters? humans?) only in the form of shadows. It was created by filming the shadows cast on textured paper by detailed silhouette cut-outs. The innovative technique and funny British voice-overs save the somewhat predictable story, which is along the lines of Jon Minnis' Charade.

Man With Pendulous Arms is a bizarre little film that you can almost fit in your pocket. Rather than a typical story with a "beginning, middle, and end" the film is more like a window on an alternate reality. The only character is -- you guessed it -- a man with extremely long tentacles for arms. He quietly shuffles through the city streets and, in another play on shadows, we see fluid animation of his shadow seemingly creating the moon. Surprise! The end.

The Art of Survival is a funny computer-animated cartoon created by a group of students at the University of Washington. It tells the story of a chameleon that just can't get the hang of camouflage, and ends up being discovered by a beatnik artist and becoming a big hit in the art world.

An encore screening of Marv Newland's 1969 cult classic, Bambi Meets Godzilla is followed by the debut of Son Of Bambi Meets Godzilla an obviously unauthorized spoof on the original, by video game animator Eric Fernandez. However clever the idea, the computer animation is shoddy at best, and hardly seems worth the expense of transferring to film, which Mellow Manor paid. But then again, this type of film doesn't really need sharp animation to get a chuckle from the audience.

is the computer animated story of a pear-shaped creature that rents a porno video about a sexy carrot being molested by a remote control named Humpfrey. Animators think of the craziest things. Need more proof? The Romance Of My Heart by French director Solweig von Kleist is an enchanting art piece starring flying lingerie and music composed by patterns of birds on telephone wires.

Bingo, by resident Alias|Wavefront genius Chris Landreth, is a film whose main purpose is to display the capabilities of the Maya software. Based on an absurdist play, Bingo is a catchy (you'll be saying "Hi, Bingo" for days), funny film that was surprisingly not nominated for an Oscar.

Closing the festival is recent Oscar winner Bunny by Chris Wedge of Blue Sky Studios, the talent behind the sensational dancing cockroach scenes in MTV's feature, Joe's Apartment. In contrast, Bunny is a slow and deliberate film that leaves audiences wondering what happened, but inside feeling warm and fuzzy. The texture and lighting effects are awe-inspiring and a perfect example of the blurring line between CG and traditional animation.

All things considered, it is a well-rounded festival. Check it out at a theater near you. If you're in the right city, Spike may make an appearance in one of his famous pre-show stage romps, which he is still doing, even though his sidekicks, Mike Gribble, and his balloon-chomping dog Scotty, have both passed away. Rest in peace.

Videotapes of previous editions of Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation may be purchased in the Animation World Store.

Wendy Jackson is a Los Angeles-based writer, consultant and educator specializing in animation. Her articles on the subject have been published in Animation Journal, Animation Magazine, ASIFA News, Cinefantastique, FPS, Television Business International and Variety, as well as Animation World Magazine, where she was formerly associate editor.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.