"The Animation Show 3," an international collection of short films personally selected by animation icons Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt, is currently touring cinemas across the country, attracting fans eager to catch Hertzfeldt's "Everything Will Be OK" on the big screen. While the 2007 Sundance jury award-winner is the show's biggest draw, the feature-length theatrical program also offers 2-D and CG shorts by animation heavyweight Bill Plympton and up-and-coming stars like Oscar-nominee Shane Acker.
"We created this festival three years ago to address a painful lack of exposure for the animated short film," Don Hertzfeldt stated when the current tour began in January 2007. "It's one of the most diverse and creative forms of filmmaking but is often misunderstood in American cinema."
"We searched far and wide for the most brilliant animators out there," added Mike Judge. "We screened literally thousands of submissions."
Judge, who is best known for his television work ("Beavis and Butt-Head" and "King of the Hill"), contributes a one-minute piece to "The Animation Show 3" program entitled "Opening Remarks." Perhaps not surprisingly, the remarks are delivered by Butt-Head.
Although Butt-Head is a hard act to follow, Run Wrake's eight-minute "Rabbit" comes out of the gate strong. The eight-minute short from the UK utilizes 2-D and computer animation to illustrate the adventures of two cherubic storybook children who are anything but innocent.
Gaelle Denis's "City Paradise" is another standout from the UK, a six-minute mix of live action, 2-D and 3-D animation. This quirky short, which has been a festival favorite since its debut in 2004, uses inventive techniques to follow the swimming-pool mishap of a Japanese woman recently relocated to London.
Max Hattler's two-minute long computer-animated "Collision" is also from the UK, as is the closing film, Joanna Quinn's "Dreams and Desires." Quinn, who has been nominated twice for an Academy Award, impresses with her story of a wedding videographer running amok. However, her lead character's strong regional dialect makes the dialogue unintelligible for American audiences.
Among the European shorts, "No Room for Gerold" (Dir. Daniel Nocke, Germany, 2006, 5 mins.) is the most accessible, with slick 3-D computer animation illustrating an almost sitcomish confrontation between young apartment dwellers. Imagine "Friends" recast with a hippo, rhino, crocodile, and gazelle.
France offers up the three-minute "Eaux Forte" (Dir. Remi Chaye) and "Overtime" (Dirs. Oury Atlan, Thibaut Berland and Damien Ferrie), a five-minute computer animation piece starring creatures oddly resembling Kermit the Frog.
Of the US shorts, the two-minute stop-motion video-game-themed "Game Over" (Dir. PES) delighted college audiences at the program's February 7th screening at UCLA's Royce Hall. Also bringing down the house was hometown hero Shane Acker, who was on hand to answer questions about his Academy-nominated "Nine." The UCLA grad revealed he is currently expanding his eleven-minute computer-animated short into a feature under the guidance of Tim Burton.
While Acker is a relative newbie to the animation world, Bill Plympton is an old hand, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece year after year. His most recent contribution to his Plymptoons catalogue is "Guide Dog," a five-minute sequel to the Academy-nominated "Guard Dog." The traditional 2-D animated story has the canine hero failing just as spectacularly as ever.
Years ago, Bill Plympton toured with Don Hertzfeldt in a theatrical program they called "The Don and Bill Show." "The Animation Show 3" is like a mini-version of that all-star pairing. But this time it is Hertzfeldt who takes center stage. His seventeen-minute "Everything Will Be OK," a blend of traditional animation and experimental photography, takes his work to a whole new level, surpassing even his previous gem, the Academy-nominated "Rejected."
When "The Animation Show 3" made its stop in Los Angeles, there was a special addition to the standard program of twelve shorts: claymation superstar Corky Quakenbush unearthed his cult classic "Davey and Son of Goliath." The programmers promise additional unbilled shorts will make surprise appearances as the tour continues to work its way across the country.
The upcoming tour schedule includes stops at the Times Cinema in Milwaukee, WI on March 30, 2007 and the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY on April 13-15. Consult the Animation Show website for additional tour dates.
For those who missed the first two installments of "The Animation Show," a DVD box set is for sale at the theatrical screenings and on-line. And while you can assume that the third incarnation will ultimately end up on DVD after it completes its theatrical run and subsequent airing on MTV2, don't skip the opportunity to see these stellar pieces on the big screen, where they really shine.
[Kim Adelman is the author of "The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films."]