Friday through Sunday, Animation Block Party holds its Animation Weekend in Brooklyn: after tomorrow night’s outdoor opening night, at Rooftop Films, BAM hosts five additional shorts programs and an animation trade show/gallery exhibition. The films discussed below screen on Friday night at Rooftop.
In La Plage, a lively animated short drawn in pretty pastels, a lovely summer beach is ruined by an invasion of loud, fat, chain-smoking, beached-fish-tormenting, butt-scratching boors—until a giant hand descends on the sand and shovels them into a mammoth catbox pooper scooper. That one-joke plot makes La Plage less subtle and/or ambitious than most of its companions at this year’s Animation Block Party, but nearly all share its wry take on stupid human tricks—and its empathy for the non-human animals who put up with us.
Birdboy introduces a happy little mouse family in an apparently placid world only to vaporize it all in a mushroom cloud (talk about your nuclear families). In the film’s best sequence, the explosion turns the colorful landscape into a somber black-and-white dance of death, nuclear rain and blackened leaves from dead trees morphing into dead animals and fish as they fall. Birdboy, a bird who can’t yet fly, is one of the few survivors. The filmmakers seem to want to say something through him about how we demonize “others,” but that part of his story never quite comes into focus. Birdboy’s longing for the adored daughter of that happy family is never in doubt, though, and it’s even more poignant after the disaster makes his dream of being with her seem not just improbable but impossible.
She Was the One, one of the self-recorded oral histories captured and then animated by Story Corps, is another sad love story set in the aftermath of a manmade disaster. Comically exaggerated figures represent the teller, Richard Pecorella, and his fiancée, Karen Juday, one of the Cantor Fitzgerald employees who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. Pecorella’s Brooklyn-accented tribute to the woman who “toned me down” and “taught me to be nicer to people” is touching in its straightforward simplicity, which is well served by the warmly funny animation style.
The danger is mostly imaginary in The Girl and the Fox and 7th, two tales of young girls making their way through perilous landscapes—but that doesn’t leave the people in them off the hook. The girl of The Girl and the Fox, a latter-day Red Riding Hood lost in a desaturated woods, is rescued by a sweet silver fox, but she mistakes it at first for an enemy, nearly killing it before realizing her error. The fox-POV shot of her snarling face above a raised knife makes it clear who is the scarier of the two predators. In 7th, a terrified young woman takes the bus into the outerboroughs on a one night and gets off on an underlit street, her fears imbuing both the bus and the street with exaggerated menace. Afraid she got off at the wrong stop, she’s terrorized by a man who seems to be pursing her—and turns out to be returning the cellphone she dropped. A happy ending follows, but it’s upended in a crisp post-credits coda.
Notes on Biology uses stop-motion in an interesting way, making live action appear animated by presenting it in a stuttery style, as if several frames had been taken out for every one left in. An arty kid stuck in a high school biology class amuses himself—and us—by creating a flip-book cartoon hero: Robot Elephant, a gun-toting vigilante who flies through the kid’s notebook, blowing stuff up as he goes. The filmmakers make Robot Elephant feel much more real to us than the biology teacher, as he does to the kid, shooting the teacher from above and at such an angle that you never see his face and turning his voice into a background drone that disappears altogether—until he asks the question whose answer tidily wraps up this cleverly told story.
A more traditional use of stop motion, complete with Claymation figures, is used to tell the non-traditional love story in Venus. A couple suffering from the seven-year itch visits a sex club, where the woman, who was initially reluctant to go, winds up making the dolls in Team America: World Police look pretty tame.
The Inkwell Shuffle also looks familiar if you’ve ever seen a Max Fleischer cartoon. In the black-and-white film, little critters of some indeterminate species jump out of an inkwell and dance to old-fashioned jazz, until a big pig comes out and tries to destroy them. Flesicher did it all much better close to 100 years ago in his Out of the Inkwell series, but this homage is pleasant enough, and maybe it’ll lead some people back to the originals.