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.
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.
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.