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Festival of Animation offers diverse program

THE 1991 FESTIVAL

of ANIMATION

At the Somerville Theater.

Continues through Oct. 25.

By NIC KELMAN

IN THE LEAFLETS PASSED OUT over the past couple of weeks, the latest Festival of Animation refers to itself as "one of our most diverse programs ever." This is certainly a fair statement: The animation styles range from standard, to claymation, to computer animation, while the subjects range from the satirical, to the silly, to the "statement." The further claim in the pamphlet that the "program will please all moviegoers" is also true, with the additional proviso that this may not be valid for the entire program. At this I was surprised, having seen very few bad "animated shorts" (the word "cartoons" does not exist at animation festivals). In this program, however, I was actually disappointed two out of 16 times. On the other hand, the remaining 14 were enjoyable enough, so I was able to ignore the two poorer efforts and thoroughly enjoy the show.

The evening began with a cartoon (whoops!) from American David Bishop titled Mother Goose. Three of Mother Goose's goriest tales are told in black and white, with dashes of blood red where necessary, to a group of school children who are never seen. This short is a classic tribute to black humor and the modern child's fascination with gore.

This was followed by Wolf Sweet from Bulgaria. In line with most Eastern European animation, it is played against a stark background with Ziggyesque figures. The film encapsulates -- in the story of the catching and killing of a wolf pack -- humor, an environmental moral, and a beautiful final twist, making it enjoyable but not brilliant.

Next was Simon. Noseless Simon is rejected in life and at school, dreaming of noses, until. . . . Told with an eight-year-old's voice and beautifully animated, Simon is delightful and very funny, its light moral undertones not overshadowing its humor.

The computer-animated short which followed can only be described as incredible (although Course 6 majors may not be equally impressed). Panspermia was really beautiful and could have lasted another hour without becoming dull. This two-minute short made the first half of the show.

Grasshopper, from Italian Bruno Buzzetto, followed with the story of grass and death through the ages. It presented a good overview of human history in good style, but at its finale lapses into amateurish commentary on the modern human condition.

Vroom offered very little except some nice pencil drawings in the form of a driver's view of a harrowing drive.

One of the listed shorts, Deadsey, was not playing at the time and was replaced by Fatty Issues. This was a British cartoon and probably the poorest of all with dull animation and an uninteresting script of an average dieter's experience.

The final two shorts in the first half, however, saved it from leaving a nasty taste in one's mouth; Eternity was so well done and such a good animated joke that it seemed incredibly short; likewise Tarzan, from Japan, was pleasing to look at in a Fido-Dido type way, tracing the path of a modern-day Tarzan.

It is a shame the second half had to include We Woman in its repertoire, because without it this half would have been among the best 45 minutes of animation that I've ever seen. It began with Nick Park's Grand Day Out, a claymation film of 23 minutes. This was beautifully done and was very funny, very silly, and simply brilliant. Suffice it to say, it is the story of a mission to discover exactly what sort of cheese the moon is made of. (R2D2 eat your heart out -- wait until you see the living refrigerator skiing.)

Rug Rat offers smooth animating skill, yet lacks greatly in plot and script. Denny Goes Airsurfing followed, and was a superb visual joke, but no more.

We Woman, a series of three shorts, done by "some guy from the Soviet Union," tries to depict the ruination of women in modern times. The first uses animation to put makeup on some of art's most famous women (e.g., Botticelli's Venus); the second draws comparisons between the medieval and 18th century woman and modern woman; the last depicts a woman's husband as a tree-trunk through the whole film. All three are rather morbid and come off as someone dabbling in modern ethics and woman's image in our society, and consequently do not succeed.

Dimensions in Dialogue succeeds where other philosophical attempts in the festival fail. It is a stunning view of how conversation shapes a person. It uses still photography of inanimate objects and is clever, innovative, and violent -- definitely an original piece of work.

The Western follows in the vein of Eternity as an animated joke which is quite funny.

The festival finishes with another piece of Nick Park's work, Creature Comforts, which is different from, but every bit as good as Grand Day Out. It is a series of interviews with claymated animals on to how they feel about conditions in the zoo. Nick Park is a true claymation genius -- the festival is almost worth seeing simply for his 28 minutes of work. This second short is poignant and very, very funny.

Is the festival, as a whole, worth $6 plus $2 T fare? Yes, very much so. The experiences of Mother Goose, Panspermia, and Eternity in the first half, combined with Nick Park's work and Dimensions in Dialogue in the second half, should not be missed at any cost, and the remainder of the festival is certainly not bad.

If you enjoy animation in its many guises and feel like laughing, go and see the 1991 Festival of Animation. The diversity of style and content will surprise those of you who are unfamiliar with non-mainstream cartoons and impress those of you who are.