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Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation

By Vladimir Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street, Brookline, until May 7.

Daily, 7:30 and 9:15pm

Tickets, $7, available at the box office on the day of the show

For more information, (617) 734-2500

Animation is not a genre; it is an art form, encompassing in itself many genres. After all, it ranges from simple TV commercials to crude Saturday morning cartoons to full-length theatrical features to high-tech stop-motion puppet and computer animation - and this is only in this country. In Japan, there are also animated prime time soap operas and sitcoms, movies geared at adults, etc. Right now, you can witness for yourself the breathtaking scope of this art form on display. It is the 20th anniversary of the famous Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation.

There are fifteen shorts, ranging in length from under two minutes to half an hour, coming from America and Europe, and presenting a wild spectrum of genres. A word of warning, though: the ad says, in capital letters, that this show is suitable for all ages; I would take an exception to that. While this is not the notorious "Sick and Twisted" variety of Spike and Mike's show, some cartoons are definitely not for the young kids; I would not recommend taking anyone under high school age.

The animations range from the simple, one-joke shorts ("The Tenor"), to the more elaborate traditional animations ("The Great Migration," and a hilarious School House Rock spoof "Political Correction"). There is modern art; two of the shorts ("Touched Alive" and "Stressed") look like they were painstakingly painted, frame by frame. The pace is too rapid for the viewers to see everything that's happening on the screen, but this fits with the subjects of these two, since they are dealing with the stress and impersonality of modern urban life.

The most-represented technique, however, is stop-motion puppet animation, whether using traditional puppets, play-doh reliefs on a flat surface, or, of course, claymation. "Devil Went Down to Georgia" is a music video from the same studio that made "Nightmare Before Christmas" that shows the wealth of highly inventive visual detail. There's also "Barflies," a story of two drunk flies sitting in a bar, but the less that is said about that exercise in tastelessness the better.

As a bonus, the program includes Nick Park's "Close Shave" - the one with Wallace and Gromit, plus a big scary dog, a damsel in distress, and many sheep. "Close Shave" not only demonstrates the virtually limitless possibilities of the art form, but also clearly displays the necessity of a good screenplay. There are more thrills, suspense, and excitement in those thirty minutes than in all of the Hollywood's output this year so far - combined. Watching it on the big screen adds an extra level of enjoyment, since Park fills the frame with throw-away gags that simply can't be seen on video.

Finally, there are two more shorts, both dealing with the same topic - a game of chess - and represent two ends of the technological spectrum. "Chessmaster Theatre," a parody of PBS "Masterpiece Theatre," uses only the chess board and pieces, with the occasional human hand filmed in live-action. "Geri's Game" is this year Oscar Winner, produced by the Pixar Animation Studios, the team behind Toy Story. "Geri's Game" is, simply, a story of an old man playing chess against himself - and the animation of the old man is amazing. "Chessmaster Theatre," though, wins on originality - it is by far the funniest short in the whole program, and the most memorable.

I have advice for those going to see Spike and Mike's. The show is very popular, so it's a good idea to show up at least one hour before show time. And even then you might have trouble getting tickets.