When MTV stopped airing Liquid Television many years ago, I lost an outlet that let me see groundbreaking animation that I'd rarely get to see anywhere else. With the rise of the internet, and the birth of networks like The Cartoon Network, animation finally has more places to be seen, but it's tough to find quality stuff that pushes the envelope. Like the different shorts programs, this is where Sundance steps in. I've made it a point to book tickets to the animation spotlight before anything else, and I've always enjoyed the different films they choose. This year was no different, and the program was chock full of different types of animation and genres. From serious to comedic, and CGI to paintings on glass, there was a little slice of everything.
- One Rat Short by Alex Weil. Technically, this was the standout piece amongst the animated shorts. It's a CGI piece that follows a rat and the bag of crisps he chases through the Manhattan subway system. There's no dialogue, but it still manages to be filled with all the emotions you'd expect in a drama. There was a team of animators working on this one, and a fair-sized budget, but the end result is a short that leaves Pixar in the dust.
- Duct Tape and Cover by Yong-Jin Park. Set to the tune of "Duck and Cover" song from the short film put out in 1950 that warned people what to do in case a nuclear bomb drops on your city, Park takes airline safety card style graphics and turns it into a new jingle and film for The Department of Homeland Security. In sharp contrast to One Rat Short, Park worked on all the animation by himself and manages to nail the humor here.
- Phantom Canyon by Stacey Steers. Stacey's film is told with cutouts in black and white, and follow the story of a woman who falls into a fantasy world and falls in love with a man who has bat wings. It's a sort of Victorian dream/nightmare gone wrong, but the animation and retro cutouts are very nice. Creepy and mysterious.
- Destiny Manifesto by Martha Colburn. This was one of the shorts that just didn't work for me. Colburn uses images of cowboys and indians that slowly morph, via painted animations, and soldiers and insurgents in the Middle East. She draws a correlation between these two eras, and then repeats it over and over. Her point was taken, but it was too much of the same thing over and over.
- Golden Age by Aaron Augenblick. This was a hilarious short, told newsreel style, about various fictional animated legends, like the theater candy from the "Let's all go to the lobby" short that played before movies, encouraging people to buy popcorn, gumdrops, and sodas. Augenblick makes this extremely funny, and hits on all the different styles of animation from anime to Ren & Stimpy. Although these would have been better seen strung out in front of other features rather than one right after the other, this piece got the biggest laughs.
- Paulina Hollers by Brent Green. This is a good example of a short that I just couldn't get into. It was a mix of stop motion animation, puppetry, and some hand-drawn bits ... but I wasn't ever engaged by the story. It's about a mother who commits suicide in order to find her son in hell and get him out. Sounds great on paper, but didn't work for me.
- Dreams and Desires: Family Ties by Joanna Quinn. Joanna's company Beryl Productions (named after the voluptuous Beryl who appears in her short films) is well-known in the states for producing the animated Charmin commercial where the bear ... well, you know, in the woods. In this short, Beryl is trying to explore her inner Spielberg once she gets a camcorder. She sets off to film a friend's wedding, and the results are pretty madcap and zany. Think Benny Hill meets Roseanne.
- Everything Will Be OK by Don Hertzfeldt. Hertzfeldt is something of a legend in the animated film shorts world, and he has had his films nominated for many awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Rejected. Everything Will Be OK utilizes his signature stick figure style of animation to tell the story of the main character Bill, and the events in his life. This short also won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at Sundance this year.