We are in a different part of the forest from "Beauty and the Beast" when we enter the disenchanted glades of "The 1991 Festival of Animation," which opens today at the Charles for a week.
These "festivals" and "tournees" of animation do tend to run together in the mind, with their droll little conceits and their love of Eastern European abstractionism. This one, however, distances itself from the others primarily by virtue of edge, which it has in abundance. A few of its 17 entries are absolutely, positively nasty and if it hasn't anything nice to say about anybody, you should show it to me.
The collection opens with two unbearably tasteless and completely despicable pieces from an outfit calling itself Barrelhouse Shows, which takes the conventional "cartoony" style -- exaggerated simplifications in a stylized setting pushed beyond the laws of gravity and physics to humorous intent -- and VTC moves it into a demimonde of cruel violence, sadism and horror. Why, I was shocked, shocked, do you hear? And delighted. These two works challenge our comfy assumptions about the form of the "cartoon." The pieces,strictly for adult viewing, leave us disoriented and short of breath.
Others in the collection have similar impact. One Italian piece, entitled "Grasshoppers," may have been inspired by Sandberg's poem, with its haunting refrain: "I am the grass. I cover all." It reduces the history of civilization into a series of violent confrontations, each of whose resultant body count is covered by the grass, setting up a new arena for another shootout. It takes us from Cro-Magnon to Dien Bien Phu in about two !B haunting minutes.
Then there's a brilliant British cartoon that illustrates a short story taken from the works of the novelist Russell Hoban in a kind mock-English or primitive English that manages to be utterly frightening and liberatingly original at once; it's like "The Silence of the Lambs" clubbed into three squealing minutes.
The brilliant pencil artist Bill Plympton, always a show-stopper in these things, stops the show again, this time with a disquisition on "how to kiss" in which the participants work their way of the taxonomy of bussing from first nibble to last crushing face-suck. But as usual, Plympton uses the liberation of the medium to put his two students through some incredible shape-shifting.
It's only the big set piece of the collection that disappoints. This is "Creature Comforts," which won an Oscar last year. It's from Nick Park, a Brit, and it's "claymation" of the sort Wil Vinton has done in this country. I don't think a lot of it, with fanciful zoo animals built from clay and animated by time-lapse photography mouthing recorded dialogue from the British working class. Yawn.
'Festival of Animation 1991'
Compiled by Jim Terry and Craig Livaich.
Distributed by Mellow Madness Productions.