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April 11-17, 2007

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'Fool's Gold'

49er freakout: Devin Roth's 'Fool's Gold' tells an unsavory tale of the Gold Rush.

Laugh Lines

Spike and Mike gets sicker and quicker in this year's animation compilation

By Richard von Busack

MAYBE IT IS just welcome counter-programming to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, but this year's Spike and Mike's 2007 Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation festival gets sicker and quicker. The long-running fest is evidence against Blake's idea that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Much here is of a mind-bending stupidity. The usual spate of "No Joke Joe"—I mean, "No Neck Joe" cartoons, five of them!—proves the existence of some parallel universe where this kind of thing is considered funny. Maybe the lowest-brow, Titty Bop, is one nameless imbecile's demonstration of the animation principal of squash and stretch, using the ventral milk-producing glands on a human female.

By contrast, take Chirpy. That's the stuff. And this is how it must have been made. At Paisley House for Psychotic Hippies, one gray hairball sits by himself humming Moby Grape licks. This inner-space traveler, who never returned from his Halloween 1969 LSD trip, is given an art therapy class. He decides to make a lovely animated cartoon in the mode of LBJ-era public service commercial, about a cute baby bird eating magic mushrooms, which leads her to have XXX sex with a bucktoothed black stallion. Chirpy was weird, it was crude, it was weirder and cruder when it was trying to be sweet. And it is sweetened by its acoustic-guitar theme song ("Chirrrpy, Chirpy, you are the bird of my dreams"). It is everything psychedelic art is at its best—not green tambourines and sparkly unicorns but art that is genuinely menacing to Christians, Republicans and other uninitiates. (Italics mine; I wish I could make the letters on the page swell up, throb and drip ink, too.) In real life, Chirpy was created by John E. Goras of Connecticut, an artist in his mid-30s.

There's one exception to how the best of this year's fest involves funny animals: Fool's Gold, a particularly unsavory tale of the Gold Rush, stars a whiskery old prospector who ends up logged, flogged and long-dogged to the chuckling narration of a frontier-accented witness. Here is all the important morality of The Treasure of Sierra Madre in four minutes or less. Animator Devin Roth demonstrates that drawing funny is the cornerstone of animation—it seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how few people believe it. Yet the single funniest artist in this year's festival is Eric Favela, in the pencil-test The Two Minute Itch. It's about Man's best friend, and, in turn, this best friend's best friend, the pillow he likes to rub against. Favela demonstrates that no taboo should stand in the way of an effective series of gags.

Justin Bastard Sane's Teddy Bear's Picnic is more proof of the amusingly repulsive behavior of animals. At a delightful little picnic, the bears (to the accompaniment of the old novelty song) turn brutally carnivorous.

A to Zoo, this year's installment of the unaccountably popular Happy Tree Friends series is a big improvement over previous episodes. If their lethal trip to the zoo isn't necessarily funnier than any of the previous Hallmark Card-critter slaughterhouses, the pastel animals began to show some inkling of characterization and personality before meeting their usual horrible fates.

Movie Times Spike and Mike's 2007 Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation (NC-17; 93 min.) opens April 13 at the Camera 12 in San Jose.

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