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Bambi Meets Godzilla Again

[whitespace] Bunny
Rabbit Fever: A hectic moment from the Oscar-winning animated short 'Bunny.'

'Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation': Cruelty vs. Cuteness

By Richard von Busack

MARV NEWLAND'S "Bambi Meets Godzilla" (1969) is a famous (barely) animated prank: one smashing joke about the triumph of meanness over sweetness. The cartoon, part of the newest Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation, signals the low road that animation would take in the next 30 years. In its crushing gesture can be discerned elements of Ren and Stimpy, Beavis & Butt-head, South Park and whatever else is going to sink even deeper.

At this festival of 17 films, cold-blooded humor meets cute, if sometimes cerebral, animation. "The Blue Shoe," by Peter Reynolds, is a fairy tale about a lady's lonely blue pump that can't find a mate. She wanders the countryside searching; meanwhile, a man's green boot waits for her nobly until she realizes that the footwear she's looking for is right there under her nose (or toe or heel). There's nothing like that spine-tingling, vertiginous feeling when you realize that what you thought was supposed to be a parody of a children's story is actually meant to be a serious, touching fable.

By contrast, "Billy's Balloon," by Don Hertzfeldt, has no message, not even "Learn to compromise." It makes no sense and has no redeeming value. A stick-figure cartoon of a walleyed tot is attacked by his toy balloon. Was it the animator's lizardlike timing or the Keaton-like deadpan of the victim or the strong taboo against enjoying the spectacle of a child being hurt--or the combination of all three--that made me laugh so hard? I think that people in the theater next to me were convinced that a psychopath was among them.

Two other mean cartoons worked as well. The Dutch import "Sientje" is a scrawled-out fantasy about a little girl's temper tantrum. "Hum Drum," a shadow-puppet play about two bored urban Scots, roils with keen, mean, passive-aggressive dialogue: "Let's play chess." "We can't. There's no white pieces. Remember? You made me eat them all after I lost." "Oh! Now I remember. Still, a bet's a bet, eh."

"The Queen's Monastery" is an impenetrable, disturbing story without dialogue about an acrobat who is a deserter from the army. Animator Emma Calder uses watercolor washes, deliberately smeared and unmatched, to make the faces change with distressing suddenness. The finale, the Oscar-winner "Bunny," by Chris Wedge, observes a senescent, widowed bunny fighting off a tormenting moth in her kitchen. Unfortunately, the immaculate computer animation just speeds up the transition from Poe to Spielberg schmaltz (although Tom Waits give the film a big shot of integrity by singing on the soundtrack). It's "Son of Bambi Meets Godzilla," and the cute wins out over the cruel.

Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation (Unrated; 85 min.), a collection of animated shorts.

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From the April 29-May 5, 1999 issue of Metro.

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