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Avast Wasteland: John Silver shows off his robotic appendages to young Jim Hawkins in Disney's animated version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous adventure tale.

Tooning Out

'Spike and Mike' vs. Disney's 'Treasure Planet'

By Richard von Busack

THE CONTRAST between Disney's Treasure Planet and Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival isn't that extreme: child-pleasing dreck in the first case, adults-only dreck in the second. Sixty appalling seconds in the new Spike and Mike compilation make the biggest impression. They constitute a film called Teach Me, by Karl Wills, a snuff porn film featuring jittery cartoon frogs. The short is dedicated to a disturbing outsider artist named Eugene Teal, who was found and republished 20 years ago in the pages of the R. Crumb-edited magazine Weirdo. The cartoon is animated in the style of Ub Iwerks' vintage cartoon Flip the Frog, the soundtrack nothing but a rattling projector, in an effort to make Teach Me look like something old, forgotten and forbidden brought back to life--a 1920s stag film for toads. The sheer atrociousness of Teach Me--which makes you feel like you've seen something--is a lot more impressive than the bound-to-be-more popular The Happy Tree Friends. These cute multicolored animals do violence to each other in six episodes. Frank Kozik rip-off misadventures that they are, they aren't anything new, anything more than truly offensive.

Still, this year's edition of Spike and Mike seems slightly above the bottom of the barrel. I liked a witty stop-motion piece about upholstered chairs having rough sex on a roof, and the reliable Bill Plympton's Death of Jackson Pollock was an inspired gross one-shot joke that would have ornamented screenings of the Ed Harris biopick.

But shock diminishes in repetition, and repetition is also a problem in Disney's full-length animated travesty of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. In the first live-action Disney version of Treasure Island, in 1950, Robert Newton gave moviegoers the lasting impression that all pirates say, "Harrrr." Back then, there was an understanding of how the book worked. Here, we have a cyborg Long John Silver escorting "James Pleiades Hawkins" to the planet where the space-pirate Captain Flint's treasure is buried.

The book still reads easily, so the problem is onscreen. First, it's not a unique spin on the familiar tale. Anthony Quinn starred in an outer-space Treasure Island for Italian television in 1987. Second, the gag writing is strained--the various causes and effects of how jokes work are lost, and Treasure Planet spends a lot of time trying to milk cuteness out of gags that have dropped dead of anemia. Third, the characterizations are uninspired. Hawkins is updated to the personality of a skateboard-riding delinquent in the hopes of nailing that 12-18 demographic (good luck). Emma Thompson gives her first-ever disagreeable performance as the voice of a female cat-woman who captains the Hispanola. She is so irritatingly chipper, I'd swear it was actually Julie Andrews.

Being adult and having no kids to pacify, it's easier to prefer the Spike and Mike as an expression of a freer spirit outside the Mouse Factory. Disgusting as the cartoons in the program are, their eagerness to shock seems more sincere than Disney's eagerness to please.

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival (Unrated) opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

Treasure Planet (PG; 95 min.), directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, opens Wed., Nov. 27, at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the November 27-December 4, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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