‘The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows’: Film Review

Animators tackle everything from unreciprocated crushes to the existential mysteries of human cloning.

Feature-length showcases for animated short films come and go, and some leave a bigger mark than others — would that Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt, for instance, had kept their The Animation Show going past the 2000s. Since the late ‘90s, Acme Filmworks has been curating its own best-of packages, circulating them among animation insiders and students while releasing select titles on DVD. For their 17th go-round, the show goes public, touring commercial venues for the first time with a longer list of films than one usually finds when the Oscar Nominated Shorts program hits theaters each winter. Though that series benefits from the Academy’s imprimatur, this one boasts more than enough new and established talent (not to mention the latest effort by Hertzfeldt) to fill houses as it tours across the country.

Eleven films make the cut here, and four get tack-on mini docs in which the filmmakers show some of their technique and share their inspirations. As with so many similar anthologies, curator Ron Diamond avoids purely abstract outings, but the narratives he selects run the gamut in terms of style.

The Bottom Line

A delightful crop of underexposed animated shorts.

Whether created purely through CG or with old-school techniques, they range in look from papercut (Isabel Favez’s Messages dans l’Air) to claymation (Janette Goodey and John Lewis’s The Story of Percival Pilts, a storybook fable with a surprisingly affecting air of loneliness). Clay resembling thick impasto paint illustrates a haunting folk song in Lynn Tomlinson’s The Ballad of Holland Island House, while Babak and Behnoud Nekooei’s Stripy is all clean, modern angles.

In addition to the high-profile inclusion of Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, which toured earlier in a Sundance anthology but is well worth a second (or fourth) viewing, celebrity pops up in Behind the Trees; here, Avi Ofer animates a voiceover in which musician Amanda Palmer sheds some light on the personality of her husband, author Neil Gaiman. That pairing is endearing, but the matchup between personal essayist Melissa Johnson and artist Robertino Zambrano, in Love in the Time of March Madness, results in more than the sum of its parts, an expressionistic look at what it’s like to be an almost freakishly tall woman.

Throwing some fictional specifics over lived experience, Conor Whelan’s poetic Snowfall stars a gay man who realizes the hunk he’s crushing on is straight: For the moments when the attraction seems mutual in the midst of a friend’s party, the laws of gravity go on hiatus, wine glasses tumbling harmlessly through the air with elated uncertainty.

Gravity is unpredictable in another Show of Shows highlight, Konstantin Bronzit’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, which stars two best-buddy cosmonauts separated by fate. Even sadder than Percival Pilts, but veering into magical realism before it becomes maudlin, Cosmos — like many others here — would not be at all out of place in next year’s Oscar Nominated Shorts package.

Production company: Acme Filmworks

Directors: Various

Producer: Ron Diamond

No rating, 96 minutes