Cel Block Riot

Animation fest smacks of TV anarchy from Saturday mornings past

For the past five years, Valley Art Theatre has been gracing our community with Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, an annual collection of cartoons that bursts at the seams with scatology, sex, sacrilege and sophomoric shock. The 1996 edition is now playing, and though it has a tedious patch or two, it offers some real, if depraved, laughs.

With its ability to defy physics and its evocation of the joyous anarchy of Saturday-morning cartoons, animation seems to bring out the naughty adolescent iconoclast in us all, but especially in Sick and Twisted's young filmmakers, many of them students. The films are for an adult crowd, but adults didn't make them.

Of the 20-odd films in this year's set, the sickest and most twisted may be Arron Springer's Baby's New Formula, in which a cat is left to baby-sit a mutant infant with the sucker mouth of a lamprey. John Waters himself--the pre-Hairspray Waters, that is--might appreciate this film's appalling conclusion. Also registering pretty high on the gross-out meter is Tie-Dye Dick, animator Dave Smith's coprophagous savaging of Deadhead culture, and David Thomas' Tasty Beef, a commercial send-up in which a cheerful cow carves off parts of its own body to serve to hungry, smiling youngsters.

Selections that get old fast, like the satirical British television cartoon Left Over Dog or John R. Dilworth's Dirty Birdy, are offset by five new episodes of the touching continuing feature No Neck Joe, about a sweet little fellow whose face is on the front of his torso, and who can go nowhere without being cruelly mocked. Possibly the strangest of the selections is The Happy Moose, a bizarre "children's story" told by none other than Jake LaMotta (his narration sounds improvised).

In the midst of all this happy, dumb obscenity float a few works of real artistry. The most striking is Philip Hunt's Ah Pook Is Here, a lovely apocalyptic dream narrated by the unmistakable croak of William S. Burroughs. T. Reid Norton's The Lizard Whomper is an impressive piece of clay animation about a brutish reptile hunter, and Lance Kramer's Denny Goes Airsurfing, about an amiable red dragon riding an airplane piggyback, isn't sick and twisted at all--it's sweetly lyrical.

Also included this year is a Spike & Mike golden oldie, Mike Judge's Frog Baseball, the crudely drawn and brutally unsentimental debut film of Beavis and Butt-head. With only a month until the release of their big-time vehicle, Beavis and Butt-head Do America, it's a chance to see the lads' humble beginnings.

Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation '96. Unrated. (At Valley Art Theatre in Tempe.

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