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Film review: Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation (1996)

SHARE Film review: Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation (1996)

Pity poor Peter Lord and Bill Plympton. Despite their considerable successes in film animation, they're now serving as the warm-up act for Nick Park's wondrously imaginative "Wallace and Gromit" shorts.

Park's "A Close Shave" closes "Spike and Mike's 1996 Festival of Animation" on a high note, even though it's already been seen elsewhere this year (including in "Wal-lace and Gromit: The Best of Aardman Animation"). Less memorable Lord and Plympton contributions fall by the wayside.

Plympton's "Nosehair," yet another one of his cartoon gross-outs that gradually become more surreal, actually might be one of the weakest shorts in this good but still very mixed bag of tricks. Also, a couple of shorts in this latest "Spike and Mike" festival have adult content (in the way of violence, profanity and a bit of sex) that make the collection inappropriate for very young audiences.

Of course, "A Close Shave" is suitable (and wonderful) for all ages. In it, goofy inventor Wallace meets the woman of his dreams, Wendalene Ramsbottom, the owner of a yarn shop. Meanwhile, Gromit, his much more clever dog, has been framed for the theft of several sheep, crimes that appear to be tied to Wendalene's shop.

Though it essentially mines the same material as previous two "Wallace and Gromit" shorts, "A Close Shave" manages to keep things fresh with some inventive gadgetry and hilarious non-stop slapstick comedy (including a very funny "Terminator" parody).

By comparison, Lord (who, like Park, works for Aardman Studios) doesn't fare nearly as well. "Wat's Pig" mixes "The Prince and the Pauper" with "The Jungle Book," but isn't quite as amusing as it pretends to be.

And speaking of pigs, sheep and dogs, animals abound in this animation fest. There are two of the most realistic animated cats in recent history (in "Sophie" and "Three After Thoughts"), which actually behave like felines.

Elsewhere, a caterpillar gets a taste of flight before its metamorphosis into a butterfly in the Russian "Gagarin," while a dog that looks and sounds like a series of pastel wooden blocks has to trick its owner in the most disgusting way in "Fluffy."

Much better are "Passage," a tale of traveling companions that makes good use of changes in shading and perspective, and "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," a Disney-inspired short that brings Duke Ellington's song to life with cartoon horns fighting for the attention of a sexy violin.

For those who like their animation more surreal, there's "Ah Pook Is Here," William S. Burrough's beat poem cast in clay animation, and "The End," which pokes fun at the division between art and its subject. Unfortunately, both are heavy on pretense and symbolism.

As noted, some material in the latest "Spike and Mike" festival might make parents think twice about bringing their children.

The film is unrated but would probably receive a PG-13 for cartoon violence, profanity, some vulgar gags and a brief bit of sex between two hairs (!) in the Plympton short.