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"Cutting Edge Classics" Mostly Delightful Despite Rough Edges

An uneven collection of festival animation gathered from around the globe, Spike and Mike’s Cutting Edge Classics showcases a number of engaging shorts that have a professional sheen. But it’s a mixed bag at best, with many entries that suffer from amateurishness or a lack of budget. Not that this is always a bad thing—you can find rewarding moments in even the most awkward places—but the standard caveat for anthology discs is here fully justified: Beware of the occasional dog.

Highlights of the collection include “Mons the Cat,” which pairs a repeating fairy-tale structure with over-the-top layered stop-motion animation to very funny effect; “Cane Toad,” an offbeat, beautifully computer-animated short in which a poisonous amphibian, relaxing in a dog’s water bowl, contemplates the various fates his missing friend might have befallen, all of which are shown in gruesome and hilarious detail; “Stubble Trouble,” in which a prehistoric man goes on a quest to remove his facial hair; “One Day A Man Bought A House,” an absurd, Aardman-like claymation exercise in which a giant rat falls in love with the man who is trying to exterminate her; and “Snowman,” a computer-animated short about a botched alien abduction. The latter, which is far and away my favorite on the disc, simply has to be seen to be believed.

With the less successful shorts, poor plotting is the most common problem. “Hello, Dolly” is a clever computer-animated cartoon about a sheep-cloning mad scientist tortured by bad dreams, but it suffers from terminal plot holes. In other cases, as with the gratingly forced rhymes of “The Pigeon and the Onion Pie,” bad writing makes otherwise creative shorts nearly unwatchable. Poor animation and print quality is the bane of “Semper Idem,” “Iddy Biddy Beat Boy,” and “Ropedancers.” And “Maakies,” a series of shorts based on a comic by Tony Millionaire, is a potentially engaging series that has most of the life sucked out of it by a raft of beginner’s mistakes and cheats: Animation is inelegantly reused; sound effects don’t match; a squirrel’s paw looks more like a latex glove glued to the side of his torso; an acorn remains part of the background despite the fact that one of the characters has already picked it up.

Not all the shorts can be said to have stories at all, but the experimental shorts are also hit-and-miss. Far and away the best is “Drink,” which I would have subtitled “Christopher Robin Discovers Psychotropic Drugs.” Unfortunately, the others (“Balance,” “Ropedancers,” and “Semper Idem”) are at best boring and at worst tiresome and pretentious, though “Balance” does have an interesting The Gods Must Be Crazy-esque premise. These are grouped together at the end, almost as if the producers recognized their weakness and tried to hide them.

When all is said and done, though, the overall experience is rewarding. The worst of the shorts can be appreciated simply for the hard work that went into them, while the best are gentle, funny, creative, bizarre, and fascinating.

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