The Los Angeles Animation Festival returned for its third outing this year in a five-day celebration of animated cinematic achievement: both new and old, both classic and contemporary. The festival was founded by Miles Flanagan and John Andrews (producer of Beavis and Butthead Do America) to bring a cohesive animation festival to Los Angeles, and they certainly seemed to accomplish that. The opening night was mainly one for ceremony, in an event hosted by writer, comedian, and animation voice-over actor Tom Kenny (you might know him as the title character in a little show called SpongeBob Squarepants), accompanied by the all-female rock band, Nylon Pink. Kenny presented the week’s animated offerings in quick trailer format in-between some hilariously crude jokes and musical interludes from Nylon Pink. Kenny expressed excitement at being able to take his kids to see The Iron Giant onscreen for the very first time, and also gushed over the work of cartoonist, Bill Plympton, who is a close friend of Kenny and a Guest of Honor for the festival. The festivities truly began with the screening of one of the most celebrated anime features of all time in Akira. A theme for the week began with the quirky and offbeat introductions by Sean Lennon, who also served as one of the film selection directors for the festival.
The true highlight of the festival by far was the screening of The Iron Giant. Held as a charity event for the American Alzheimer’s Association, the event boasted a public appearance by famed Academy Award winning director Brad Bird, fresh off his first foray into live-action directing with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The screening of the film featured a 35mm print of the modern animated classic, which still holds up very well today. Unfortunately the acoustics at the theater were not up to snuff as there was quite a bit of sound feedback and popping noises throughout the show. Afterwards, Bird and other members of the cast and crew (including a now-grown-up Eli Marienthal (Hogarth Hughes)) gathered to talk about their experience working on the film. Bird had plenty of entertaining anecdotes, such as when he pitched the story originally to Warner Bros. The studio attempted to have screenwriters begin writing a script based off of Bird’s pitch, but fortunately Bird was savvy enough to register his screen story pitch to the WGA and copyright office, guaranteeing his writing credit for the movie. Bird also discussed different battles with the executives, such as their objection to the appearance of the atomic bomb in the movie. Bird successfully explained it away as a “ballistic missile” to the suits, but then joked to the audience, “…it’s an atomic ballistic missile.”
Saturday was the busiest day of the show featuring an appearance of the surreal and experimental animated offering Fantastic Planet, winner of the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Also shown was Max Fleischer’s version of Gulliver’s Travels, the second full-length animated feature film ever made (Disney’s Snow White being the first). This was shown with a special, rare 35mm print and what the Fleischers created visually in the 1930′s is absolutely astounding. The visuals, the color, quality, and ambition of this film were top notch for its time, and still hold up very well today along with their Superman shorts (one of which, “Mechanical Monsters,” was also shown after Gulliver’s Travels).
Later in the evening was the west coast premiere of the English version of A Monster In Paris, a French CG animated film directed by Bibo Bergeron, co-director of DreamWorks Animation’s Shark Tale. A Monster In Paris was a cute and entertaining film with a nice visual flair and a unique setting: Paris, France, in 1910 after the flood of the river Seine. In the story, two bumbling fools–the delivery boy Raoul (Adam Goldberg) and the film projectionist and aspiring filmmaker Emile (Jay Harrington)–accidentally trigger a lab accident that causes a monkey’s flea to be immersed in a mixture of quick growing formula and an amazing singing voice concoction. The flea grows to become eight-feet tall, and while he can’t really speak he does have an amazing singing voice (provided by Sean Lennon). He’s adopted by a successful lounge singer, Lucille (Vanessa Paradis), who dubs him Francoeur and makes him a part of her act. Of course, the city’s nefarious and dangerously ambitious police commissioner Maynott (Danny Huston), who has eyes for Lucille, gets wind of the monster and wants to put an end to him. Raoul, an old childhood friend of Lucille’s (and perhaps more), gets drawn in along with Emile to try and help save Francoeur. I enjoyed the movie. The CG animation was well done for its budget (about $37 million US). I think the first epilogue of the story comes about a scene too late though. The music was especially fun, mixing some old time jazz and classic French music from the period, along with some modern themes.
The night closed with a special late night screening of the R-rated puppet extravaganza, Team America: World Police, featuring live appearances of Phil Hendrie (INTELLIGENCE), Daran Norris (Spottswoode), and the puppet makers themselves the Chiodo Brothers. I’m not sure what else can be said about Team America, but its biting satire is always enjoyable and it still remains one of my favorite films ever. You will never see a better movie featuring puppets acting on string. The Chiodo Bros. mentioned the film had achieved entering the zeitgeist as it was mentioned in an obituary for the late dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, riffed in the movie as the villain.
Closing night of the festival featured a special 10-year anniversary screening of the first Shrek movie, which also was the first movie in 2002 to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The day continued with a screening of Oscar nominated A Cat In Paris, and the renowned animated drama from Studio Ghibli, Grave of The Fireflies. The festival was closed out with a screening of Bill Plympton’s The Tune. Tom Kenny returned to host the festival’s award ceremony for the competition shorts which were shown throughout the festival before and in-between the features. Jovanna Tosello’s Magical Theater was selected for best short and the judges selected A Monster In Paris as best feature film. I enjoyed the indie, obscure, and avant garde focus and themes of the festival, and they are ones that I hope will continue in the future along with the mix of mainstream offerings. This was a nice bit of chop suey of animation throughout history.