- From The Maker.
It’s been years since I was awake early enough to catch any Saturday morning cartoons. But I threw a couple spoonfuls of sugar into my all-natural, healthy-tasting cereal and headed off to the sanctuary of the Earth House Collective to catch an Indy Film Fest’s program featuring an eclectic sampling of animated shorts.
First up was Cadaver, which was the cutesy story of a dead man’s last wish to show his widow how he loved her. With the help of a plucky, bespectacled med student, he road trips his Neil-Young-loving heart to his old doorstep and ends up learning a few things. Aside from its happy ending and rhyming dialogue, the piece’s most striking feature is its animation: the characters are rendered with great detail, capturing the whole project’s off-color vibe in the crazy hairs of the old guy’s eyebrows.
- Still from Caldera.
Next was the cosmically abstract Caldera, which looks like it came form the same world as Portal 2 with its computer-generated animation’s clean lines and bright white focus on the industrial parts of the world. Its protagonist, a young woman struggling with medication and a bleak worldview, essays a trippy, silent exploration of the world outside her world that left me reeling after the last frame.
Keeping the train of thought rolling was Little Boat, another single character exploration sans dialogue, except this time of a little sail boat that drifts through several clean and beautiful backgrounds, taking some damage along the way and then finding its way back home with a little help from it surroundings. It avoided being too cute and resonated almost as an answer to the bleakness in Caldera.
Then, the program’s tone shifted as (notes on) Biology bridged the gap between make-'em-think endings and the absurdist farce that has traditionally been the province of cartoons. Following the flipbook animation of a middle school biology student’s class notes, the story within the late-for-class slacker’s story is of a robot elephant seeking high-grade artillery revenge on a human species keen on wiping out its way of life. The moral that doesn’t match the profundity of Caldera or Little Boat but still stuck with me. Here it is:
The funniest short on the bill was Pound Dogs, a post-Ren and Stimpy story of two canines with questionable morals. Featuring some high-grade voice talent (Andy Merrill of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast fame), the piece is basically a buddy picture about two idiot dogs, one of whom is trying to find an adoptive home before 6 p.m. to avoid mandatory euthanasia at the hands of the alcoholic kennel worker (voiced by Merrill). Despite its morbid themes, the punchy dialogue between the two dogs keeps the piece moving.
- The Pound Dogs.
A short called Girlie Jar, which seemed like a film student’s fist experiment with CGI didn’t deliver big laughs but showed some promise. Things got serious then with The Hunter, the tale of a boy who ran with the wolves near his snow-covered town, done in a style reminiscent of cave paintings.
The serious tone lasted through the last short, The Maker a beautifully realized (and again verbally silent) piece about a stuffed rabbit with an ugly mask racing against a draining hourglass to propagate his family tree. With the subtle grotesquerie of the world of Bioshock, the piece examines themes of creation and lineage with resonance. Without any speech to clutter the piece’s soundtrack, the animation of the piece is allowed to speak for itself (much like in Caldera and Little Boat). The images of the rabbit puppet’s attempts at creation present an idiosyncratic view of what you might call an artistic process.
This year’s batch of shorts delivered some cartoonish laughs but didn’t constrict itself to comedic ends, opting instead to use the animated form to explore some interesting angles of life, love and art. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to buy some cereal with marshmallows for next time.