The Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation is an annual event. I had seen maybe three of them in the past, the most recent at least a decade ago, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. A lot of the humor is gross, but still often good, and the works tend to be clever and interesting.
But I thought this one was a clear disappointment, and I’m trying to sort out exactly why.
Some of them were a little stale to me, as I’d already seen them (or I think in some cases they are cartoons from a larger series, and I might have seen other cartoons in the same series but not this specific one). The selections for these films are not all from the last year; in fact few if any are. They pick animated shorts from back at least as far as the 1990s, and some they repeat. So a lot of these have been floating around for years, online or in their own previous festivals.
I wonder if some of it could be that my tastes have changed. Is this collection just as good as the others, but my sense of humor has changed in the last 10-20 years where this kind of material doesn’t do it for me anymore? My guess is no; I would think at most my tastes have changed very minimally away from this type of humor over that time period. Certainly if you go back farther there’s been more of a change—I think it’s highly likely that several of these that struck me as OK at best today would have been uproariously funny to the 12 or 14 year old me—but that wouldn’t explain why the other Spike and Mike festivals appealed to me more than this one.
Certainly one disappointment was the lack of anything by Don Hertzfeldt, by far my favorite cartoonist for this type of short. By the end I was rooting for any Hertzfeldt piece, including a repeat of one of the ones I’ve seen, but no such luck.
The contrast with Hertzfeldt’s work, to me, is that anything I see by Hertzfeldt feels like a labor of love. No matter how simple it is on the surface—both in terms of the animation quality and the ideas—you get the sense he crafted it painstakingly over a long period of time until it was exactly what he wanted. Most of the ones in this festival feel more like a couple of 15 year olds got a gross idea that made them giggle, they used their generational facility with computers to give it some visual complexity, and once they got it up to a certain level of competence they lost interest and declared it done. There’s little depth or nuance to the bulk of these offerings—just a simple, gross gag that’s mildly entertaining if it works, but often doesn’t.
There’s also a wonderful “thinking outside the box” element to Hertzfeldt’s stuff. It isn’t just funny or in some cases risqué, but novel—the kind of thing that almost no one would ever think to do, whether in animation or some other form.
That’s only occasionally present, to a lesser degree, in the works in this collection, but it’s a factor in their favor when it is. Some of the “dirty” stuff is only edgy in the sense of being grosser than what you’d see in most contexts; if you asked the average teenagers “What’s some gross stuff you’ve never seen on TV but would be really funny if you did?” they would come up with a lot of this stuff off the top of their head. But some of them, like the Beyond Grandpa vignettes, are not only dirty but the sort of bizarre thing most people don’t have the imagination to come up with, which, to me, makes them more clever and funnier.
So my reaction to the various pieces (I’m guessing there are about twenty-five) varied considerably, but I can’t say I loved any of them.
If I had to pick a favorite, I thought Pound Dogs was pretty well done and funny. (All that’s included are segments of what I infer is a larger piece.) Teddy Bears’ Picnic got a few chuckles out of me. Cuddle Sticks is certainly gross, but kind of funny. (It may have gotten the biggest laughs of any from the audience where I saw the festival. I spotted the gag right off the bat, but I think most people didn’t, as almost all the laughs and “yuck” responses came when it was more clearly revealed.) The aforementioned Beyond Grandpa and a few of the other particularly gross ones were at least a little funny. The ones with the little stick figure on the computer monitor battling with the cursor arrow are clever, though I’d already seen at least one of them.
I mostly didn’t care for the two or three shorts that were evidently imitations of the visuals on video games. They are well done in a technical sense I suppose, but for no purpose as far as I’m concerned. They’re really no more entertaining than looking over some kid’s shoulder while he plays a real video game.
I wouldn’t say by any means that there’s nothing worthwhile about this collection. I could see some people liking it a lot. As I say, I thought it was a big step down from the others I’ve seen in this series, but it has its moments. Certainly my expectations for Spike and Mike festivals will be lower in the future after seeing this.
In the meantime, get copies of earlier years, or better yet get a Don Hertzfeldt DVD.