Cartoons really have grown up, haven't they? ANIMATION EXPRESS is a two-disc anthology collection of 26 animated shorts culled from the National Film Board of Canada, and the stories told here are evocative and thought provoking and, okay, artsy. Some are even off-putting. They're fleshed out by innovative, often unconventional, sometimes experimental animation styles, ranging from digital imagery to pencil renderings to stop-motion to something filmmaker Iriz Pääbo dubs "animbits." The artistry and craftsmanship we are treated to are simply off the chain, as established award-winning artists vie with fledgling animators just getting their feet wet. The fact that a lot of these shorts go without dialogue seems to enhance the viewing experience even more. Not every short is easily accessible, not every short is for every viewer. Part of the fun - if you like this sort of fun - is sorting thru all the sub-texts. Because each piece has something to say. Me, I was more dazzled than not.
1) "Madame Tutli-Putli" (00:17:14 minutes) - A woman embarks on a macabre train trip and is subjected to harrowing images which could either be figments of her mind... or terrifyingly real. This sample of stop motion artistry pries into existential stuff. What's real? These images that Madame Tutli-Putli sees, what do they mean? I'm not sure I know. I just liked looking at the pretty pictures.
2) "Forming Game" (00:05:28) - This one's a bit too abstract for my taste. A pouch is taken out of a box and two people begin to muck about with the contents, attempting to coax shapes and images from these contents. I really need to get a hold of what Salvador Dali (and animation filmmaker Malcolm Sutherland) was smoking.
3) Hungu" (00:09:10) - A beautiful short about a dead mother's love nourishing her son thru music. Fantastic silhouette animation, and the manner in which the characters are rendered reminds me of those figures you see decorating those ancient Egyptian vases.
4) "Rosa Rosa" (00:08:41) - In a process incorporating reworked photos and delicate, half-formed animation, a couple holds on to a fragile semblance of normality even as war rages at the city outskirts. This short is touching and absorbing, as storyteller Félix Dufour-Laperrière superimposes the couple's personal tale over photos of murky, forbidding cityscapes.
5) "Rains" (00:07:43) - Pencil-rendered animation goodness chronicling a moment in time when the rains descend and the denizens seek shelter.
6) "Retouches" (00:05:36) - As in "Forming Game," this is yet another symphony of shifting abstract visions, signifying I dunno what. Unlike "Forming Game," this held my interest a bit longer. If you dig impressionist art, then this one's your huckleberry.
7) "Subservience" (00:08:11) - Fine puppet animation set in a bleak backdrop as a meek servant trails his bourgeoisie master in this satiric observation on the absurdity of a dying upper class society. It's all very French.
8) "Spare Change" (00:07:04) - "Got any spare change? If you don't, go to hell." As envisioned by animator Ryan Larkin, a panhandler named Astral Pan journeys to heaven and hell and Montreal in his quest for spare change. Trippy and surreal.
9) The Spine" (00:11:18) - More fabulous brain-bending stuff as Oscar winning animator Chris Landreth, thru dazzling surreal imagery, explores the destructive underpinnings of a 26-year-old marriage. An ultimately uplifting tale.
10) "The Man Who Slept" (00:11:45) - While her man obliviously snores away, a woman, stricken with ennui, longs to experience life.
11) "How People Got Fire" (00:16:03) - A digitally animated short, young and thoughtful Tish, one of the village children, is often drawn to Grandma Kay's kitchen, this enchanted place in which the mundane and the mythical bump elbows every day. "How People Got Fire" has something to say about the cultural value and resonance of oral traditions long cherished by the American Indians. As Tish often chants: "Now. Now. Now..."
12) "Robes of War" (00:05:14) - Vengeance and judgment arrive in the form of a robed woman in this stark, black & white anti-war allegory.
13) "Drux Flux" (00:04:50) - A disturbing series of fleeting images denounces the advances of industry, and the strident score abets in damning it. Progress marches onwards, and this short seems to really resent it. Excuse me while I shrug off the message. I happen to like my Nissan Cube.
14) "Sleeping Betty" (00:09:17) - Director Claude Cloutier breathes hilarious, subversive life into Charles Perrault's classic tale. Princess Betty is deep in slumber land, and no one can wake her. All manner of candidates appear to try, including a witch, a multiple-eyeballed extraterrestrial, and a Prince Charles lookalike. With its many wacky visual gags, this is easily my favorite short in this collection; it's rendered in india ink.
15) "The Necktie" (00:12:17) chronicles fifteen years in the life of Valentin, an office drone subjected to the soul-crushing doldrums of a nowhere career, this symbolized by the tie he always receives as a present on his birthday. And then, one day, on his fortieth birthday, hope springs in the shape of an accordion found in a birthday card.
16) "Come Again In Spring" (00:11:51) - An old man tries to cheat Death in this gentle tale of mortality and bird feeding. I really liked this one.
17) "HA'Aki" (00:04:53) - Filmmaker Iriz Pääbo's fabulous ode to Canada's national sport, never mind that she's not that avid a fan of the thing. But, that's okay, simply let the sounds and images wash over you.
18) "Here and There" (00:09:00) - Applying paper illustrations and digitized bits of fabric and charmingly narrating the story herself, Director Diane Obomsawin offers a peek into her chaotic childhood. The whimsical jazzy score is a great touch.
19) "Flutter" (00:06:52) - Award-winning artist Howie Shia's fantastic short about two children who find globe-spanning adventure in the city.
20) "Engine 371" (00:09:07) - If you've been hankering for an animated piece focusing on the construction of Canada's transcontinental railroad, but done in an abstract fashion, well, this is it! Plenty of metaphors and symbology regarding how man, machine, and environment are all interconnected. I tried not to yawn.
21) "Invasion of the Space Lobster" (00:06:48) - "Earthlings, we come in peace. We can fix the barbecue." Director and writer Janet Perlman's affectionate take on those old sci-fi B-movies from the 1950s. Giant space lobsters land on Earth, rampant miscommunication ensues, the end of the world is nigh! Plus, you know it's not gonna end pretty when an arbitration lawyer shows up... This is another of my favorites.
22) "Sainte Barbe" (00:07:42) - It's all about the power of the beard and a little boy's adoration of his grandfather. Tim Burton would probably approve of the playful gothic visuals flourishing in this piece.
23) "Paradise" (00:07:50) - Lots of times, suburban bliss ain't what it's cut out to be. Sometimes, it feels like your life runs on predetermined tracks. That's literally the case in "Paradise," a bright-colored cautionary tale of one workaholic husband whose herculean efforts at the workplace comes at the cost of his marriage. Dare I say, yet another highly imaginative animated short?
24) Vive la Rose" (00:06:15) - Newfoundland singer Emile Benoit serenades us in his sincere, quavery old man voice as evocative images flit on by, making me and hopefully you feel just a little bit sad and reflective.
25) "Land of the Heads" (00:06:10) - This one is awesome and shares "Sainte Barbe's" gothic sensibilities. In this delicious bite of horror, a vampire wanders out each night and collects heads from children. And why? The vampire's wife yearns to replace her own nasty, wrinkled head with one that is younger and lovelier. Except that she's never satisfied with each potential replacement. The heap of children's heads grows larger.
26) "Runaway" (00:09:11) - A train navigates a hill and slams into a cow, rendering the train a runaway one. You'd hope that the cab with all the rich folks and the cab with all the middle class folks will cooperate to save themselves. But, no...