Darkside Toons


Countless forgettable examples of East European animation later, cartooning remains devoted to the timeless art of kid pacification. Especially in America, animators tend to play it far too safe and keep it far too light. The best works in this six-film grab bag of darker-than-usual animation, however, avoid yuks in favor of a refreshing experimentalism. Five years in the making, Suzan Pitt’s Joy Street reaches back into ’30s cartoon archetypes to make a squeaky reanimated ashtray mouse the shamanic savior of a suicidal woman via a hallucinogenic rainforest trip. The music—Jazz Passenger Roy Nathanson’s updated swing arrangements—is as fascinating as the images, which express an impressively wide range of emotions. The program’s other highlight, Paul Vester’s Abductees, combines hypnotic-regression tapes with captivating animated accounts of degrading encounters with big-eyed extraterrestrials. Two other shorts are outright grim. With its dusty middle-aged mannequins besieged by a posse of rebellious younger counterparts, Jiri Barta’s Club of the Discarded seems straight out of the Twilight Zone. And Piotr Dumala’s paint-on-plaster piece Gentle Spirit is a disturbing Dostoyevsky story rendered on what looks like a redwood’s ancient ring work. Although none of these films possess the bomb-throwing zeal of John Kricfalusi’s Boo Boo Runs Wild (currently in rotation on the Cartoon Network), they make a modest collective case for an animation of cruelty.