It remains a sad cinematic fact that only a modicum of animated films—especially doubly damned shorts—ever find their way into theaters. Thankfully, prospects aren’t quite as bleak in a town obsessed with movies: New Yorkers are blessed with an unusually wide menu of ‘toons to snack on, and the New York Animation Festival represents a welcome addition to the bill.
Comprising eight different shorts programs, the festival lineup hums with more talent—raw and finely honed—than most major studios’ entire summer slates. Of the films available for review, only housewife-meets-vacuum tale Natasha, a flaccid Penthouse quip stretched to 10 minutes, feels lazy; the other selections more than compensate. Fraught with nervous energy and gleefully brutal humor, Don Hertzfeldt’s Rejected allegedly charts the filmmaker’s mental decline after his crudely drawn, self-mutilating Learning Channel mascots are unceremoniously nixed. No less tortured, though more colorfully rendered, are the miniature Soviet residents of SUB!‘s titular vessel, which director Jesse Schmal strands inside a fountain in a hyper-European courtyard populated by scooter-riding thugs, soccer-hooligan nuns, and a resolutely finicky schnauzer. First-rate editing keeps the chaos from obliterating itself.
Equally pitch-perfect are Adam Elliot’s Brother and Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby’s When the Day Breaks. The former crafts a droll, subtle, and utterly moving eulogy from basic Primus-vid claymation, while the latter deploys sumptuous detail and brash, fluid movement in examining the emotional fallout from a chance urban encounter. Jonathan Hodgson’s Bukowski adaptation, The Man With the Beautiful Eyes, is almost as deft, especially for those who prefer their meditations whiskey-soaked—another area in which NYC likely posts greater numbers than lesser burgs.