The final half of this year's Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation--which is creeping around this country's finer theaters, leaving in its wake a fine layer of slime--is damned near unwatchable. Or maybe your tastes run toward necrophilia and fecophilia, sprinkled with more oral sex than the Clinton White House. In Mike Grimshaw's Deep Sympathy, a gravedigger satisfies his sexual urges with the recently deceased; Clayboy Enterprises' Sloaches Fun House comes complete with a hideous claymated he-male whose floppy dick oozes semen like a heavily stimulated Vesuvius; and in Mute & Motormouth's Birth of Abomination, a chubby homunculus gets a blow job from a pregnant junkie whore, who summarily gives birth to a disfigured fetus that's promptly dismissed with a flush down the commode. So, this is what a beating feels like.
This isn't your older brother's Spike & Mike or, for that matter, Mike Judge's or Bill Plympton's. Long gone are the days when the traveling film fest debuted the foremost and finest in cutting-edge cartoonery; long gone are the thrills of discovering Beavis & Butt-head or Plympton's Oscar-nominated Your Face or prehistoric South Park shorts. There's barely a drop of charm or wit left in the fest (gallons of semen, though), which has become a touring freak show; now, it's but a refuge for the racist, homophobic and juvenile--all in one, usually. Most of this year's offerings teeter toward the sophomoric. Maybe it's just a warning that most people shouldn't be allowed into a Best Buy...or, in the case of Q. Allan Brocka's Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, a Toys "R" Us. It's either the best or worst thing in the fest--a commentary on the relationship between gay men and women; a criticism of drug cocktails; or an eight-minute fag joke. Of course, by the time you get to Sloaches Fun House, Rick & Steve will seem downright charming--quaint, even, a vestige from simpler times. Like, 20 minutes ago.
There are the occasional flashes of brilliance, but they're from reliable sources: Pixar, home to Toy Story, delivers the short For the Birds, which ought to come with Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" on the soundtrack; Raymond Persi and Matthew Nastuk, who work on The Simpsons, offer a brilliant homage to the Fleischer Brothers' surreal cartoons of the 1930s, all done to the klezmer strains of Squirrel Nut Zippers' "The Ghost of Stephen Foster"; and Aardman Studios, home to Wallace & Gromit, proffers the claymated middle-brow lunacy of the Angry Kid. Don Hertzfeldt's Oscar-nominated short Rejected, a series of fake ads done with stick figures and gallons of blood-red paint, makes the rounds; it's as banal as it is brilliant. And for a second or two, Roy Wood's Wheelchair Rebecca elicits a chuckle or two; nothing's so funny as watching Ken and Barbie engage in bloody-rough sex. Right? Oh, the triumph of the tasteless.