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Arts & Culture

Local Event: A New Generation of Spike and Mike Animation

From Germany, "Love and Theft."
From Germany, "Love and Theft."

It’s Not Just Sick and Twisted Any More

If you grew up with Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation then get ready for the Next Generation of Spike and Mike’s Animation (continuing weekends through November at MCASD at La Jolla). You won’t need a barf bag but you should be prepared to be dazzled.

Spike and Mike (Craig "Spike" Decker and Mike Gribble) have been bringing amazing, outrageous, and technically impressive animation to San Diego since 1977. So when you see their name on a festival you know you are in for a treat. They initially gained fame by pushing the envelope with their Sick and Twisted programs of the 1990s. But now they want to return to their roots and to animated films that are more notable for their artistry than their raunchiness or extreme attitudes. So for the second time this year, Spike and Mike are presenting a New Generation of Animation.

“With the exception of the humor it's completely differently,” says Spike Decker. “I got the urge to go back to roots of early days when we introduced great animators like Nick Park [of Wallace and Gromit fame] and Tim Burton. The difference is like vintage Cabernet versus cheap beer, Metallica versus REM. These animated films are the very best in world but still accessible, hence a new generation.”

In some cases it is literally a new generation of animators that Spike and Mike are attempting to showcase in the hopes finding the next Bill Plympton or Nick Park. Decker recalls not only premiering Park’s films here in the U.S. but also hosting the filmmaker’s first U.S. appearance with his shorts. So this year maybe Andraes Hykade, Juan Pablo Zaramella, or PES will create the kind of buzz to make them animation superstars.

Mike Roush's "The Secret Life of the Burrowing Owl."
Mike Roush
Mike Roush's "The Secret Life of the Burrowing Owl."

Most of the films are premieres but two are already familiar to audiences including a welcome encore of “The Secret Life of the Burrowing Owl,” which is simply perfection in terms of tone and humor.

One of Spike’s personal favorites this year is Andraes Hykade’s “Love and Theft,” a virtuoso of animation in which familiar animated icons continually morph into each other and into new things. It’s a surreal symphony of images that’s quite captivating.

“It’s visually stunning,” says Decker, “I saw it an Annecy [the Annecy Animated Film Festival in France]. It has a truly high level of technical achievement. It’s a German piece with an original score and the music will sound especially good at the museum’s auditorium.” Decker adds that “I was also happy to get ‘Let’s Pollute’ from Geefwee Boedoe. His character design is so clever.”

“Let’s Pollute” is like a 1950s educational film encouraging people to creat the most waste and do the most damage to the environment as a kind of reverse psychology comic pitch to get us to change our ways.

Regina Welker's "Loom."
Regina Welker
Regina Welker's "Loom."

The short that most impressed me was Regina Welker’s “Loom.” It focuses on a spider catching its prey in a steely grey animation rendered in exquisitely sharp detail. There is a breathtaking beauty as well as cold menace to this stunning animation.

Spike also confesses to being “a big animal guy.” So a number of his favorites feature creatures such as “The Hidden Life of the Burrowing Owl,” “PTOL,” “Animal Instincts,” and “Pigeon Impossible.” “Animal Instinct” has a little of Nick Park’s charming character design as a cow and a sheep engage in a battle royale that references everything from Hitchcock to “Star Wars.”

In addition to “Animal Instincts,” my favorite animated creature short was “My Neighborhood Has Been Overrun by Baboons.” The energetic little music video featured some wild haired and hilarious baboons that behaved in the most inappropriate manner.

Decker says the biggest challenge in launching this Next Generation was to establish its personality. He says the Next Generation “has been well received but it took a lot of time qualifying it from Sick and Twisted. Back when we started with just the Festival of Animation we had a stigma to overcome about what is it? Back then people equated cartoons with Bugs Bunny, so we educated our audience. Then we did Sick and Twisted for kind of a party crowd and now we are returning to more of the spirit of the Festival of Animation. Less about it being extreme and more about the artistry.”

This latest edition of A Next Generation of Animation showcases work from nine countries with the highest level of technical achievement. If you love animation or just want to be entertained, entranced, or impressed then this is the program to check out.

You can find a complete schedule and purchase tickets at the Spike and Mike website. This week the showcase screens Sunday November 7 at 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

You can also listen to my interview with Spike from February when the first of The Next Generation programs ran.