The Animation Show: Volumes 1 and 2

Here’s something you wouldn’t expect to bear the MTV stamp: a bunch of crazy animators doing highly un-commercial things. To be sure, these two programs of shorts don’t come up with anything radical but there’s enough substantial material to forgive the occasional wonky bit. The best of the pair is volume one, which is book-ended by some simple yet hilarious shorts by co-presenter Don Herzfeld and features some of Mike Judge’s earliest pencil tests. Highlights include Adam Elliot’s mournful plasticine remembrances of eccentric family members, Koji Yamamura’s unfortunate packrat who grows a cherry tree on his head and Pjotr Sapegin’s romance between a Japanese doll and a Ken doll sailor, all of which are heartfelt, forcefully absurd and/or ruefully sad. True, Corky Quakenbush’s "Ricardo” shorts are obnoxiously smug and a couple of digital contributions have the Lucas-Speilberg blues but for the most part, it’s a solid collection. Coming up somewhat shorter is volume two, with fewer selections and thus less variety: a hospital adventure by Peter Cornwell would seem utterly unremarkable if left to live-action and the major digital selection is an overlong science fiction bit that proves digital animators need to come up with some new tricks. Still, a sad bit called "Magda” forcefully evokes the corruption of a moment of mercy and the NFB short "When the Day Breaks,” full of anthropomorphised animals in various states of melancholy, proves to be the strongest, meatiest and most moving short in either collection. Of course, no animation show would be complete without renowned maniac Bill Plympton, so both volumes feature one of his shorts: "Parking,” about a parking attendant at war with a seedling that ruins his pristine lot, and "Guard Dog,” about an overzealous mutt who paranoiacally barks at non-existent threats to his master. They’re worth every ounce of the master’s reputation. Extras on volume one include commentaries by Hertzfeld and Plympton, as well as a variety of animatics, pencil tests, art galleries and assorted ephemera from various shorts. Volume two offers a brief (and decent enough) history of animation, several "making of” shorts and bonus shorts by Pes (which are lovely) and Chel White (not so much). A booklet of essays on the filmmakers rounds out the box set. (Paramount)