"You can tell that he's an animator," says Michael Fabrizio, coordinator of the four-Sunday event. "Most of his stuff looks like cartoons." Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands character has blades for fingertips and a face that looks drawn on, the corners of his mouth permanently downturned in a way that would be more easily rendered with pen and paper than with facial musculature. The outlandish characters in Beetlejuice were so perfect for Saturday morning and after-school cartoon spots that that's exactly where they landed.
Sunday's Animation Festival installment offers a series of shorts that begins with Burton's Vincent and concludes with an early piece by the Quay brothers, 1979's Nocturna Artificiala. Fabrizio put the latter on the lineup sight-unseen. "I took a chance on it," he says. "I'm sure that whatever it is, it'll be provocative." With an abstract style that focuses more on creating an intense mood and manipulating beautifully filmed bits of reality so that they end up looking eerie and surreal, the Quay brothers fascinate even their fellow animators.
Nocturna Artificiala is considered cutting-edge even 23 years after it was made, but one of this week's shorts -- the 1959 Tell Tale Heart -- was a primitive stab at animation for art's sake. "It's very frightening," says Fabrizio of the animated telling of the famed Edgar Allen Poe story. "It's a mixture of moving animation and still animation." In moving animation, the characters go through a whole range of motion, whereas in still animation, a frozen image glides across the screen. But that simplicity doesn't detract from the intensity of Poe's narrative. "It's one of the few interpretations that manages to capture the madness of Poe," Fabrizio explains. "It has that feeling of real dementedness."
The other Animation Festival offerings are longer, more-recent films also selected by Fabrizio. On Sunday, May 12, he'll show Balto (which is, as we all expect from producer Steven Spielberg, a feel-good movie with nice-looking animation). On Sunday, June 2, he'll show the computer-animated Antz, with voices provided by the likes of Woody Allen and Gene Hackman. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? concludes the festival. (Fabrizio points out that this movie could be viewed as a metaphor for social inequality, with Toon Town representing the "low-rent, slum part of town that nobody wants to go to.")
As accustomed as we've become to seeing animation, this festival might remind viewers that the living, moving pictures on screen began like many of the works hanging on the walls nearby -- with the meeting of pencil and paper. "Animation belongs in a museum," Fabrizio says. "It's made of drawings."