366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.The prospect of reviewing animation is always alluring, but perhaps never more so than when the Slamdance film festival rolls around. Alternately dream-like and nightmarish as a general rule, this year’s slate bends considerably more toward the abstract and absurd—and as such were a particular treat. I highly recommend you invest in access to these fine additions to the “cartoon” canon, with a particular shout-out for Frank Volk and his ad-blitz bombastic “Hotdogs!”, which has the visual and narrative chops to pull on the heartstrings, induce plenty of chuckles, and squeeze in a seamless mention of dialectical materialism.

And without further ado, the Animation Shorts ’23 showcase!

Arrest in Flight (dir. Adrian Flury; 8 min.)—Candy-colored props and sets are put to unsettling use through an ambient-industrial-choral score and jerky animations—as if the mechanized legs, kitchen chairs, and “people” are being sliced in and out of time. Flury’s dissection of modern life, with all its repetitions and tipping points, hypnotizes the eyes and ears, making even a flippant optimist like myself all too apprehensive.

Babe Beach (dir. Ida Lasic; 8 min.)—Some social commentary from Croatia, with a (top) half-fish / (bottom) half-human beach guide. ’90s polygons and ’80s neon are on proud display as a couple of beach-bum tourists ask a not-quite-local about the benefits of tourism. Visually pleasing, wryly humorous, and remarkably salient.

Baloney Beacon (dir. Max Landman; 6 min.)—Stop-motion using balloons is a gimmick I had never before laid eyes upon. The effect was unsettling. Cosmic creatures are overrun by a death-ray emitted by a hungry god of a tiny planet, who then consumes his prey. Top marks for originality, tone, and medium.

Don’t Die on Me (dir. Ori Goldberg; 3 min.)—A couple of guys on a park bench sharing a doobie frame this scattered narrative, but I would remiss if I did not share the content warning: quintessence mucous. Ori Goldberg animates this quick, spiritual exploration of mucous in a George Grosz style, and does not shy away from the general unpleasantness of nose-related usage. Some sick humor.

Horse (dir. Diana Gong; 4 min.)—RAM trucks, sunsets, and a claymation horse sporting pretty eyelashes. The methods of “mixed media” never fail to keep my attention. Diana Gong combines live video, clay, tissue paper, and a little computer noodling to talk about masculinity, ideals, infidelity, and doubtless a bit more. While there is always something moving onscreen, it never overwhelms, and it almost feels like one of the more abstract interludes I remember from “Sesame Street” filler. Reined-in chaos.

Hierophany (dir. Maria Nitek; 4 min.)—This nearly abstract display of creatures, community, creation, and womanhood (?) is not conducive to textual description. Squiggle beasts discover a red sphere which catalyses a shift into colorful being before consuming the entities, then to spawn new creations from a vulvic abyss.

Hotdogs! (dir. Frank Volk; 7 min.)—Billy Hotdog extols the virtues—and value!—of his Billy Hotdog Stand’s Billy Hotdog Hotdogs. Platitudes on hotdogs segue into the merits of worker solidarity and religion when Billy reminisces about an old hotdog-cooking friend who died suddenly and alone, as well as the life that never was when he and his true love were beaten down by Big Hotdog. But why do his hotdogs taste so delicious? He fills them with his love for his lost woman. Hotdogs!

Juice (Saft dir. Mona Keil; 5 min.)—Strange pod creatures, a squicky combination of tongues and glans, squish cadmium arachnoid entities. But they dry up, until one of the blobs embraces the multi-legged bugs and oozes goo from their bites. I am highly uncertain about what is on display, but Juice is perhaps the most tactile animation I’ve seen. Be advised.

PLSTC (dir. Laen Sanches; 2 min.)—Well, we’re boned. Plastic-coated fish and sea birds: brief clips synchronized to a sombre violin score. This (thankfully) brief slideshow simultaneously creates dread and urgency, underscoring the alarming plight of the world’s oceans in an aesthetically impressive ninety seconds. A troubling aquarium.

Sliver Cave (dir. Caibei Cai; 15 min.)—As my journey through animation continues, I am almost becoming sickened by the talent out there. Caibei Cai utilizes tin foil for their animation in Sliver Cave, organic images pinched into the shimmering surface, as a rectangle of star-studded void travels over the screen, pushing the action to the periphery. The eye is forced to travel as insects, human hands, and more flow gracefully across the screen. It’s a showcase of method more than a story (though there is a jazzy mood heightened by the jazzy film score), and Sliver Cave suggests great promise in its creator. Whether that will be in narrative filmmaking or art-house installations remains to be seen.

To Fall (Fallen dir. Ivan Morales, Jr.; 14 min.)—”It is estimated that a person falls 3,350 times in their lives,” intones the soft-spoken narrator. This statistic leads one to ponder all the various possibilities ahead; none of them pleasant, all of them downward. Morales uses a watercolor rotoscope technique to add a peaceful veneer to this quiet musing on the topic; it is an apt choice, as his focus tends toward sanguine acceptance. Falling, we are told, can force us to appreciate a slowness in action; a greater emphasis on moment-to-moment observation; and an appreciation for today. “Without today, there is no tomorrow,” he says. And though the scant seconds of pure physicality a fall entails is necessarily dramatic, we may achieve a better awareness as we are permanently altered by the experience.

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