Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Disturbing Animation

Do you like creepy movies that tend to chase other people out of the room? If so, this month, The Sundance Channel is showing something that’s right up your alley. Little Otik is the fourth feature-length film by Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer. It’s the story of a childless couple who adopt a whittled tree stump as their child. Soon, the stump, which they name “Otik,” comes to life, sprouts teeth, and starts eating everything, and everyone, he can get his hands on. In terms of disturbing cinema, this tale of the terror of parenthood makes “Eraserhead” look like a Disney movie. Little Otik is also extremely funny, with dark situation comedy woven into its fairy-tale-gone-bad motif. The film is subtitled, so you can turn down the sound and follow the story, if the baby noises start creeping out your cats. It’s mostly live-action, but Otik is animated, and a few of Svankmajer’s earlier works make cameo appearances on TV screens in the background.

Sundance is showing Little Otik four more times this month: This Saturday at 5:45 p.m.; Friday the 17th at 2:30 p.m.; Thursday the 23rd at 10:00 p.m.; and Sunday the 26th at 8:05 a.m.. Sundance is also showing a collection of Svankmajer’s animated shorts all month long, including a double feature with Little Otik on the 23rd.

Traditional Animation’s Last Stand (for now)

Curious George opens this weekend, and it’s notable for two reasons: First, it’s an animated feature that is aimed directly at the younger set, with a clear “G” rating and no contrived pop-culture references or innuendo. Second, Curious George is the last big-budget traditionally animated American feature film that we’ll be treated to for the foreseeable future. Unless Disney, under their new head, Pixar’s John Lasseter, revives the hand-drawn animation unit, everything we see on the big screen will be created with a computer. In fact, we have to correct an item from last week. ‘Flushed Away,’ the next feature film from Aardman Animation (‘Wallace and Gromit’), will be entirely computer-generated, although it will mimic the look of clay animation.

Curious George is a throwback to the more innocent days of musical cartoons aimed at children. It’s great that the artform has moved beyond those limitations, but it’s nice to see that a good children’s cartoon can still find a home in the marketplace, too.

It will be interesting to see how well Curious George does at the box office. If it’s a hit, will the credit go to the fact that it’s a movie intended for kids, or if it bombs, will the blame go to the fact that it was made using “old-fashioned” 2 D animation? There’s a chance that this movie could reverse the trend, and all the movie studios will start cranking out hand-drawn animation again.

But we’re not holding our breath.