The Fine Art of Psycho Animation

This year’s installment of the long-running Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation held a great selection of new and charming films, along with some “”classics”” and a couple of easily forgettable pieces.

Amusing and coarse, the festival promotes itself as a collection of the nastier side of animation. In truth, the 18-and-over age requirement seems a bit overrated. Nothing is as offensive as you might expect. Most of the shorts are suitable for network broadcast. Granted, there are some “”adult”” themes: drugs, drinking, suicide, misogyny and sex; but come on, like you’ve never seen this kind of thing before.

The origins of the festival go back more than 24 years, before the “”classic”” animation festival got started. Spike was living in Riverside, Calif., “”the cultural end of the Earth,”” as he put it, where he was the bassist and vocalist for a ’50s parody greaser band.

“”We would play old cartoons before and in between the sets,”” Spike recounted. “”You know, old ‘Popeye,’ ‘Betty-Boop,’ ‘Superman,’ that kind of thing.””

Out of sheer desperation for something to do in Riverside Spike began playing cartoons in the party house known as “”The Manor.””

“”It was a pretty wild place,”” Spike said. “”It was three levels, and we threw crazy parties, like in Animal House.'””

It was at one of these parties that Spike first met Mike, the now — deceased half of Spike and Mike.

“”He showed up to a party uninvited in a clown costume,”” Spike said. “”He had mirrors on his shoes, and was using them to look up women’s dresses. Their boyfriends beat Mike up and threw him out of the party.””

Needless to say, Mike eventually moved into the The Manor’s attic, and the two became fast friends. As a twosome, Spike and Mike were able to compensate for each other’s talents: “”Mike was a great MC, and I wasn’t,”” Spike remembers. “”He was always good at things I wasn’t, and I was good at things he wasn’t.””

A Festival of Animation began slowly.

“”At first we just scrapped things together,”” Spike said. “”It was very crude.””

Soon they found a source for several films in the National Film Board of Canada. As time went on, a reputation began to build, and people began to send in films, but this did not happen overnight. Spike has traveled the world to find new and interesting shorts. He was on the road for 10 months of the year in earlier days, though now he spends more like four.

“”The show is definitely fun,”” Spike said, “”but it’s a lot of work, and a lot of commitment.””

Spike and Mike’s has approximately 50-city run throughout the year, allowing for wide exposure for the festival and the animation. All that time and effort are really beginning to pay off.

“”We got mentioned this year on ‘The Simpsons,'”” Spike said. “”And we went on tour with Korn; it became titled the ‘Sick and Twisted’ tour.””

Many now-famous and infamous cartoons have passed through the ranks of Spike and Mike, from “”Wallice and Gromit”” to “”Beavis and Butthead”” and even the “”Powerpuff Girls.””

Watching this rise in the popularity of cartoons that have been helped along by the festival has been bittersweet for Spike.

“”In the beginning we really got screwed on the legal issue,”” he recounted, “”so we’ve never gotten any money or even any recognition when people use the shorts.””

Still, Spike remains optimistic.

“”It’s coming back to us,”” he said coyly. “”It’s getting bigger, and more and more people are hearing about us now.””

Audience participation is popular throughout the festival, building a consistent rowdiness that “”does not support the quiet movie-going experience,”” Spike said. “”You had better be prepared for childish comments from the more vocal attendees, but often it’s all in good fun.””

Intermission entertainment was also provided. To the great delight of male audience members, there were five women up on stage, competing in the “”Best Ass”” competition. The pre-show entertainment was three massive balloons left to be tossed around the auditorium. It’s amazing how completely enraptured people become by a large plastic sphere of helium. Since when did we all become cats?

There are a string of fabulous shorts that can be seen this year: “”Timmy’s Lessons In Nature”” shows you what you expect to happen more often to the Crocodile Hunter, and in “”Voltron & Heroin”” you find a couple of great practical jokes for children. “”Maakies”” was featured on an episode of “”Saturday Night Live”” a few years back, but is great whether you’ve seen it before or not. After all, when isn’t alcohol and suicide a winning combination? Chris Rock’s voice and head star in “”Bad Phone Sex,”” which is humorous, if not predicable. Tenacious D, the acoustic-freaky-funk duo, and Jack Black of “”High Fidelity”” fame have an animated presence along with singing the soundtrack to “”Fuck Her Gently.””

The great and bizarre Bill Plymton (Liquid Television, and the animated GEICO ads) has a new film, “”Eat,”” that manages to capture the sick part of the festival fairly well. His twisting presentation of reality constantly blurs the lines of fantasy, allowing you to see what a character is thinking. The vomiting seemed inevitable somehow, but the crowd was pleased by the queasy sequence.

Both “”L’Amour”” and “”Rejected”” were present again this year; these are stick figure animations that manage to be some of the funniest films Spike and Mike have ever shown. “”Rejected”” has actually been nominated for an Academy Award; it’s pretty amusing to imagine members of the Academy watching that fluffy little thing bleeding out of its anus. All you can do is laugh.

If you’re not expecting to have the absolute limits of good taste and judgment pushed back, then Spike and Mike will certainly amuse you. Fans of early “”Beavis and Butthead”” will rejoice in the simple and often blatant gags that take place on screen. With around 20 short films, you can’t really expect every single cartoon to be the most entertaining gem. Yet, what is occasionally disappointing in a film here or there, is more than made up for with the other shorts and the atmosphere, which includes stage antics involving the crowd.

In general, almost everybody will be pleased by attending, as long as they aren’t expecting anything more than what this festival is: animation that celebrates its own lack of refinement.

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