Festival of Portland Animation
Fri May 18 through Thurs May 24
Clinton Street Theatre
Program 1: 7:00 pm
Program 2: 9:00 pm

Harlan Ellisononce wrote an essay called "The 3 Most Important Things In Life." The third item on his list was an anecdote about his brief, one-day job on staff at Walt Disney Studios. The lesson he learned that he hoped to share with his audience was simple: "Nobody fucks with The Mouse."

In animation, as in life, there is no more important rule. Ask Fox how well their Anastasia movie did, or Dreamworks how much money they made on Prince of Egypt. They not only tried to fuck with The Mouse, they tried to run the same maze for the same piece of cheese. Fox and Dreamworks failed miserably.

Still, there are those who refuse to be swayed. As with any creative industry, there will always be individuals who can't be contained. And so, animators leap Don Quixote-like into the fray, attempting to break through the artistic stranglehold The Mouse has on the cartoon business. Where these cunning warriors succeed and the studio armies fail, though, is they don't try to play The Mouse's game. They don't do full-length features with Elton John songs and talking animals, but go back to where it all began--the animated short.

Dielle Alexandre is an animator working at Will Vinton Studios, Portland's under-appreciated animation studio (the folks behind everything claymation from the California Raisins to Eddie Murphy's TV show "The PJs"). Since Vinton is pretty much ground zero for local animators, Dielle was able to discern something most of us don't know--there's a lot of cartoon talent in this town! As a result of that realization, she has organized a festival of short animated films to showcase the diversity of vision that's available.

And boy, when I say diverse, I mean diverse. There are more traditional cartoons, like Shaun Reimers' comedic short "Who's Babysitting Who?" and there are more technologically advanced experiments like Kyle Bell and Noah Klabunde's "Dragon," where a claymation ogre squares off against a computer generated dragon in a battle of old school vs. new school. The folks at Flying Rhinoceros have put together their excursions into flash animation to give us a glimpse where the short film style may be headed. There are even a few who play with real objects and film, like Dan Ackerman's awesome "Fox Tower Time Lapse," where we see the new theater complex go from hole in the ground to finished product in a matter of minutes. There are even examples of artists who have broken into the real world with commercials for the Discovery Channel and a music video for Marilyn Manson.

In fact, there is so much work to be seen, there have to be two separate programs each night to get through it all. Of course, with any such collection there's going to be a mixed bag of material. For every cartoon that leaves a lasting impression for its skill (Alex Knox's "Vespers," an touching look at the feelings of grief), there's one that might leave you baffled (Chris Tenzis' "Man and His Pants," a masturbatory experiment with video turntablism). That can be half the fun, though, and regardless of the final result, the viewer gets to see how many different turns human imagination can take. As Laura DiTrapani's character Miss Daisy says (quoting Tennessee Williams), "I don't want realism. I want magic." When was the last time you got four hours of rabbits jumping out of hats from The Mouse?