Like its predecessors, Mike Judge’s fourth compilation of animated shorts has its ups and downs. Technically the offerings are almost all topnotch, though they differ radically in visual style, from the most deceptively simple cut-out type to the most extravagantly complicated computer-generated effects. In a couple of cases, there’s even some live-action footage alternating with the animation, and quite strikingly. But the technical expertise is matched only occasionally by equally effective content.
In this case the best item is one of the least opulent-looking: Steve Dildarian’s raunchy “Angry Unpaid Hooker,” an episode from “The Life and Times of Tim,” a series already bought for broadcast on cable, that has about as much movement as “Beavis and Butt-head” did. But the deadpan dialogue is hilarious, and the piece bodes well for the HBO. Almost as enjoyable are two entries by Matthew Walker—“John and Karen,” a low-key morning-after apology by an amorous polar bear to his girlfriend, a penguin, and—even better—“Operator,” a delightfully droll telephone conversation with the Deity.
But from there the drop is precipitous. The two pieces with live-action elements—“Raymond” and “Professor Nieto Show”—are strange but unsatisfying. “Key Lime Pie,” by Trevor Jimenez, is good-looking but vacuous, as are two raucous pieces by Satoshi Tomioka about a pair of Soviet-era escaped prisoners who happen to be bulbous rabbits. Smith and Foulkes’ “This Way Up,” about two wayward undertakers transporting a slippery corpse, is even more impressive visually, but it goes nowhere. Then there are three episodes of “Psychotown” by Dave Carter. Visually they look as though they were modeled on the Terrance and Phillip template from “South Park” (though without the farts), but the slacker dialogue is pretty lame. At that, however, they’re infinitely superior to Stefan Mueller’s “Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker,” a complicated but messy would-be Rube Goldberg-style romp, and several short bits by Corky Quakenbush featuring a yellow doughboy-type called Yompi the Sloup. These creepy pieces are the nadir of the collection.
The remainder of the shorts fall into the mediocre middle ground. That includes Bill Plympton’s “Hot Dog,” the third in his canine trilogy, about a fire-fighting mongrel. It’s almost obligatory to praise Plympton’s work, which is always lovingly rendered. But the fact is that this cartoon isn’t all that good. It has its moments, but even at a mere five minutes not enough of them. Grant Orchard’s “Lovesport: Paint-Balling” is more interesting in an abstract way, as is Georges Schwitgebel’s “Jeu,” set to a Prokofiev scherzo, and both are preferable to the odd “Western Spaghetti” by PES and the two pieces by the French Gobelins animation school (“Voodoo” and “Blind Spot”).
And so we’re left with a very mixed bag—visually interesting throughout, but only sporadically funny, and too often seeming like little more than technical exercises.