An anthology is by definition a mixed bag, and this collection of shorts put together by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt is no exception. “The Animation Show” contains items by the compilers and others, offerings old and new, some brilliant and some flat. But the quality is, on average, high enough for the whole just to get by.
Judge, whose “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill” have made him a celebrity of sorts in the animation world, is represented by a couple of brief early pieces, one includes a sort of tryout for Hank Hill and the other is one of the Milton pre-“Office Space” shorts, both amusingly odd. From Hertzfeldt, whose drawing style might be described as minimalist, we have a couple of longer items. One, called “Billy’s Balloon,” is a delightfully misanthropic vision of a kid and his ill-spirited toy, and another, “Rejected,” is a hilarious group of unusable television commercials. To these are added offerings from other hands. Older items include Ward Kimball’s “Mars and Beyond,” a colorful and imaginative speculation about the forms life might take on other planets, dating from 1957, and the macabre, wonderful 1982 “Vincent” by Tim Burton, about a little boy with curious interests. (The kid has what might be a strongly autobiographical streak, and the style foreshadows “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”) The remaining offerings include “Strange Invaders,” a rather overlong piece about a couple who adopt an alien as their child, with unfortunate results; “Mt. Head,” a visually striking work from Japan, about a parsimonious fellow on whose bald pate a cherry tree grows after he consumes a seed; “Ident,” a over-serious 1989 Aardman Studios production about Gumby-like folk trapped in a mazelike world; “The Cathedral,” a lovely but languorous piece in which the titular building proves more than meets the eye; “La Course a l’Abime,” a riot of color set to music by Berlioz; “Parking.” about an attendant’s war on a “Little Shop of Horrors”-style plant; “Fifty Percent Grey,” a rather heavy piece about the afterlife; and “Das Rad,” in which two rocks comment on the rise and fall of human civilization. There’s a sly introduction from some of Hertzfeldt’s “characters,” as well as an intermission feature and conclusion from his inkwell, too. Unfortunately, there are also several claymation shorts by Corky Quakenbush featuring Ricardo, a verbosely unfunny kid with a speech impediment, that are bad enough to make one cringe.
There isn’t much opportunity to see old-style, hand-drawn animation on the big screen anymore, and “The Animation Show” provides a fair chance to get a fix, with more hits than misses. Not everything Judge and Hertzfeldt have chosen is top-drawer, but their anthology contains enough gems to make it worth a look.