Gross-Out for Grown-Ups

There's an eerie sense of deja vu that creeps up on us while watching the intro to the latest installment of Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. As a drooling, inbred gunman passing himself off as festival founder Spike proceeds to swig from a whisky bottle and blow away little ceramic figurines of Teletubbies, we can't help but wonder if we've actually seen this predictably lewd, crude bit before, or if it just feels that way.

That's become an increasingly big problem for this annual collection of odd and off-color shorts: the sameness of it all. And frankly, after 10 or so years of these things, how much new can really be done with pee-pee and poo-poo jokes?

Fortunately for all of us, the 2001 edition of Sick and Twisted picks up quickly after the dull promise of the intro, and then just continues to rise. There are at least a half-dozen short films in this year's collection that range from the very good to the excellent, beginning with a smart and very funny satire about a gay-lesbian dinner party called Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the World. From there, we're treated (and I use the word completely free of irony) to The Ghost of Stephen Foster, a wonderfully stylized homage to Betty Boop's creators, the Fleisher Brothers, with music by the Squirrel Nut Zippers; an absolutely hilarious series of shorts by those loonies over at Aardman animation (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) about a bratty punk called Angry Kid; an exquisitely crafted piece of wordless comedy from the Pixar group (Toy Story) titled For the Birds; and a brilliant mini-epic called Rejection that surely ranks as the most clever, bizarre and funniest animation ever to exclusively feature stick figures.

The rest of the festival consists primarily of those aforementioned pee-pee and poo-poo skits, but, in the context of all the other relatively high-class and very funny stuff going on here, it's a lot easier to handle. As a warning to the tender of sensibilities, this year's Sick and Twisted actually kicks the bad behavior up a notch or two (necrophilia and fetus eating, anyone?). One entry, Sloaches Fun House, is billed by Spike himself as "the sickest film ever," and it's my duty to report to you that in all likeliness, it is. At 2 minutes and 53 seconds, it's also quite possibly the weirdest, most disturbing and, frankly, most disgusting thing I've ever seen — and I still can't decide whether it's simply cartoon porno or high art. Take your pick.

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