Toony Loons 

Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation leaves audiences screaming with laughter even as they recoil in horror

Just because Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation has the words "sick," "twisted" and "animation" in the title, don't think it's the exclusive domain of stoned teenagers. There's plenty here for them, but the movie has something for stoned adults and even stoned seniors.

In truth, it might be wise to see the show in a relatively sober state, because there are three awesome shorts in this version of the annual compilation.

Q. Allan Brocka's "Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, Episode 1: Cum & Quiche," shows the titular couple hosting a dinner party. It turns out the lesbians in attendance want some of Steve's spunk so they can start a family, turkey-baster-style. Just before dessert, the group accomplishes its goal.

Oh yeah -- this is all done with Legos.

The writing is pitch-perfect funny, too: As one bitter lesbian gal pulls into the driveway, Rick says, "I think the hearse has arrived." When an HIV-positive man has to take his meds, he pulls out a ridiculous number of Lego pill bottles -- the black humor is sharp.

"If it were just people sitting around saying the same things, they would have just seemed mean and crude," says Brocka, "but these are plastic things with permanent smiles."

Matthew Nastuk and Raymond Persi's "Ghost of Stephen Foster" is such a slick tribute to the Fleischer Brothers, who made the Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930s, that you will wonder whether the film was secretly made 70 years ago. The black-and-white short depicts a couple of honeymooners who unwittingly check into motel hell. The innkeeper is insane, the bellboy is creepy and even the couple's own suitcase comes to life and runs away. It seems that anything can happen in this spooky free-for-all.

"The way those cartoons were made in the '30s, they were less structured than they are today," explains co-director Nastuk, who, with Persi, works as a director for The Simpsons. "They were less dependent on writing and more dependent on gags and visual humor. I think [cartoons] changed with television because television is more based on writing and scripts."

The jewel in the Spike & Mike crown and the most high-concept offering here is surely Don Hertzfeldt's "Rejected," which has been nominated for an Academy Award this year. The well-written film makes use of minimalist stick figure-type characters, long moments of awkward silence, cascading showers of blood and a mastery of deadpan comedy.

At the end of the piece, the animator's supposed instability leads to a stop-motion sequence in which the actual paper of the cartoon tears, forming black holes that suck in various characters; it's a metacartoon.

When Hertzfeldt saw the compilation on the big screen, he says, "Our film made someone throw up all over himself -- he was on some sort of drug, and he was laughing, and it just came out," he says. "That was a great way for us to celebrate the [Oscar] nomination, and I don't think the crew of Erin Brockovich had a better nomination celebration than we did."

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