Slamdance 2020: Animation Outlaws

Animation Outlaws is a documentary that manages to revisit the touring film festival that is Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation.

If you aren’t familiar with Spike Decker or Mike Gribble, you’re in for a treat.  Many now-famous animators got their start thanks to Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation.  The original touring festival–started in 1977–would soon gave way to the Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation later on.

The promotion techniques they used would get people to watch their touring festival.  A two-hour film festival would screen short films all across the United States.  In doing so, people would get to see the work of the stars…before they were stars so to speak.  As I watched the film and saw scenes from Park City, I got to thinking how Slamdance was the perfect venue for screening.  After all, Slamdance discovered some of our most famous filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, the Russo Brothers, etc.

With Mike’s comedy antics, the festival was more or less a carnival.  In other words, you had to be there!  The other thing is that this festival allowed a showcase for independent, experimental, and foreign animated films.  Their shows would feature animation picked from the National Film Board of Canada, Cal Arts, Sheridan, Royal College of Art, and Annecy.

Outside of film festivals, it’s hard to find short films playing in theaters.  Ironically enough, they once toured the show at Sundance and here it is being selected for Slamdance!  There’s the occasional short film before an animated film but that’s about it.  During this year’s Sundance Short Awards ceremony, juror Cindy Sherman said that she wants to see more short films playing in theaters before a feature film.

The film manages to get innovative with blending animation with interviews.  In a way, this film really is the perfect tribute to Spike and Mike!

“Before Mike and Spike came, there was no such thing as sick or twisted,” says Weird Al Yankovic.  “Everything was pleasant, nice, sweet, wholesome.  Then they came along and changed the world for better or worse.  It’s really all their fault.”

After watching the documentary, there’s no arguing this quote from Weird Al.  There’s another argument to be made about how none of your favorite Pixar films get made without this festival.  Both Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter are among those interviewed in the film.  I should note that former Disney-Pixar chief John Lasseter has clips included in the film.  Despite Lasseter’s personal history, one cannot discount his achievements in the animation field.

At a running time just short of 68 minutes, Animation Outlaws is unlikely to be on your radar.  However, it should be.  While most of us look to the likes of Disney-Pixar being the gold standard in animation, animators have to get their start somewhere.  You just don’t really think of an underground film festival playing a role in their origin story.  Even a pair of Solzy Award-winning animators, Alison Snowden and David Fine, are among those included.

Perhaps what’s most important about Animation Outlaws is that the documentary truly gives Spike and Mike their due.

DIRECTOR:  Kat Alioshin
FEATURING:  Spike Decker, Weird Al Yankovic, Seth Green, Nick Park, Will Vinton, David SilvermanAndrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Libby Simon

Animation Outlaws screened during the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival in the Special Screenings program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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