At the 19th International Tournee of Animation, you can see a man swallow a shark, whole, and that ought to be enough for anyone.
Animation is no rules and all surprises; it indulges anarchy. That's what you get at the Tournee, which, through a program of 20 shorts, takes you from a reality that is merely skewed to a reality that is near hysteria.
The man swallows the shark in "Anijam," the best of the shorts, composed by 22 animators in a kind of jam session. The last frame of one 15-second segment became the first frame of the next, and the whirl of styles is dizzying, a fast-cut Cook's tour of contemporary animation styles.
In "Luncheon," a Hungarian short, you can watch a clay woman with a tongue like a bolo and fibrillating lips scarf up a stew she's meticulously prepared. Another from Hungary, "Victoria," makes warfare into an Olympic event, and becomes a three-minute pre'cis of man's folly. In the British "Conversation Pieces," we watch a radio host bring his listeners through their morning rituals while he proceeds through his own. He emerges from a Murphy bed in the wall and immediately starts talking (this must be how Larry King does it).
In "Incubus," we get a fellow with a large florid carbuncle that causes his head to deflate (he "squoze" it); he'd get along fine with "The Big Snit," who, in a Canadian short of the same name, chooses to play Scrabble while the world collapses in nuclear war.
The techniques vary from the simplest line drawings to three-dimensional computer animation, from cartoons (including the hilarious battle of charades between a minimalist mime and a fellow who spells everything out in the Canadian "Charade") to puppets (the best of which is Tim Burton's "Vincent," told in verse, about a kid named Vincent Malloy who fantasizes that he's Vincent Price).
Not all of the shorts are successful. Several are routine (like "Skywhales," no different from the usual Saturday morning fare), and there's a tendency to cling to one joke: in "Romeo and Juliet," for example, Romeo is a two-headed dinosaur, but the animators never take the short beyond that conceit.
But there's plenty of good stuff here, full of the special spritz that only animation can give you. Such shorts, of course, used to run regularly before the main feature at the local theater. That, in the end, is what the Tournee leaves you with -- it reminds you of what's been lost.
The 19th International Tournee of Animation, which is unrated but contains no offensive material, will run at the Biograph through May 13.