The Biograph's "Third Animation Celebration" is animation-lite, a cheery seasonal collection of 20 short films from around the world that surely entertain but don't provoke or startle like the films in the annual "Tournee of Animation." This one is more genial than profound.
Among the short and sweet: "Fumo," a minute-long Swiss anti-smoking public service announcement in which it's the smoker who gets consumed by his cigarette; Skip Bataglia's "Animated Star-Spangled Banner," cute and clever visualizations of the lyrics to said song sung by a group of fifth-graders; George Griffin's "New Fangled," which takes much the same approach to inane ad pitches being proposed at a yuppie marketing conference; and Ferenc Cako's "Zeno Reads a Newspaper," in which the popular Hungarian animorph becomes the stories he reads, with clay-hair-raising results.
In the medium range (three to five minutes), the standouts are Peter Lord's visually arresting "War Story," in which a rambling, off-center Blitzkreig memory ambles to a charming conclusion; John Schnall's "Reading Room," in which a coughing spasm inspires all sorts of surrealistic clay transformations and unnatural disasters; and George Le Piouffle's "Still Life," in which a computer-animated knife and fork find sustenance in an art gallery stuffed with fruit-filled still lifes.
Of the five longer pieces (seven to 10 minutes), Alexei Karaev's "Welcome" is the most charming: A good-natured but slow-witted moose (think of a Russian Bullwinkle) allows a group of small animals to move into his spacious antlers, which they quickly turn into creature-comfort condos. Oblivious to the burden they create, they take the moose for granted until nature evens the score. Karaev, the Russian animator who made last year's Oscar-nomimated "The Cow," uses oil-on-glass paintings to create a beautiful work that feels like a warm, classic, motion-filled children's book.
"Snowie and the Seven Dorps" is by Candy Kugel and Vincent Cafarelli, the team responsible for last year's beguiling "A Warm Reception in L.A." They use a distinctive neon-color-on-black-background style, but the new work, offered as "a passive-aggressive fable for the '90s," lacks the succinctness of its predecessor as it traces the misadventures of Snow Job as she moves to Hollywood and deals with seven unscrupulous agents (Sorry, Creepy, Sleazy etc).
John Kricfalusi's "Red Hoek and Stimpy in 'Big House Blues' " is an homage to classic cartoon zaniness that emphasizes obvious mayhem at the expense of subtle humor; the Tex Avery-inspired animation is fine, but the concept of a chihuahua and cat stuck in a pound trying to avoid "the big sleep" is weak. Another American entry, Sylvie Feter's "Personality Software," is a cautionary tale about a near-future when brain-implanted computer disks have replaced all those tedious self-help books, only to create a new minefield of computer errors (at eight minutes, though, it belabors the point).
Jan Svankmajer's "Darkness, Light, Darkness" is another clay-based masterpiece, an odd self-creation fable that achieves in seven stark minutes what Someone Else might have taken seven days with. It's full of rich metaphor and sly wit, as the best Eastern European animation usually is (Svankmajer is Czechoslovak). This is one film that would be just as much at home in the more serious "International Tournee of Animation."
All in all, this is an enjoyable 90 minutes, but not the surprise-filled experience we usually expect from animation anthologies.
The Third Animation Celebration, which is unrated, is at the Biograph through Jan. 10.