Spike and Mike’s Classical Festival of Animation played at University of California, Santa Barbara’s own Campbell Hall on Friday, April 4, as part of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures’ student appreciation events. In this night of cartoons, animated short films were shown free of charge for all students with a school ID, although the event was also open to the general public for a small fee. Arts & Lectures provides the surrounding community with a wide range of events, but this event was a particularly special one.
While the phrase “fun for all ages” gets thrown around and is far too often a lie, this sentiment remained true for the festival, which entertained the diverse crowd with an even more diverse collection of 21 short films. Many of the films in this series were much more mature than what one would normally expect, far from Saturday morning cartoons. Some dealt with topics such as religious persecution, environmental issues, and addiction. But alongside these themes was an emphasis on the classical cartoon comedy tropes, including bodily functions, wacky sound effects, and slapstick.
Featured this night were some of Festival Directors Craig “Spike” Decker’s and Mike Gribble’s favorite Animation Fest shorts from the past decade, which included a few Oscar-nominated shorts, viral videos, and a brilliant animated music video.
The crowd was laughing and interested throughout the night, but a few particular cartoons stood out above the rest. Two of the crowd favorites were the flash-created, computer desktop battles of the two-part film “Animation vs. Animator.” This animation took a 21st century approach by having the self-reflexive cartoon character battle its own creator, going viral shortly after its initial premiere at the 2007 version of this festival. Another favorite of those in attendance was the Oscar-nominated French short “Oktapodi,” which featured a story of love and escaping murder in the beautiful coastline of Mykonos, except with computer generated octopi serving as the main characters.
While those were excellent examples of new school animation, my personal favorites were the stop-motion papercraft short “The Seed” and the 1930s cartoon-inspired classically animated music video of the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ blues song “Ghost of Stephen Foster.” However, every short was worthy of praise, and those shown demonstrated just how adaptable and creative the medium of animated short films truly is.
This event is just the most recent incarnation of Spike and Mike’s Classical Animation Fest, now nearing its 30th year in existence. The festival sparked the careers of such visionaries as John Lasseter, Matt Stone & Trey Parker, Nick Park, Mike Judge, and UCSB alumnus Don Hertzfeldt. And without this festival we would not have the brilliant works that these filmmakers have since created, including “Toy Story,” “South Park,” “Wallace & Gromit,” “Beavis and Butthead,” and “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” Started in 1977, this festival has toured across the country and delivered alternative, independent, and otherwise unknown short films to welcoming college campuses, with our own UCSB campus being just the latest pit stop in its tour.
While this may only be a short stop in a nationwide tour for those involved in the festival, for our community, this event offered local residents an opportunity to see art and art forms they otherwise might not have been able to. In this way, the UCSB Arts & Lectures Series provides the local gold coast with something that nothing else does: an altruistic, artistic showcase for international talent.
Although this particularly enjoyable event has come to pass, there are still many upcoming events that are free or discounted for UCSB students, and also open to the general public to enjoy.