Computer Animation Marvels on DVD

Produced by Steven Churchill. Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 (full-screen). Dolby Digital stereo, mono. 57 minutes. 1998. Image Entertainment ID7096ODDVD. NR. $19.99.

The title of this disc pretty much tells you what you're going to see: computer animation—though with a few exceptions, "Marvels" might be stretching things a bit.

One of those exceptions is Bingo (director, Chris Landreth; animators, Landreth, David Baas, Joan Staveley). It begins innocently enough with a nerdy-looking guy sitting on a bench. He's approached by a clown puffing on a cigarette, who simply says "Hi." At first glance, the two don't look like computer-animation figures at all, so realistic is the artists' work.

After the guy on the bench, Dave, says "Hi" in return, the clown says "Hi, Bingo." Dave, confused, says he isn't Bingo. The clown yells at him, screaming that Dave is Bingo, as his head swells in size, distorting his face and making him a bit scary-looking. Suddenly, a woman dressed as a circus ringmaster, also quite realistic in appearance, swoops in out of nowhere and asks for music. In a circle around Dave rise industrial-looking computer screens filled with images of Timothy Leary, a man shouting into a megaphone, tanks in Tiananmen Square, the words "Hi Bingo," and other flashing snippets of video.

After a series of similiarly weird and visually stunning encounters, Dave is so flummoxed that he believes he's Bingo after all. "I am Bingo. Bingo the clown-o, that's me!" he says enthusiastically, jumping up and hopping around a bit. "Thank you," says a bored voice over an intercom. "Next." The audition is over, as is this short.

The animation throughout Bingo is extraordinary. All of the characters look so lifelike that it could have been shot on film, had it not been for the special effects that would have been impossible to create on celluloid. Bingo's lifelike qualities aren't what set it apart from the rest of this disc, however. Unlike many of the other shorts included, Bingo has a distinct beginning, theme, characters, and ending.

Many of the 18 shorts on Computer Animation Marvels are simply too much like watching snippets of video games. A few are fun, however, including The Physics of Cartoons, Part 1 (director, Steph Greenberg; animators, Greenberg, Mike Gasaway, Patrick Lowery), a whimsical, clever look at the title subject. For instance, one of the rules of the physics of cartoons is "A character will remain suspended in space until it looks down." Absolutely true. Each rule is illustrated by two hapless cartoon-looking characters chasing after a dollar bill.

RockPaperScissors (animator, Matt Rhodes) is a battle of wits between the three protagonists in the children's game. A sheet of paper is trying to cover a rock—an endearing paperweight on a desk with wide-open eyes and the words "TO MOMMY" painted on it—and the scissors menace the sheet of paper. After a series of whimsical three-way skirmishes, the paper, cut in two, floats down to cover the rock, which has just smashed the scissors. War is hell.

All three characters are quite realistic in appearance, which isn't nearly as important as how the story is told. Too many of these animators mistake realism and shiny Toy Story–like graphics for plot and presentation, which is perhaps to be expected from animators working with computers. They seem to get carried away with the looks that their computers can generate, rather than with how they can carry us away with their imaginations.

The visual quality of Computer Animation Marvels is quite clear, although there's really no way to know if the colors are accurate or not. We're looking at animation—who's to say that the colors we see are the ones originally generated on the computers? The sound is also clean and clear, although its use in most of the shorts is limited to squeaks, squawks, and unimaginative voices. Again, the animators appear to be much more interested in appearance than in sound or substance.

This DVD is most likely suited to those with a keen interest in computer animation, rather than fans of animation in general. Give me Daffy Duck, any day.