Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Get Weird with Row House's Stop-Motion Animation Week

A bizarre new release headlines a group that includes three Oscar nominees.

Photo courtesy GKIDS

On an early-winter night in 2015, I sat at my desk and selected a DVD, more or less at random, from a rapidly expanding pile of screener copies. Ten minutes later, I was transfixed; after half an hour, I was already declaring it the best movie of the year.

That movie was “Anomalisa,” a challenging, magical-realism film by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. It is a work of stop-motion animation; its characters are tiny plastic figurines. I was amazed; in a difficult medium, the filmmakers had managed to challenge my very perceptions of myself.

Few other people got around to seeing it.

“Anomalisa,” which will be revived this week as part of Row House Cinema’s celebration of stop-motion animation, wasn’t a hit at the box office, though it was critically praised — I stuck to my guns and called it the year’s best picture — and nominated for an Oscar. The idea of a piece of stop-motion animation, a format that can’t help but reside in the uncanny valley, taking on topics such as isolation, infidelity and depression, seemed to be a hard sell. There is, admittedly, something weird about it.

That’s the case with stop-motion animation in general, though; it looks odd, and the best creators can exploit that to great effect. Such is the case with “Anomalisa,” as well as two other features receiving runs this week at Row House: “My Life as a Zucchini,” a French cartoon about a fleet of plucky orphans; and “Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson’s dark comedy about outcast canines in near-future Japan. (I wasn’t the biggest fan of the latter film, but plenty of people disagreed with me on that point.) Both “Isle of Dogs” and “My Life as a Zucchini” also received Oscar nominations.

The newest film in the lineup may also be the weirdest — quite an achievement with “Anomalisa” around. “This Magnificent Cake!” is a French-language anthology of troubling, interconnected short stories in 19th-century Africa. A French, Belgian and Dutch co-production, the 44-minute film — it’s paired with several shorts from the excellent animation distributor GKIDS — is a surreal, Lynchian exploration of the harrowing period when European nations took over swaths of Africa with little regard for its inhabitants.

Don’t mistake it for a bleak history lesson, though; this is grounded madness, like “Eraserhead” rendered in felt. A failed businessman discovers a vast cavern and befriends an ill-fated snail with a human face; a sad-sack clarinetist inadvertently wreaks havoc with his instrument; a rampaging brat causes unfathomable suffering without noticing it.

“This Magnificent Cake!” will put some viewers off, to be sure, but that’s what the best works of stop-motion animation do: They lean into the bizarre look of the style to create something unusual, arresting and often alarming, but they do so with humor and artistry. If you go to Row House this week (and you should), you’ll leave in a bizarre mood — but have the compulsion to go back for a repeat viewing.


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

First-Of-Its-Kind Flower Truck Blooms in Pittsburgh

Customers are able to pick their own bouquet from the collection of fresh stems aboard Victoria Miess's mobile, mint green mini-truck.

All the County Fairs Happening This Summer in Western PA

Mark your calendars. There are 35 county fairs in western Pennsylvania this summer.

2019 Pittsburgh Area Fireworks: Where & When to Watch Them

This booming list of fireworks displays can help you get your fill of patriotism during the long holiday week.

What to Do with an Old Bank? Redecorate with Part of a Plane

The former PNC Bank in West View is now a community resource center with some very unique features.

The 400-Word Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

This arresting debut feature about displacement by the Bay is one of the year's best films.

Songs of Steel for a Summer in Pittsburgh

Love PGH Music Month has formed just in time for a summer filled with great shows.

You Could Be in a Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman Film

Want to be in a movie alongside some top celebrities? This is your chance!

Food, Beer and Games at the Crafty Jackalope

The popular Bridgeville bar serves its neighborhood well.

Can't Miss Concerts in Pittsburgh in July

This month's lineup includes Belle and Sebastian, Kurt Vile and actor-turned-rockstar Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxmasters.

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 3 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM dining critic Hal B. Klein is eating seasonal salads, sushi and sandwiches.

Transit May Improve Thanks to New Technology

Public transit users may luck out if Port Authority’s wristband ticketing service experiment goes well.

The 400-Word Review: Toy Story 4

Pixar's signature series comes up with an enjoyable fourth chapter. Just don't set your expectations too high.

The Latest Restaurant Openings In Pittsburgh

We say hello to three new Galley Group concepts, plus Con Alma, Over Eden and Inner Groove Brewing.

The Business of Building Cookie Table Bridges

After her cookie table bridges proved to be a hit at her own wedding, a Pittsburgh bride has taken her idea to the next level.

All You Need to Know About Fireworks in Pennsylvania

With new state fireworks laws in place, Pennsylvanians will get a little more freedom to celebrate this Fourth of July.