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Most of the videos were natural history footage, but for unexplained reasons there was one tape of films made by Aardman Animations, which Dad would occasionally borrow so that I could watch Wallace and Gromit. As well as The Wrong Trousers and A Grand Day Out, the tape also featured several other Aardman projects. Among these were the music videos for Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer and Nina Simone's My Baby Just Cares For Me (which will forever, in my head, be sung by an animated plasticine cat-woman), and also the original Creature Comforts film, which featured interviews with ordinary British people as the dialogue of various claymation zoo animals.
Aardman productions having made a lasting impression on me, I was intrigued to find a collection of Aardman films available to view on Lightbox. ``Aardman shorts'' is presented as a series with 35 episodes, but it is actually more like an archive of short animated productions dating from the 1970s to the early 2000s, which don't need to be watched in any particular order. Ranging in length from two to 14 minutes, they display a wide range of themes and animation styles.
The display picture for the series is of two cute little roundish claymation characters, and could give the impression that this is a series of short animations for children, but parents of toddlers should not be fooled. These particular characters appear in episode 30, Pib and Pog, which begins in the style of a cutesy show for small children complete with syrup-voiced narrator, but quickly takes a darkly humorous turn as Pib and Pog antagonise each other with increasing violence.
Some of the shorts probably would be enjoyed by small children, such as Wat's Pig, a dialogue-less story of two brothers separated at birth, or Humdrum, in which two shadow puppets attempt to fill in a boring afternoon with games. The Deadline, in which three animated figures attempt to apologise for not having made a film for the viewer to watch, is another highlight and could be enjoyed by all ages, but Babylon, a macabre apocalyptic tale featuring a conference of arms dealers and a sense of creeping horror, should only be approached by mature adults in sound mental health.
``Aardman Shorts'' is a mixed bag. Many of the films appear to have been somewhat experimental, and some of them feel more like art than entertainment. As a showcase of groundbreaking animation history it's worth a look, and by its nature can be sampled in small bites. But if in the end you would rather just watch Wallace and Gromit, Lightbox has them too.
- by C. Tilley and H. Turner