Review by Sean Boelman
The directorial debut of filmmaker Kat Alioshin, Animation Outlaws is a new documentary made for anyone who is a fan of animated films. Featuring interviews with numerous recognizable figures within the field of animation, this is an entertaining and creatively-told documentary that effectively pays loving homage to its subjects.
The movie tells the story of Spike Decker and Mike Gribble, two friends who came together to start Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation, a roadshow that honored the best in animated filmmaking before the internet made the medium more widely accessible. Ultimately, Alioshin tells this story in a way that, while narratively straightforward, serves as a compelling underdog story.
Over the course of the film, Alioshin traces the life of Decker and Gribble’s tours and explores the impact they had on both the artists whose work was showcased there and the people who were in the audience at the roadshows. Even though this story is very entertaining, there is ultimately too much to be told in such a short period of time. At less than an hour and fifteen minutes long, the movie certainly could have spared to be a bit longer.
That said, Alioshin does an excellent job of presenting the subjects in a way that will be intensely sympathetic to the audience. In many ways, the film is at its best when it is an ode to Decker and Gribble. At times, it does start to feel like some of the interviews are leaning a bit too heavily on the nostalgia of the situation, but for the most part, it is a sweet and loving tribute.
However, undeniably Alioshin’s greatest success with the movie was in assembling a large group of Festival of Animation alumni to serve as subjects for interviews. Among the interviewees featured in the film are such prominent animators as Pete Docter (Inside Out), Seth Green (Robot Chicken), and Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit). The fact that so many of the interviewees are well-respected lends the movie an even greater sense of legitimacy.
Although the film is admittedly very heavy on talking-head interviews, Alioshin shoots them in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and entertaining. Instead of placing them against a solid background as is standard, Alioshin shows animated shorts behind the person who is talking, and surprisingly enough, this isn’t particularly distracting.
The documentary also contains original animated sequences that tell the story of Decker and Gribble as they work to organize and promote their shows. Set to a voiceover by Decker (Gribble unfortunately passed away in 1994), these scenes emphasize the friendship between the two central figures, and as a result, are very heartwarming and fun.
With Animation Outlaws, director Kat Alioshin takes a familiar documentary style and turns it on its head, delivering a tribute that is meaningful and entertaining. This is a crowd-pleasing documentary in every sense of the word.
Animation Outlaws is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.