Any community or movement requires the support of curators and fans to flourish. Spike and Mike are credited with investing in a market where one didn’t exist and without them it’s quite possible we’d never have the likes of The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation was born when two concert promotors from Riverside, California: Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble, who started showing cartoons between acts. Originally sourcing from smaller distributors, college campuses, and the National Film Board of Canada, they grew their brand to compete with others and found their niche with their Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. Originally a touring show that started in non-traditional venues on college campuses, the tour grew to include independent cinemas. That’s where I discovered it–on our annual family trip to Disney. Although intended for audience members 18 and older, Orlando’s indie art house of record, the Enzian, didn’t care and neither did my mom. 

The festival gave a home to animators and a community to filmmakers like Nick Park, Andrew Stanton, Will Vinton, Pete Docter, Bill Plympton, and Don Hertzfeldt (whose film Rejected screened twice in Sick and Twisted). Curated with the help of screaming fans at Comic-Con, the festival has perhaps run its course with the annual touring program of Oscar-nominated animated shorts and the advent of the internet. For animators just starting their career, Spike and Mike offered big-screen distribution opportunities others could not, along with their own annual award show complete with their own pre-ceremony brunch. 

Animation Outlaws is a brief but loving tribute to Decker and Gribble, featuring interviews with many alumni of the program which seems to have ceased its touring program but is remains a regular feature at Comic-Con. “Spike” Decker, the more buttoned-down, businessman of the duo, and his team were forced to take the reigns after Mike Gribble, the showman, passed away in 1994 at the age of 42, and shepherd the touring program in indie theaters throughout the US and abroad. (Their competition had a national agreement with Landmark Cinemas.)

Directed by Kat Alioshin, the film embraces the rough around the edges nature of the Spike and Mike series, animating interviews with Gribble based upon archival videos. Running a brisk 68 minutes, the film lacks a certain polish by design. It feels very much like a product of the mid-1990s in the best possible way while frustratingly leaving a few details about the operation post-2002 off-screen. Working with mostly home footage of Spike and Mike, the film accurately captures the magic as a fond tribute to pioneers who launched the careers of important animators beyond Disney and Pixar and gave those with day jobs at the big studios an outlet to explore their sick and twisted side.

Animation Outlaws premiered at Slamdance Film Festival.

Grade: B

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