Animated cinema geared specifically for adults is an elusive proposition. Even if Pixar’s recent films (especially Up and last year’s Wall*E) and Nick Park’s Aardman entertainments have truly embodied that slippery archetype “fun for the whole family,” the mainstream of animation remains fart jokes, anthropomorphic jungle critters with googly eyes, and familiar voices spouting shoehorned-in lowbrow pop-culture references (toss in the latest from Smashmouth over the end credits for good measure). Even animation of the more transgressive variety merely R-rates those same tropes to gain inclusion in the latest edition of Spike and Mike’s. Why can’t animation be employed to stimulate the adult imagination and probe weightier matters than flatulence? Is the genre irrevocably linked at this point to juvenilia?
There are obvious exceptions: the melancholia of Don Hertzfeld, the serious sociopolitical content of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis, Linklater’s Waking Life and the recent animated doc Waltz with Bashir. Add to these Tatia Rosenthal’s stop-motion $9.99 which takes a wan, whimsical look at the average lives of the denizens of an anonymous Australian apartment building. Based on a collection of short stories by Israeli author Etgar Keret (who also cowrote the screenplay), Rosenthal’s feature expands on her acclaimed short A Buck’s Worth, stretching her rough-hewn technique (her figures are ruddy and craggy in contrast to the plasticine smoothness of Wallace and Gromit) to feature length. It may not be a monumental event in animated filmmaking (like, say, Pixar tackling World War II), but $9.99’s emphasis on the quotidian is refreshing.