Screens at CIFF: 10/14 & 10/15
World premiere: 11 March, 2011, Poland

2011 is really much too late for anybody to still be amazed that there are cartoons - not "animated features", which sounds like something stately and artistically ambitious by Miyazaki, but crude, brightly colored cartoons - made expressly for an adult audience; even so, George the Hedgehog feels rather brazen in its family-unfriendly excess. Based on a terrifically popular Polish comic strip, the movie tells of Jerzy, that is, George (Borys Szyc), a vulgar, alcohol-swilling hedgehog - the only anthropomorphic animal in the movie, a fact which is carefully not mentioned - who is at heart a decent enough guy despite his surface-level crudeness. For reasons that aren't entirely clear and don't need to be, Jerzy is pursued by a crazy professor (Grzegorz Pawlak) who needs hedgehog DNA to complete a Frankensteinian experiment, and hires a pair of dim skinheads, Stefan (Polish rapper Sokół) and Zenek (Michał Koterski) to do his dirty work; before all is said and done, this experiment has turned into an attempt to control the government by turning Jerzy's deranged rapist clone in a pop superstar via YouTube.

Even from that singularly weak-kneed plot synopsis (at a measly 79 minutes, George the Hedgehog nevertheless has one of the most all-around insanely dense plots that I have encountered in quite a while, possibly because it is the summary of several individual graphic novels), you can get a sense of the intellectual underpinnings that make this film more than just a series of gags surrounding a roughly-animated, sex-crazed hedgehog cursing in Polish. Quite a lot comes in for examination: the way that the internet has democratised society by turning everything into a race for the lowest-common denominator; the eternal pursuit of "the youth market" by politicians and executives whose understanding of what young people actually think is laughably undernourished; the over-sexed, hyper-masculine stock figures held up as exemplars of behavior by a debased popular culture; and that's on top of more general things like nationalist xenophobia, the intersection between love and fucking, and the rest. In fact, so much passes beneath the filmmakers' microscope, that the whole thing ends up being too manic and overstuffed for its own good: at some point, George the Hedgehog is no longer satirising its subjects, so much as it's running through a checklist of things to mock for a half of a scene.

And yet, it's partially because it's overstuffed that the movie has such ebullient energy: like watching a child with ADHD, George the Hedgehog is both terrifying and exhilarating by turns, as it darts from idea to idea with a massive surplus of energy. Even when it makes no sense as a narrative and falls back on the broadest scatological and sexual jokes to supplement its satiric edge when the going gets rough, the film is a blast of the best sort of cartoon energy, where you never really know from moment to moment where things are going, and yet the trip there is so giddy that you stop caring after a point.

That's equally true of the animation as it is of the script. Based directly on the comics, the cartoon is done in a very peculiar form of silhouette animation - technically, silhoutte animation is exactly the wrong way of putting it, given that the shapes are full visible, but the sense of watching component parts moving almost as though they are cut-outs is ever-present. I can make things easier with the aid of a visual.

I'm at something of a loss to say exactly what that is: a little bit of Flash, a little bit of the modular style of South Park. The important part is that it permits the animators to maintain the very distinctive graphic style of individually-shaded drawings, without the intense color saturation of cel-animation (to say nothing of the dimensionality of CGI, which would look inconceivably horrid here). The least you can say is that it leaves George the Hedgehog looking fairly unconventional, even in an age when there seems to be nothing else new to do with animation; and the best you can say is that the look of the film gives it the fleshy edge of an underground comic (since that is almost exactly what it is), and it's surprising enough that the imagery doesn't only reinforce the narrative's gonzo sensibility, it's an intrinsic part of how the film keeps up its warped energy. The freshness of the visuals has worn off by the time the film is over, mind you, and like the rest of the film, there comes a point where the bizarre images stop being so meaningful and start to be joyfully grotesque for the sake of it.

Yet, if form needs to follow content, it makes sense that a film of this sort would be so wildly undisciplined, and the exact elements that keep George the Hedgehog from being an especially electrifying curiosity are precisely what gives it most of its personality. It is, perhaps, no better than being a nervy little cult movie, but - this is the important part - it's no less than that, either.