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Originally published Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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‘Consuming Spirits’: Animated epic heads into Appalachian backwoods

A movie review of “Consuming Spirits,” Chris Sullivan’s ambitious animated epic about Appalachian men and a backwoods DUI. He uses a variety of 16mm animation techniques that turns out to be an inspired approach.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

“Consuming Spirits,” with the voices of Robert Levy, Nancy Andrews, Judith Rafael. Written and directed by Chris Sullivan. 135 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains cartoon nudity, adult subject matter). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Experimental animation usually comes in small packages. But that’s not the case with Chris Sullivan’s 15-years-in-the making “Consuming Spirits,” an ambitious animated epic that runs well over two hours and sometimes feels more like a feat than a film.

Nevertheless, it’s a kind of milestone in its genre. Sullivan uses a variety of 16mm animation techniques, focusing on cutout figures that are manipulated in a way that suggests three-dimensional photography without the glasses.

It turns out to be an inspired approach. Sullivan’s rambling, folkish story about Appalachian men and a backwoods DUI has a “Rashomon”-like quality. When the script emphasizes spectacle or it develops a lyrical edge or it threatens to turn into a ghost story, Sullivan smoothly shifts gears.

The swift pace keeps the film from slipping into a lull, though it sometimes feels like it’s turning into a case of “too much information,” especially where deliberately sensational (and often dryly funny) newspaper headlines are concerned. (The local newspaper, The Daily Suggester, relays much of the narrative in exaggerated fashion.)

The emphasis on puns, obscure references and lightly twisted language suggests Firesign Theatre in its heyday. The story is mostly narrated by a plummy-sounding Earl Gray (the inimitable voice is by Robert Levy), but there are other voices and other moods.

Indeed, the movie is at its most engaging when Sullivan is flooding the soundtrack with “Danny Boy” or “Shenandoah” or evoking “Our Town” to establish a sense of instant nostalgia.

John Hartl:

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