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In a feature-length film, the best of recent shorts

It isn't carved in stone that a movie has to run between 90 and 120 minutes, give or take a little. Some daring filmmakers have allowed their pictures to run 15 hours or more. And others - a more numerous group - work in short formats, making films that may last only a few minutes.

Sad to say, such pictures are too rarely seen in commercial settings. Gone are the days when ``short subjects'' were a standard part of an evening at the movies, right up there with newsreels and cartoons.

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So it's always good to find a new ``anthology film'' that collects a batch of bite-size movies and wraps them into a feature-length package. Fans of both shorts and cartoons will enjoy ``Animation Celebration,'' a splendid collection of recent films that range from about 10 minutes to a mere 30 seconds in length.

My pick for funniest of the lot is ``Every Dog's Guide to Complete Home Safety,'' made by Les Drew for the National Film Board of Canada, a trusty resource for high-quality shorts. The hero is a pooch who rescues his family from one disaster after another and gets no thanks for his trouble. The style is straightforward - no high-tech tricks here - and hilarious.

Funniest doesn't mean zaniest, though. Honors in that department go to ``Augusta Makes Herself Beautiful,'' by Csaba Varga of Hungary, wherein the title character (molded from clay) is as vain as she is awful-looking. Another winner in the zaniness sweepstakes is ``Dino Alley,'' by the Chiodo Bros. of the United States, starring a dinosaur and a can of spray paint.

Some selections actually tell stories. Nostalgia runs amok in ``Cat and Mouse,'' by American animator Kirk Henderson, about a geriatric Tom and Jerry who can't stop bopping each other. ``Richard Williams Commercials,'' by British filmmaker Richard Williams, also features a cat, whose nine lives run out farcically fast as he tries to pull off a bit of feline mischief.

Another special treat is the ingenious ``Broken Down Film,'' by Osamu Tezuka of Japan, who uses the nightmares of cinema - bad projectors, rundown prints, clumsy splices - as comical counterpoints to a deliberately absurd western-type story. And for the most all-around delightful movie in the collection, I'd choose the opener: ``Sunbeam,'' an old-fashioned music-cartoon by Paul Vester of the United Kingdom.

``Animation Celebration'' includes many other films in many other styles. Some are complex and computerized, like ``Quest: A Long Ray's Journey Into Light,'' while others are purposely simple. The artists represented include such respected animators as Jane Aaron (``Traveling Light'') and Sally Cruickshank (``Quasi's Cabaret Trailer''). Not all the cartoons are inspired, but there's rarely a dull moment. And where else will you find movies that have titles like ``It's an O.K. Life'' and ``I Was a Thanksgiving Turkey'' - and live up to them?

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