Hey Mom, Cartoons Aren't Just for Kids

Decades after 'The Simpsons' showed that cartoons aren't just for kids, two creators of YouTube videos bring animation to mainstream Israeli TV.

Hilo Glazer
Hilo Glazer
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Hilo Glazer
Hilo Glazer

The first independent video made by animators Nir Gerber and Gali Edelbaum was “Baruch and the Three Wishes,” about a turd pleading not to be flushed down the toilet. In return, the turd offers to grant Baruch three wishes, as in Pushkin’s famous tale of the fisherman and the golden fish.

Posted on YouTube two years ago, the clip notched more than 250,000 views and generated some positive buzz, leading the duo to post more clips, including “Migrating Birds,” about a flock of birds that goes astray because of the faulty navigation of a juvenile stoner-bird; “Hilik the Ghost,” about a ghost who gets fed up with haunting the showers of famous women since he’s unable to get sexual satisfaction; and “A Dog’s Life,” about a dog who sniffs at a pile of droppings, is unjustly accused of being responsible for it, and gets into a shouting match with a city inspector.

Gerber and Edelbaum, who share their lives - they live together and have a daughter - as well as their creative ideas, have since moved into the mainstream, with an animation segment for the popular satirical sketch comedy "Eretz Nehederet." The segment is called “Petting Corner,” in which the last thing the farm animals want is to be petted.

This marks the first time that animated content is getting this kind of visibility on Israeli television.

Although both animators were raised in Israel - Gerber is from Haifa and Edelbaum is from Rishon Letzion - they grew up on American animated television shows like "The Simpsons" and "Beavis & Butthead." Today they are devoted watchers of other American animated shows like “South Park,” “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad.” They are also fans of the dark British satirical cartoon “Monkey Dust” and HBO’s animated comedy series “The Life & Times of Tim.”

“In America and Europe, there’s a long tradition of animation and comic books," says Edelbaum. "But our generation in Israel is the first that is consuming this sort of content, so it makes sense that it should be happening now.”
Gerber is proud but nervous. “I feel good about what we’ve done," he says, "but there’s always the chance that it will turn out to be really lousy and people won’t want to work with us anymore.”

He shouldn't be too concerned, to judge by what Guy Harlap, a lecturer on animation at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, has to say.

“The characterization of their figures is charming and corresponds with the genre known as ‘limited animation’ – the idea that you don’t need a lot of movement in order to produce something interesting," says Harlap. "They make much use of silences, of moments of misunderstanding and helplessness. And when you have a smart script, you don’t need much more than that.”

Gerber and Edelbaum, who worked as the head animator on Ari Folman's acclaimed "Waltz with Bashir," were classmates in the screen-based arts department at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, but during four years there they hardly spoke to each other, and their romantic connection only began after they finished their studies.

Edelbaum had a mixed experience working on the 2008 movie, an animated documentary in which Folman interviews fellow veterans of the first Lebanon war. “When we finished, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep working in animation," she says. "Think about it: You’re working full-time for close to two years and producing just two seconds’ worth of product per day. I was very intent on doing this movie out of great faith in Ari’s vision, but while it was an enriching experience, it was also very grinding.”

The popularity of the couple’s YouTube videos brought them many offers for commercial work, even as they continued to release videos devoid of commercial potential, like the controversial series “Sima and Moshe,” centering on a stereotypical wife-beating, sunflower seed-spitting Beitar Jerusalem fan. Edelbaum says some of the reactions to this series were quite harsh.

“We were asked how we could laugh about an issue like domestic abuse,” she says. “But such a literal approach misses the whole point. Yes, we used clichéd representations, but that’s because you’ve only got one minute to get a message across. The act of violence itself is never seen. We let people make their own associations.”

Their video “Barbecue,” posted in April, really brought them to the attention of the mainstream. Featuring a pair of chickens and a cow that's grilling chicken skewers, the video has racked up more than 760,000 views and ignited some lively discussion and conflicting interpretations online. Some saw it as a parody of the vulgar and oblivious Israeli, or as a comment on our cannibalistic society, and hastened to share it in vegan and vegetarian forums.

The animators decline to offer a specific interpretation. “The idea is that everyone should understand it in his own way, and if we were able to confuse people and also make them laugh, then we did our job,” says Gerber.

"Eretz Nehederet" contacted the couple not long after “Barbecue” appeared.
“We’d been following them for a few years, and lately their style really developed and came together," says Muli Segev, the program's chief editor. "We’d wanted to include animation in the show for a long time, and out of all the talents out there, they seemed the most ready.”

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