By Merle Bertrand | March 18, 2007

It must seem like a surefire way for an animation company to attract some attention. Create some memorable, charismatic character and just animate the hell out of it. Make it look so cool, make the character so unforgettable, that commercial contracts and/or feature film deals are certain to follow. Hell, Pixar turned a table lamp into a star and look what it got them!

“The Toll,” director J. Zachary Pike and Hatchling Studios’ stab at this strategy, is at least partially successful. The shtick here is a documentary on the legendary troll who lives under the bridge, charged with the task of collecting a toll from anyone who wishes to cross over.

That sure seems like a harmless enough idea, and indeed, the crusty old purple gnome, who looks like a cross between Golem from “Lord of the Rings” and Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons,” displays flashes of being an interesting critter.

Still, even though “The Toll” is only seven minutes long, Pike so quickly runs out of narrative ideas, that he has his animated star snatching an extraneous bug and eating it, then adds an unidentifiable lizardly green pet… that farts. That’s right, animated jets of fire shooting right out of his a*s.

The animation here is super slick — maybe even too sanitary and clean — and every now and then, the star of the show lets slip a dialogue zinger or two. Nonetheless, a farting cartoon lizard critter?!

Granted, Monty Python pretty much milked the whole troll under the bridge thing in “Search for the Holy Grail,” but one can’t help but think that Pike and company simply weren’t as into how their character would act and what he would say as they were how he would look.

As a result, they’ve managed to turn a stand-up triple in “The Toll” into a close play at second.

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