Many animators make films that give the impression that anything could happen. But Bill Plympton’s cartoons (a.k.a. Plymptoons) make that what-could-happen the anythingest. Bill Plympton makes reality-pulverizing animated films. His friends, his peers, and some celebrities delve into Plympton’s life and his art in this documentary study of the life and art of Bill Plympton.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
I started trying to characterise Bill Plympton by arguing with myself how to describe him. I was going to characterise him just saying he was ‘anarchic’. Well, taken literally that means wanting to escape the restrictions of government. But Plympton’s cartoons are not at all political. Really what I meant was that he was escaping the usual self-imposed restrictions of the animated film medium. But there are many cartoonists who do that. Well, perhaps what he is refusing is the physical reality of the world. But when the Coyote runs off a cliff and does not fall for several seconds that is counter to reality too. But clearly when a Plymptoon has the individual features of a face run around the head like cockroaches on a kitchen floor and then the head just pops off, this is a profoundly deeper form of anarchy. (Actually that film, ‘Your Face’, earned him the first of his two Oscar nominations.) Plympton attacks our assumptions that nobody even realized were assumptions.
‘Adventures In Plymptoons’ is not just a collection of Plymptoons (his animations), though we do see plenty of them. It is an anarchic study of who this fellow Bill Plympton is. Adventures In Plymptoons tells the history of who he is going back to his getting into trouble for the salacious campaign posters he created for his high school student body President campaign. (Okay, there he was political. Just not very.)
In interviews, friends and celebrities talk about Plympton’s past and his creations. The celebrities (like Keith Carradine, Ed Begley Jr., Terry Gilliam, Matthew Modine and Al Yankovic) are there too frequently only for attempted humor. Peers (like Ralph Bakshi) and friends have more interesting things to say. The interviews are illustrated with classic Plympton cartoons and home movies.
Plympton is the dean of independent animation and we hear in the interviews how that was not his plan. He had hoped to be hired by Disney Studios and would work for the giant (or is it the Mouse?). His plans went badly askew when he got a million-dollar offer from Disney. Suddenly he found that he did not want to give up his independence and have someone else telling him what to do. So with mixed emotions he remained an independent filmmaker.
Plympton, we are told, hand-makes his cartoons and they look it. His usual technique is to draw each frame without aid of computer. Still, we hear he is fast both in getting his ideas and in implementing them in realized animated films.
Like the Plymptoons themselves, this documentary directed by Alexia Anastasio is uneven, slightly out of balance, made on the cheap side and has some rough edges to show for it. But the material is definitely compelling.
The film has ample examples of the anarchic ideas of Plympton. One of his ‘Guard Dog’ animations has the title beast deciding that a squirrel has homicidal intentions toward the dog’s unsuspecting master. That cute exterior and fluffy tail hides the mind of a pure evil genius and an arsenal of unsuspected weapons. Here at last is an explanation if why dogs bark at squirrels. We can see what is going on in the crazy mind of the squirrel. Or more accurately we can see what is going on in the crazy mind of man with a unique genius for bringing impossible ideas out from his subconscious and onto the theater screen.
I rate ‘Adventures In Plymptoons’ a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The film will be out on DVD on September 25 from Cinema Libre.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper