It's pretty fair to say that Bill Plympton is the most successful independent animator working today. He is best known for his award winning shorts Your Face, 25 Ways Stop Smoking, How to Kiss, and the decidedly bizarre One of Those Days as well as his feature films The Tune, I Married a Strange Person, and Hair High. His work is chocked full of surrealistic humor, sex, violence, and decidedly skewed look at life. Now, at long last, comes a documentary about the celebrated animator: Adventures in Plymptoons. It's a great look at the artist, and one that fans and those new to Plympton's work will enjoy.
Produced, directed, and co-edited by Alexia Anastasio, at first glance this film feels like a typical documentary: It has lots of famous people singing praises, some amusing anecdotes about the subject, and clips of his work. It's not a typical docu however. This film, like Plympton's cartoons, takes a slightly off-center look that world and injects a good dollop of humor into the proceedings. It starts with fellow animator/director Terry Gilliam stating that he's only talking about Bill because he's being paid, and then wondering when he'll get the check. It's a nice signal to viewers that they're in for a unique look at a unique cartoonist.
Broken into chapters, much like Plympton's 25 Ways Stop Smoking, the film looks at the animator's beginnings, his early shorts, the features, and the creation of his own studio, but it's not a chronological walk through his life and not every short is mentioned. Instead it's a free-flowing trip though Plympton's achievements as told by the man himself and a slew of famous fans and friends. Moby, Ralph Bashi, Ed Begley Jr., "Weird" Al Yankovic, and many others make appearances, but they don't necessarily talk about Plympton's work or his influence. Yeah, there is a lot of that, we get to hear how he turned down a seven figure salary from Disney when they wanted him to animate the Genie in Aladdin, how one of his earliest shorts was nominated for an Academy Award, and how he was inspired to create some of his cartoons. Even more though, we get to see The Toxic Avenger director and Troma grand poohbah Lloyd Kaufman sing a song about nasal hair with Bill, David Silverman who directed The Simpsons Movie plays a song on the tuba, and Ed Begley Jr. is really excited about the project until he learns it's a documentary about Bill Plympton, not Bill Clinton.
It's this odd, funny, quirky, style that makes the film so much fun to watch. The fact that there's a lot of footage of Bill talking about how he became an animator, some of the struggles he's had to face, and what he enjoys about his job is just icing on the cake. The documentary is also sprinkled with clips from Plympton's many films, which are always enjoyable.
The one critique I have is that it's almost universally positive. There is one film critic who slams Plympton's work, but it's not a real critic but Plympton himself playing his alter ego, W. P. Murton. I would have like to have seen some of the abstract animators who were offended by Spiral interviewed to give a more balanced feel to the film. It's a minor critique though, and one that doesn't significantly mar the final product.
The stereo audio track is fine. It's a documentary after all and most of the time it's just people talking to the camera, so there's no real need for a more enveloping multi-speaker track.
The 16:9 anamorphic image looks good. A lot of the people being interviewed are in front of green screens with stills from Plympton's work put in as background in post productions and it wasn't always a flawless insertion. Aside from that the picture is fairly sharp and the colors are decent.
The disc also includes a few extras. There is a theatrical trailer, a short pitch for Plympton's book Make Toons that Sell by the man himself, a quick look at his next feature, Cheatin', and an overly-long look at Bill Plympton Day that was hosted in
Fans of Bill Plympton should see this, as should animation fans in general. If you've never run across one of the man's decidedly odd cartoons, this would be a good introduction to his work too. A very enjoyable work that gets a strong recommendation.