Case Number 16868: Small Claims Court


MicroCinema // 2004 // 130 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 23rd, 2009

The Charge

"I'm an independent animator. I live here in New York City and I make films that are not for children. I make them for adults." -- Bill Plympton

The Case

In an interview on this disc, Bill Plympton relates how Disney once offered him $1 million to animate the genie in Aladdin. In perusing the lengthy contract, Plympton discovered that Disney would own any independent side projects he worked during the time he was under their employ. Heck, they'd even own any ideas he came up with. Plympton politely declined the offer. The thing I most admire about Bill Plympton is that he's a fiercely independent artist who feels no need to run others down in order to bolster his bona fides as an independent. He harbors no ill-will toward the House of Mouse, doesn't mind that that's the way they choose to do business (in fact, Walt Disney is one of his heroes); he merely recognized that he wouldn't be a good fit for the organization. So he passed up a huge heap of cash and went on doing what he'd been doing for just over five years at that point: making incredibly funny independently produced animated shorts. And he's been doing just that ever since.

Plympton burst onto the scene with the 1987 release of his bizarre, Oscar-nominated short, "Your Face." The cartoon features a static medium shot of a (somewhat) realistically rendered middle-aged, mustached white guy singing a song while his head twists and distorts in all sorts of surreal ways. It's quintessential Plympton in that it has a hand-drawn look that emphasizes pencil lines and shading, and it offers up somewhat disturbing absurdist humor that relies on the extreme plasticity of form that only animation can deliver. Plympton is an animator's animator not only because his drawings are magnificent (and magnificently weird), but because he plays the medium for all that it is worth -- Plympton's odd and hilarious vision of reality can only be expressed via animation.

Bill Plympton's Dog Days: A Collection of Short Films 2004-2008 collects the seven short films the animator produced during that four-year span (amazing output considering he does it all himself). They are:

* "Guard Dog" (2004) (5:00)
In this first entry in Plympton's dog trilogy, a rotund pooch on a walk imagines a little girl, a squirrel, a bird, a grasshopper, a mole, a butterfly, and a daisy perpetrating outrageously vicious acts of evil against his master. But the dog's zealous protection of his human leads to unintended consequences.

* "Guide Dog" (2006) (5:15)
The rotund pooch is back to interview for a guide dog position. He gets the gig and approaches his job with great fervor but finds that he's better at protecting himself than his string of unfortunate masters.

* "Hot Dog" (2008) (6:00)
The rotund pooch returns. This time he decides to become a firehouse dog. In short order, the barely competent firemen discover that he's more trouble than he's worth.

* "The Fan and the Flower" (2005) (7:10)
This spare, black-and-white tale is about a ceiling fan and a potted plant that fall in love with one another. When the senile old woman who owns the house in which the couple lives forgets to water the plant, the ceiling fan finds an innovative way to save the love of his life. The short is narrated by Paul Giamatti.

* "Shuteye Hotel" (2007) (7:00)
A piercing scream cuts through the night at the ominous and misshapen Shuteye Hotel. Mysterious and terrible things happen in the room on the hotel's top floor. An undercover cop investigating the room is caught off-guard by the seemingly innocuous source of the evil.

* "Santa, the Fascist Years" (2008) (3:30)
Struck by the effects of the Great Depression, S. Claus converts his North Pole workshop into a weapons manufacturing factory. Soon, the jolly old elf is invading other countries in order to acquire the raw materials for his munitions. All-out war ensues. The newsreel-style short is narrated by Matthew Modine.

* "Spiral" (2005) (6:00)
In this masterwork by abstract animator W.P. Murton, a blue dot spirals slowly against a grid background. There is a spare piano score. Eventually, the audience gets pissed and peppers the dot with bullet holes. Plympton created this short for the Annecy Animation Festival, which had repeatedly rejected the best of his work.

In addition to the seven shorts, the disc contains a "Commissioned Films" option on the main menu that leads to a sizable collection of music videos, commercials, trailers, and other commissioned works by Plympton. They are:

* "Heard 'Em Say" (Kanye West music video) (3:20)
* "Don't Download this Song" ("Weird Al" Yankovic music video) (3:52)
* "Mexican Standoff" (Elbow music video) (3:36)
* United Airlines "Signature" commercial (:29)
* What is Bonnaroo? Promo (1:13)
* Delray Beach Film Festival Trailer (:27)
* Newport Film Festival Trailer (:49)
* "12 Tiny Christmas Tales" (22:34)
* "Luv Race" (4:48)
* "Dragapella" (excerpt from the feature documentary Almost Infamous) (1:23)
* "Who's That Girl" (opening credits animation for Who's That Girl) (2:52)
* "Shay's Rebellion" (segment from the History Channel's 10 Days that Changed America) (11:47)
* "Bird is the Word" (excerpt from the feature documentary F*ck) (2:08)

All of the shorts are presented in full frame except for "Shuteye Hotel," which is offered up in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. The transfers present Plympton's idiosyncratic work in style. Detail is as sharp as the source allows. The image isn't marred by digital artifacts of any kind.

As if the shorts and commissioned pieces weren't enough, the disc also houses a few interesting extras. Plympton provides commentary on each of the seven shorts. There is a pencil test for "Don't Download this Song," storyboards for "Mexican Standoff," and animatics for the United Airlines TV commercial. There's a trailer for Plympton's film, Idiots and Angels. "Art or Something like It" is a 22-minute interview with Plympton that covers all of the highlights of his career.

Fans of Plympton will be pleased with the heaping helping of high-quality independent animation on this disc.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile
Studio: MicroCinema
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Music Videos
* Commercials
* TV Interviews
* Animatics
* Pencil Tests
* Trailers

* IMDb: Guard Dog

* IMDb: The Fan and the Flower

* IMDb: Guide Dog

* IMDb: Shuteye Hotel

* IMDb: Hot Dog