Judge Gordon Sullivan is an expert on nose hair references in movies.
"When it comes to independent animators, Bill Plympton is the undisputed king."
One of the tragedies of American culture is that for most filmgoers, animation stops with the Disney/Pixar juggernaut and the famous Warner Brothers cartoons. Don't get me wrong, those styles represent amazing achievements in the world of moving picture animation. However, there is so much more out there. From Windsor McKay's Gertie the Dinosaur to the abstract animations of Hans Richter in cinema's early days to the stop-motion animation of Jan Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers today, animation has had a varied career at the movies. One of the strangest people associated with this weird history is Bill Plympton, a man who never accepted that animation was only for kids. As a curmudgeonly outsider (who has nevertheless has been nominated for two Oscars), Plympton's animation combines surreal humor, surprising violence, and a level of visual flair not often seen in mainstream films. Adventures in Plymptoons is a feature-length documentary on Plympton's work that is perfect for both newcomers and old fans.
Combining clips from some of Plympton's animations with footage of the man himself, along with interviews with some of his many, many admirers, Adventures in Plymptoons provides viewers with a decent picture of who Bill Plympton is and why he matters, at least to other artists.
There's a common phrase in the comedy world, the so-called "comedian's comedian." Bill Hicks, Paul Mooney, and many more have plied their trade in clubs across American without earning the kind of money or fame that comes to Eddie Murphy or Larry the Cable Guy. I don't know if anyone's ever said this before, but Bill Plympton is an animator's animator. More than that, we might say he's a creative's creative. His mad animations have inspired a whole raft of artists in a number of fields. The interviewees on this disc include Terry Gilliam (a mad animator himself), Moby (a musician who's always had a strong sense of how to present his music visually in videos), and Ralph Bakshi (another semi-famous animator).
It's not just a Plympton love-fest, though. Many of his admirers are also collaborators, and they share stories of Plympton's working habits and prodigious output. People like Ed Begley Jr., Matthew Modine, and Martha Plimpton (a distant relation) all show up to talk about working with Plympton (as voice actors, of course, not fellow animators). The portrait they paint is an intriguing one, of a man who's a dedicated artist despite his apparent fits of mad genius.
Finally, there's the man himself, who sits down for interviews about his life and work. These segments are accompanied by archival material like photos and film from the era's he's discussing. These will be the real treat for longtime fans, as we get to hear from Bill himself as well as some fun moments like TV appearances and the like. The interspersed clips give a good idea of what his animation style is like as well (and may cause some viewers to realize they're actually pretty familiar with Plympton's work, if only from MTV).
The DVD itself is a pretty solid effort all around. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer reveals the relatively low-budget origins of the documentary, but for all that it looks pretty good. Detail in the interviews is great, while some of the archival material shows its age. Compression artifacts and the like aren't a significant problem. The stereo audio keeps dialogues audible, and the balance with the music in the film is fine. The film's extras are largely in the form of extra footage. We get 17 minutes from "Bill Plympton Day" along with some short segments that seem like deleted scenes covering some funny moment, like a bet between Plympton and Gus Van Sant.
I'm not always a fan of documentaries that try to mimic their subject in approach. The reason so many of these documentaries get made is that the subject is a unique talent. So, trying to copy their style for the documentary doesn't usually end well. It's not that bad in Adventures in Plymptoons, but I could certainly see how some viewers would get tired of the sometimes scattered format of this documentary. Also, I'm not a fan of breaking up short films to show them in the context of a feature film. Plympton's work is so good when it can be seen in its own 2-3 minute timeframe, and breaking it up to inject interviews or other material can sometimes be grating.
I would buy Adventures in Plymptoons just to hear Lloyd Kaufman sing about nose hair over a Plympton animation, but I understand that I'm special. For fans of Plympton's work, though, this doc is a no-brainer, and it's worth at least a rental to anyone who wants to expand their cinematic horizons.
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