Mondo Plympton

Animator Bill Plympton's greatest hits are reprised in "Mondo Plympton," which is currently playing limited U.S. dates. Clever package underlines how Plympton's art is best appreciated in small doses --- though this compendium no doubt works better than his efforts at feature-length extension. It should nonetheless prove an attractive video "best of" for fans.

Animator Bill Plympton’s greatest hits are reprised in “Mondo Plympton,” which is currently playing limited U.S. dates. Clever package underlines how Plympton’s art is best appreciated in small doses — though this compendium no doubt works better than his efforts at feature-length extension. It should nonetheless prove an attractive video “best of” for fans.

Plympton started out as a droll, impudent cartoonist for newspapers and magazines (some “adult”-oriented) in the 1970s. That tenor carried over to his later infatuation (“It was like a drug”) with film animation, commenced via 1982 ‘s sarcastically anti-military-buildup short “Boomtown.”

Despite that start, Plympton’s filmic art is less political than rudely surrealist, with hand-drawn, blandly archetypal faces undergoing all sorts of violent invasion. The highlights are well remembered from various prize-winning fest, rep-house and TV appearances: 1988’s “How to Kiss,” a grotesque instruction manual; 1991’s “Push Comes to Shove,” wherein two deadpan male protagonists fold, spindle and otherwise mutilate each other to delirious lengths.

After a while, one gets bored with the constant, if inventive, spectacle of eye-plucking cartoon contortion, as well as the sophomoric sexual jokes. Plympton’s peculiar sensibility couldn’t sustain “The Tune” (1992), the “world’s first animated feature completely drawn by one person,” nor does equally dullish footage (excerpted from little-seen features “J. Lyle” and “Gun on the Clackamas”) suggest he can sustain longform live action.

The final reel of newish animated shorts — “Nosehair,” “Plympmania” — reveals Plympton has no new themes or techniques to add to his pencil-driven, sight-gagged oeuvre.

This package is gummed together by amusing biographical data (he notes being born in the same region as Tonya Harding and Gary Gilmore), highlighted by a Plympton cradle-to-now portrait montage. Tech values for this new footage are willfully primitive, like the earlier shorts.

Mondo Plympton

Production: A Cinema Village release of a Bill Plympton production. Produced, directed, designed, edited by Plympton. Sound

Crew: Editor, David Rovin; assistant editor, Jacque Tager. Reviewed at the Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, Aug. 13, 1997. Running time: 80 MIN.

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