“Adventures in Plymptoons!” pays tribute to Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton, very much in the style of his own gleefully impudent work. Packed with clips and interviews with celebrity fans and colleagues, Alexia Anastasio’s documentary could attract the same small but loyal niche audience the subject himself has long won via self-distribution to theaters and home formats.
Using art from an early age to attract girls, the Oregon native started his professional life drawing scatological pictures for Al Goldstein’s “Screw” and other skin mags — as well as more legit publications — in the freewheeling ’70s. Early short “Your Face” grabbed Oscar attention, stunning Plympton (and composer-singer Maureen McElheron). It established his usual ultra-low-tech, hand-drawn-pencil style and fondness for inventive, often disgusting physical grotesquerie. His work became a fixture of MTV station-break spots and packages like “Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation.”
Always resourcefully independent — he once turned down a $1 million offer from Disney to maintain complete control of his work — the cartoonist entered features with 1992’s “The Tune.” He’s made five more since (including one compilation), all created inhouse at his barely staffed New York studio, which handles marketing/distribution chores as well.
It’s a remarkably prolific output in a traditionally painstaking medium, supporting one colleague’s claim that he’s “the fastest animator in the business.” Some might argue less would be more, as Plympton’s features pay scant attention to such niceties as plot and character development; they’re pretty much long strings of gags, many of the gross-out type. (A critic here who damns so much “twisted” violent and sexual imagery as “just a bunch of ugliness” is in fact Plympton himself, disguised as pretentious alter ego W.P. Murton.)
“Adventure’s” format of short-themed chapters that mingle excerpts (including some new material) with behind-the-scenes glimpses and interviews is an ideal showcase for what can induce viewer fatigue over an unbroken 70- or 80-minute haul. Those discussing his work — sometimes tongue firmly planted in cheek — range from fellow animators (like the similar-minded Ralph Bakshi), studio staff and voice talents to fans, family members and ex-girlfriends.
Like its subject, the docu turns its slim means into an advantage via a cheekily assertive DIY aesthetic.