No figure today in animation demands a documentary treatment more than Bill Plympton.
It could be argued that he's the most the important single figure in the past 25 years (moreso than Lassiter, Keane or MacFarlane) -the previous 25 belonging to Bakshi, the 25 prior Hubley, Walt Disney before him all the way back to Winsor McCay.
Adventures in Plymptoons had it's sneak premiere at the Museum of Moving Image yesterday before it's grand unveiling in Annecy next week. There's plenty of material within the film to support the idea that the Plympton story needs to be told.
Beyond the technical issues -like it or not, fuzzy mattes and noisy audio which may be acceptable in an issue documentary become an issue in documentary about film -the serious flaw was hinted in director Alexia Anastasio's introduction.
She recounted a funny story about trying to "get" Kanye West for the film. His appearance was foiled after his infamous Grammy Awards episode sent him to a self-imposed media exile. Sure the pop star worked with the animator on a music video, but really, who cares? What sort of insight could he offer on the man or the work?
There lies the fatal flaw in Adventures in Plymptoons, the viewer is treated to an constant stream of interviewees who seem chosen for some sort of celebrity appeal with few offering more than a line or two of hagiography. Most stories are enjoyable -"Weird" Al Yankovic, for instance, is a personable and funny as you'd expect- but the cumulative effect is a white noise of talking heads. Voices who might have otherwise broadened the scope of the film -Signe Baumane who senses a touch of misogyny in one particular scene, Ron Diamond on Bill's relationship to the commercial world -are given equal or less time than a voice actor who had maybe three hours interaction with the subject.
The talking head format fights the contrapuntal "quirky" approach. Some of these segments are surprisingly rewarding -Bill Plympton serenading Troma's Lloyd Kaufman with "The Nose Hair Song" is one particular highlight.
Casual fans will likely enjoy some of the anecdotes (many are also recounting the excellent Independently Animated). The uninitiated will see some great work though they might not fully understand why Bill Plympton is such a big deal. Those looking for something more might be a little disappointed.