When Bill Plympton got his start in animation, there were few American outlets for cartoon shorts, and fewer financial incentives to create them. The few theatrical animation festivals—the International Tournees Of Animation, the Spike & Mike collections—were hard-pressed to fill out feature-length programs with quality material, and they often focused on student works and foreign releases, particularly government-sponsored Canadian projects. But Plympton's independent American shorts were generally the highlight of any given program. His distinctive jumpy, scratchy colored-pencil style, his irreverent but focused look at sex and violence, and his dry, matter-of-fact whimsy were an unbeatable combination, and late-'80s signature pieces like "25 Ways To Quit Smoking" appeared over and over in collections, at festivals, and on MTV.
Twenty-three such snippets appear on Plymptoons, the latest incarnation of the early-works anthology that Plympton has marketed in various forms since the early '90s. But while some of the program's contents remain fresh—like "One Of Those Days," which gives viewers a dizzying first-person perspective on a series of exaggerated comic disasters—most feel like ephemera compared to Plympton's subsequent work over the past 15 years. Plymptoons includes a handful of student experiments, including a newly discovered brief test piece, atypically created with smeary ink on acetate. The rest of the program covers the era that first earned Plympton national attention, with the Jules Feiffer collaboration "Boomtown," the 1987 Oscar nominee "Your Face," and the signature short-gags collection "Plymptoons." And it offers collectors a look at Plympton's minor commercial projects, from TV ads to MTV bumpers to environmental spots. For animation fans who discovered Plympton through his handmade features The Tune, I Married A Strange Person!, and Mutant Aliens, Plymptoons is a little treasure trove of introductory material.
Still, it's a collection sorely in need of an update—"25 Ways To Quit Smoking" remains essential, but little of the rest here does, and while Plympton has marketed his own partial collection of later works (Bill's Dirty Shorts, available through plymptoons.com), many of his best pieces remain unavailable. Plymptoons is fun, but someday it'd be nice to have such a comprehensive DVD devoted to Plympton's later shorts, which are more technically accomplished, more daring, more outrageous, and more all-around fun.
Key features: An amateurish but informative 20-minute interview with Plympton, and a nine-minute silent time-lapse observation of him working in his studio.