A typical walk in the park becomes an all-out animal, insect and floral assault on the hapless owner as seen through director/animator Bill Plympton’s marvellously-distorted lens when it’s focussed on the human experience. The ferocious dog scares off all assailants but not before limbs are lost, eyes popped out (uncomfortably, that was an inside job) and a fully-pollinated sneeze pulls the beleaguered master out of his skin. Think Animal Farm meets Straw Dogs. The peppy, jazzy music-tracks from Maureen McElheron and Hank Bones fit the action like a glove.
Plympton’s zany inventiveness scores a home run in this tale of the short life-and-times of an over-eager guide dog. Having successfully passed the interview, blind customers set out gamely with their new four-legged friend, but never return. With a marvellous homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds (intentional or not—the payoff is a hoot) and a plot twist that literally kills any chances of ever seeing a pay day, this dog’s lot in life will resonate with many.
With visions of excitement running through his imagination, Dog forces his playful self onto the fire department (successfully/unwittingly dousing a cigarette of the chief) just as a real alarm is sounded. Dashing through the streets in a set-up from Speed (too-short dog legs make applying the brakes impossible), the new recruit and veteran colleagues soon have the blaze under control but are then presented with a rooftop rescue that requires a deep-throated growl to resolve. From there it’s a wonderful juxtaposition of whimsy and a determined, secondary flame that causes Dog to use every orifice of his body to try and contain the burning danger until a life-threatening lick puts the kybosh on yet another failed career while providing a hilarious take on life’s surprises.
The Fan and the Flower
It’s easy to understand why this film has won so many awards. Dan O’Shannon’s story of the tender love between a four-pronged ceiling fan and a magically-morphing flower is beautifully laid bare. Paul Giamatti’s narration hits just the right tone and moves forward with ideal rhythm. Plympton wisely lets black-and-white ink strokes etch out the images, saving the water colours for the array of petals that rekindle memories of Andy Warhol’s larger-than life blooms (cross-reference below). Slipping in “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love” from Pink Martini is the musical icing on this delectable animated cake.
Here’s a tasty morsel of Cartoon Noir replete with head-turning (and losing) murders, sultry alto saxophone and a dark-and-stormy night. With no lead in the case, a police decoy risks her life, hoping the “No Vacancy” sign won’t be altered until daybreak. Plympton keeps the eye totally engaged with only a stairwell-lighting gaffe in the opening sequence marring the result. Now then, Who dunnit?
Santa: The Fascist Years
This troubling micro-documentary details Jolly Old St. Nick’s darkest days when he and the elves began plotting holiday domination at any cost. With naturally-grainy footage, cracking sound and visible damage to the frames, there can be little doubt as to the authenticity of the heinous acts presented on the screen. (Still, how narrator Matthew Modine sounds so mature decades before his birth will puzzle historians for decades to come.) The coincidence of the marauding Santa being cornered in a spider hole is also decidedly eerie ...
“He just wanted to bring a little culture into the world.” The secret world (for most) of abstract art comes to satirical life as triangle and rectangle try to deal with the brutal murder of an appropriately-gray circle while shamelessly gyrating before the public on graph paper. With a purposely-dissonant piano further mocking the patrons’ sensitivities, it should come as no surprise that one of their number is packing and chooses to end the performance in downtown-justice style. Still, La Bohème continues to outsell Death in Venice.
Three music videos are also included. “Heard ‘Em Say” (Kanye West) is an angelic portrayal of black and white together. Weird Al Yankovic’s “Don’t Download This Song” is given a decidedly Broadway treatment (complete with a cheesy half-step modulation) while Plympton soars to cautionary heights graphically depicting (don’t pick up the soap ...) what’s in store for anyone who dares to electronically purloin a song illegally (the closing cry of “Just buy it” works on many levels). “Mexican Standoff” (Parson Brown) brings new meaning to the fine art of cattle rustling and quite literally “makes eyes for you.” Hmmm, Where is the beef?
The disc also has a wide variety of other projects (including 12 Tiny Christmas Tales, which is a welcome change for those brought up on A Charlie Brown Christmas and a masterpiece of storytelling and animation, Shay’s Rebellion—cross-reference below), a few trailers and credit reels (notably for the film Who’s That Girl) and a few samples of works in progress. Here's a collection that will reward repeated plays for years to come. JWR