Sure, names like Disney and its subsidiary/partner/bunk buddy Pixar have become kings of the animated feature film game, small studios and independent animation auteurs have slowly been creeping into the spotlight, taking more than their fair share of the headlines. And few independent animation directors are truly as great or beloved as one Bill Plympton.
The multi-time Oscar nominated animator, best know for his Plymptoons shorts and one of the most original, hand drawn animation styles the genre has to offer, is back with one of his most accessible and oddly entrancing works to date, a romantic comedy/drama entitle Cheatin’, and it’s a real doozy.
Primarily dialogue free, this gorgeous piece of animation tells the story of Ella, a beautiful young woman who is in attendance at a carnival one day only to fall into the arms of the bombastically muscled Jake. After we see their first meeting, we see that it was love at first sight as they become married. After we see that they are in full on coital harmony, a woman arrives in Jake’s life with falsified evidence to some infidelity on his wife’s behalf. What follows is a tale of revenge, love, loss and a magical soul transporting device, in what is one of Plympton’s prettiest and most surreal works yet, a film arriving five years following his last feature effort.
Inherently absurd and bewilderingly surreal, Plympton’s film is, even at under 80 minutes in length, a relative narrative mess. The added sci-fi element of a magician’s Trans-Soul device muddles up the plot a bit, turning it from a simple tale of the intense emotions as both a positive and a negative in a relationship into something not quite sensical. Without any performances to get caught up in (names like Sophia Takal are credited here, but impossible to recognize without the end credits), the narrative is not much more than a bizarrely comedic mess in which Plympton elevates with some truly stunning visuals.
Best know for an aesthetic that loves to turn the grotesque into something beautiful and the beautiful into something grotesque, this is a sweet and unforgettable piece of animation. The character design is rich and absolutely vital, with the hand drawn animation giving the film a palpable sense of tactility, painting a story that may be a bit too adult for children, but feels ripped right out of a children’s picture book. The score is engrossing and adds a level of emotional depth the film needs, and while the final act may make the premise a bit messy, Plympton’s aesthetic elevates it to something evocative and the final few sequences really bring to light the film’s central themes.
Overall, while the surreal sci-fi elements muddle the central plot, they turn this brisk and comedic look at love and loss into a punchy bit of absurdist animation. One of Plympton’s best feature length efforts to date, there are truly no directors like this animation auteur, and there is certainly no feature quite like this gorgeous romantic picture.