Ella is an enigmatic beauty. She seems so ethereal and unaccessible. And then, one day, her defenses down, she stumbles into a romance with Jake. This sounds like the start of another great Bill Plympton animated feature. It takes me back to some of my earliest memories of his work. I had seen at least some of his stuff on MTV back in the day. All I can say is, if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.
Bill Plympton is one of the greats. He has a way of looking at the world that is truly original. He stepped into the spotlight with his Academy Award-nominated short, “Your Face,” in 1987. He was courted by Disney but he chose to remain independent. He’s the only animator to single-handedly draw every frame of a feature film–six times. Plympton cartoons blaze upon the screen: joyful, erotic, and full of wonder. And so that leads in to, “Cheatin’,” Bill Plympton’s latest feature.
Things don’t just move in his animation. They jiggle, ripple, undulate, sway, and sashay. There’s a perpetual sexual tension metaphorically attached to nearly everything. We begin with the long fluttering ribbon attached to Ella’s hat. In this feature, our two lovers are quite a mismatched pair but they definitely have a spark between them.
If Ella was ever aloof, Jake wears down her reserve. He rescues her twice, both times with great sexual connotations. But that’s only the beginning of our story. No sooner does boy meet girl, it seems, than boy loses girl. In fact, these two had become quite the couple when things go terribly wrong. Outside forces relentlessly work against them. For example, one of Ella’s rivals attempts to lure Jake away while he’s mowing the lawn. She carpets the sky with a pulsating pattern of her laundry. Ella retaliates with a counter-strike of her own laundry.
What happens next involves an elaborate process of regaining love. This includes a wayward magician and his mysterious “trans-soul machine.” Perhaps this contraption will shed light on what has thwarted our lover’s happiness. As this dangerous and uncertain path unfolds, our story spreads out with hints of grand opera, science fiction, and crime noir.
As in all Bill Plympton features, we find that human longing and desire, in one form or another, cannot be ignored and is seldom, if ever, denied. Amid a rogue’s gallery of buffoons and dimwits, lovers race toward each other’s hungry bodies. Sexuality will find its release whether it oozes from the walls or drips from the ceiling. And, amid the melting butter and bubbling coffee pots, a more complex story unfolds. While sex makes the world go round, Bill Plympton, like Federico Fellini and Terry Gilliam, provides much more. The content is implicit, not explicit. It’s a mix of the tragic and the comic that proves so pleasing.
“Cheatin'” is in theaters and online as of April 2015. For more details, visit the official website right here.