'The Tune': Bill Plympton's sweet song of animation

December 09, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

For some years it has been a dreary professional obligation to truck on down to the Charles every six months or so and endure two hours of short animated films as collected by various committees. But among the usual glut of Eastern European art toons and computer-animated ad agency slicknesses there's always been Bill Plympton.

Plympton is the original boy-genius of the pencil, capable of sketching images and putting together movement sequences that are literally unbelievable. His "How To Kiss" was testimony to both the ingenuity and sickness of the human mind, as it followed the permutations of bussing through kaleidoscopic changes, as his two forms blossomed into new shapes like tulips opening in the sunlight. He understood that animation didn't have to be used to imitate longer narrative forms, as is the Disney staple; it was instead a potent art form itself.

Didn't know where, don't know when, but I've always felt Bill and I would meet again. But at the Senator?

Plympton has just unleashed his first full-length animated feature and I kind of doubt it will make you think of Walt Disney. It's set to be screened at the Senator tonight to raise money for the Baltimore Film Forum and tomorrow to raise money for the Senator, under an economic system known as "capitalism."

Called "The Tune," it's the deceptively simple story of a young songwriter named Del who hopes to sell his songs to Mr. Mega so that he can marry his sweetheart Didi and live happily ever after. Unfortunately he has the songwriter's version of writer's block, which might be called rhymer's block: he can't get anything to rhyme. On top of that, Mr.Mega isn't in a love song kind of mood, being a piece of pond scum.

Anyway, as Del is rushing to Mega music with his tunes, he takes a detour to the land of Sluby-Duby, where he meets a variety of interesting personages each of whom inspires a peculiar melody which goes into the Del portfolio. No beauties, no beasts, no little mermaids: just goofy Del meeting still goofier people and capturing them in simple, cute little movies.

Yet: Seventy minutes of sheer bliss! Plympton is oddly situated on the cultural landscape, being both extremely hip and very gentle-natured at the same time. I kept waiting for some modernesque atrocity to explode the merry mood of the movie; it never happened. The only typically Plympton moment came with the inclusion of a short film much revered on the festival circuit under the title "When Push Comes to Shove," in which two middle age executives find extraordinary ways to reinvent each other's heads: funny but pointless showing off here.

Bill Plympton will appear at tonight's screening and will introduce "The Tune." "How To Kiss" will also be shown. Tickets are $10.


'The Tune'

Animated Feature.

Directed by Bill Plympton.

Released by October Films.



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