Bill Plympton hopes for crossover success at Fantasia

One of the most prolific American indie animators, Bill Plympton, is in Montreal for the Canadian premiere of his latest animated feature, Cheatin’.

American animator hopes Canada will show Hollywood there’s a market for adult animated stories

A scene from American animator Bill Plympton's 10th feature film, Cheatin'. (Bill Plympton)

Bill Plympton's Cheatin' is a noir love story right out of the 1940s or '50s, and the American animator is hoping it catches the attention of more than just the folks who attend Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival. 

It’s the story of Ella, a bookworm who falls in love with the burly Jake when he rescues her from a bumper car accident. However, Ella becomes jealous when the voluptuous neighbour lady makes a pass at Jake and hires a hitman.

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The ensuing murder mystery feature explores themes of adult life — which is exactly what Plympton set out to do.

I don’t want to see kid stuff anymore. I want to see adult ideas, romance, passion, lust, jealousy, revenge, things like that which I think are wonderful topics for animation because you can tell a story in much more depth, you can visualize more intimacy with animation. You can go into the imagination and show fantasy. With live action you’re limited with actors, you’ve got to go with their faces, you can’t blow up their heads, they don’t like things like that," he says.

It’s been a labour of love. Plympton spent a year hand-drawing images in pencil at a rate of 100 per day, seven days a week. He then used a computer program to give a water-colour feel to his drawings. To finish the film, Plympton raised $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign.

Looking for a mainstream audience

The 68-year-old Plympton feels confident that Cheatin’ — his 10th feature — will be his crossover film.

First of all, the story is a little more sophisticated — there’s a female protagonist, it goes more in depth of the romance. I like to do humour that’s really crazy, off-the-wall, with offensive humour and sure this has some offensive stuff in it. It has some nudity, some violence but I think the characterization of stars is a lot more engaging," Plympton says.

"People felt emotion, they were crying at the film [at Slamdance] so I think this film will cross over. You know, in Europe and probably in Canada there’s not that stereotype of animation as strictly a kid’s medium. But we have to prove to Americans that there is an audience for this film," he says.

Watch the Cheatin' trailer here:

Saying no to Disney

Plympton says a raw deal offered to him by Disney soured him on Hollywood. 

“This guy comes in with a nice suit and tie and a big briefcase. He pulls out a giant contract and looks me in the eye and says, 'Walt Disney Studios would like to offer you $1 million to come work for us,'" Plympton recounts.

"I go, 'Yeah, finally! That is so exciting.' So people had told me that negotiating with Disney is not so much good cop, bad cop but bad cop, anti-Christ, and I think there’s some truth to that. For example, I said, 'Well you know I’m really excited to work for Disney, I love it, it’s a great deal. Can I still do my stupid, quirky films on the weekend?' and he said, 'Yeah you can do that but Disney would own those.' And I said, 'What if I told someone a funny story or a joke?' 'Well, Disney owns that,'” Plympton says.

So he refused the deal. It's been hard for Plympton to get the recognition he feels he deserves; his films weren't even available on the Internet until recently. He hopes to eventually have his own Bill Plympton Channel.

Plympton at Fantasia

Plympton has been coming to Fantasia for years and says he loves the audience's sense of humour and general anti-Hollywood sentiment. 

"They’ve been picking up a lot of my films here, so I think this is the perfect place to show the film in Canada," he says.

He says he’s heard from a couple of distributors who are interested in buying the Canadian rights.

Cheatin’ by Bill Plympton screens tonight as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival at 7 p.m. at Concordia University's D.B. Clarke Theatre in the Hall Building. It also screens Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at J.A. deSève Theatre at Concordia University’s Library Building.

About the Author

Jeanette Kelly

Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.