It’s been 2 years since animator Bill Plympton’s “Idiots and Angels” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Since then, Plympton’s been unable to find a distributor, and it’s not too hard to see why. From top (an animated film with adult content and absolutely no dialogue) to bottom (a sketchy visual aesthetic and muddy color pallette) this is an uncommercial project far from the mainstream of animation. It’s not an easy time for independent distributors, and I guess it’s tough to take a chance on something that has “Idiots and Angels”‘ unconventional pedigree, subject matter, and style. Too bad. Plympton should be rewarded for following his artistic impulses and for making a truly unique and beautiful piece of art.
The film is about a misanthrope who wakes one morning to find small wings sprouting from his back. He chops them off but they grow back, and no matter what he does, he can’t seem to shake them. Plympton follows the scenario down a impressive run of variations. The man’s battle with his own inner angels begins as a series of ingenious physical comedy riffs; he wants to fly around and rob people or spy on naked sunbathers, but the wings refuse to cooperate. Their early wars remind me of another unlikely hero’s “Three Stooges”-esque struggle with himself: Ash (Bruce Campbell) vs. his possessed hand in “Evil Dead 2.”
Though these sequences are often very funny, “Idiots and Angels” eventually takes on more mournful tone, and the scenes between the reluctant angel and his feather appendages become darker and surprisingly moving (one involving a chainsaw — perhaps another echo of “Evil Dead 2” — is grotesquely beautiful). That’s where Plympton’s dirty/pretty style begins to reap real emotional dividends. Unlike the refined lines and bright colors of most Hollywood animation, “Idiots and Angels” has an unfinished, sketchy look — the shading looks like they was done in pencil, not ink — and a personality all its own. The film is basically silent, though there’s music and occassional grunts or laughs from the characters, which is the right choice. Plympton’s expressive drawings say it all.
“Drawings” is the key word. “Idiots and Angels”‘s looks like it was hand-drawn, frame by painstaking frame. You’re constantly reminded of Plympton’s presence and of the effort it surely took to make this film. It’s a clear labor of love from a guy who wanted to tell a personal story in a personal style, like an angel sacrificing himself for the people he saves regardless of the consequences.