Bill Plympton’s I Married A Strange Person! Is A Glorious, Grotesque, And Gutsy Display Of Alternative Animation

(Welcome to Animation Celebration, a recurring feature where we explore the limitless possibilities of animation as a medium. In this edition: “I Married a Strange Person!”)

In the 1990s, MTV ran an animated showcase called “Liquid Television,” which was a groundbreaking collection of early computer-animated shorts, highly-influential hand-drawn shorts, and was the launchpad for several high-profile originals, like Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “├ćon Flux.” MTV snagged some of the most adventurous and experimental shorts from seasoned animators and designers of the era, including Charles Burns, Richard Sala, David Daniels, and Bill Plympton.

The latter was behind the 1987 Academy Awards-nominated short, “Your Face,” which featured a man singing about the face of his love, as his own face begins to distort into increasingly unusual positions. He would go on to direct the animated musical feature, “The Tune,” which was self-funded and incorporated footage from his shorts “The Wiseman,” “Dig My Do,” and “Tango Schmango.” His success with “The Tune” proved that Plympton could pull off a feature film, but his follow-up, “I Married a Strange Person!” is arguably his magnum opus.

“I Married a Strange Person!” is about a man named Grant Boyer who is struck by a beam of mysterious energy from a satellite dish, that completely changes the way he experiences reality. Suddenly, Grant has the ability to change the state of things, people, and objects to whatever he desires or imagines. Sometimes it’s an act of revenge, like making his judgemental in-laws eat bugs, or sometimes it’s absolutely absurd, like turning his new wife’s breasts into balloon animals. His newly developed ability puts a strain on his new marriage, quickly making him the target of those hoping to manipulate his power for their own whims.

Bill Plympton is an animation god

Bill Plympton’s animation style is so specifically unique, it can only be described in reference to the man who made it. It’s scratchy, intentionally imperfect, exaggerated, chaotic, and impossible to ignore. His character designs look like the result of the early sketches of a Tex Avery Cartoon crashing headfirst with the surreal body horror of a David Cronenberg film. At the same time, the sex and violence play out like a 1970s exploitation illustrated with children’s colored pencils and boasts a sense of humor that feels at home with the filmography of John Waters. “I Married a Strange Person!” encapsulates all of these elements with ease, and knowing that he single-handedly drew the entire film on his own is nothing short of miraculous.

“I Married a Strange Person!” showcases how animation is the perfect medium to tell not-so-child-friendly stories, as the imaginative world of Grant Boyer would look truly ridiculous if set in the realm of possibility. The specific tone Plympton achieves would be lost if the story was told in any other way, as the over-exaggerated physical features would end up looking like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory. The proportions are out of control, bodies are manipulated beyond recognition, and no matter how grotesque the imagery is, every frame is mesmerizing beauty. During the film’s climax, when Grant literally explodes a man in front of a live studio audience, it feels like the natural conclusion for his unchecked powers. This is the moment the entire film has been building toward, and you can’t help but cheer when the film finally goes for it. It’s gruesome, it’s beautiful, and it’s purely Plympton.

The heart of American-made animation

Bill Plympton’s style is, at its core, alternative and underground. Every scene in “I Married a Strange Person!” is reminiscent of the kinds of illustrated sketches found in dirty magazines, or the childish, absurd monstrosities that fascinated college kids in the ’90s in the pages of zines. Everything about Plympton’s work is reminiscent of the adventurous styles of American animation that don’t always get the credit they deserve. Ralph Bakshi was instrumental in laying the groundwork so folks like Plympton could thrive, but considering he made “The Lord of the Rings” and the Brad Pitt-starring “Cool World,” in addition to his more provocative works like “Fritz the Cat,” he’s easily cited for future generations to check out.

Plympton is still working today but is seldom brought up in the same conversations, despite absolutely deserving to be there. His work is just as bombastic, extravagant, and loaded with sex, politics, and violence, and yet he’s still self-financing his features, like “Cheatin'” and “Revengeance.” More than 180 of Plympton’s items are held at the Academy Film Archive (as they should be) and he’s still crafting shorts, music videos, and commercials, and raised over $84,000 on Kickstarter for his animated comedy western, “Slide.” If there’s any evidence needed to prove that Hollywood doesn’t appreciate the animated medium the way it should, it’s the fact a two-time Oscar winner with an unbelievable catalog is forced to crowdfund his projects.

Bill Plympton is a seminal figure in the world of animation, and thanks to the accessibility of films like “I Married a Strange Person!” on streaming services like Tubi TV and Plex, there’s no better time to fall in love with his work and keep the world of Plymptoons alive.

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