Bill Plympton has had as much of a diverse career as you can have in animation. He’s done everything from work on feature films to doing music videos for Kanye West and Weird Al Yankovic. He’s even done a few Simpsons couch gags. One of his best pieces of work came in the form of “Your Face” which was nominated for an Academy Award back in 1987 for animated short. The man’s resume is a tough one to rival, and after being in the business for decades, there is now his seventh full-length feature to enjoy: Cheatin’. The film is made up of over forty-thousand drawings in a hand painted style that all needed to be colored. It’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.
Cheatin’ is an animated romantic dramedy that was directed, produced, and written all by Plympton himself. It focuses on the story of a woman named Ella and a man named Jake who are brought together through average circumstances and eventually fall in love. Jake being the attractive man that he is draws in a lot of unwanted attention from women with bad intentions. Jake remains faithful to his beloved Ella until one day a lady with red hair goes through with an awful plan that drives a wedge between the two lovers.
Cheatin’ is animated the same style Plympton is known for. It’s an extremely distinctive look that looks like crude sketches, but also manages to convey a brilliant amount of emotion. The characters have a unique look to them. Crude looking characters with exaggerated features and a lot of facial expression. Despite a lack of dialogue in the film, emotions are translated well through music and facial expressions. At times it can be difficult to tell the desires of particular characters. You’ll always have a sense of which characters are good and evil, but what each character in the film is aspiring for can sometimes be confusing.
There is a lot of strange scenery in this film. Accompanied by a soothing score, the film will sometimes show a bizarre twist on reality. It’s usually in these weird sequences that you learn a lot about the characters. For instance, when Ella and Jake are first falling in love, there is a musical sequence with a lot of vivid scenery that directly shows you the amount of love the characters have for one another. It’s imaginative and mesmerizing to witness.
Themes such as love and betrayal are explored in the film. It shows us how close two people can be, and just how far apart they can get under harsh circumstances. The tone can go from being pretty light hearted to levels that are kind of eery and dark. It all makes sense in the context of the film, but the range of tone in this movie is something I have a hard time seeing work anywhere else.
The film is welcome reminder of 2D animation. It’s important to keep all styles of animation alive, or else we may lose out on a story that could really touch our hearts and jumpstart our imaginations. The world Plympton creates is so alive with color and detail, you’ll really want to take in every frame.
The final twenty minutes of the movie are an emotional roller coaster. The things Ella begins to do just to salvage what is left of her shattered marriage is heartbreaking to watch. You really want things to work for them, but it almost seems impossible. In fact, it’s so emotional the final hurrah and conclusion didn’t really live up to the rest of the story. It almost feels like Plympton didn’t know how to end his fascinating story. Plympton’s animation style also made some of the characters suffer. Having such unique looking characters with no dialogue can sometimes make it difficult to get a sense of how some characters are feeling. It makes it difficult to get into their heads. Luckily this issue didn’t arise often.
Overall, the film is visual candy. It’s a treat to just simply look at the images dance before your eyes. The story is interesting to see unfold. You learn a lot about characters without being fed a ton of information. Towards the end it introduces elements outside of what seems normal in this world, but it can be overlooked because that’s when the rawest emotions are brought to the surface. Unfortunately I found that the film stumbles with it’s ending, it’s like putting a shoelace on a gift that needs a beautiful bow. This film is certainly more about the journey than the destination. Seeing the story unfold with such soothing visuals and music will leave you relaxed, yet intrigued.
This is far from a masterpiece in animation, but it’s an enjoyable watch. If you have the opportunity to see “Cheatin’”, check it out and then come share your thoughts with us!