Monday, July 29, 2019

Reviews of "The Lion King" and "Once Upon a Hollywood"

I don't consider myself a film reviewer, not by any stretch, because first of all, I'm not a particularly good wordsmith.  Second, I just don't have the time right now to see all the films I want to see.

However, I believe that my fans are interested in reading what my thoughts are on certain current films - so here they are.

I just saw "The Lion King" and I was very impressed.  I felt that the animated version, which was released in 1994, had a strong story and good animation - but nothing to get really excited about.  However, the new version, directed by Jon Favreau, is something to shout about.  He also did a great job with "The Jungle Book", which was one of my favorite films of 2016.

But with his version of "The Lion King", I really connected with the story in a much deeper and passionate way.  The fact that all of these jungle animals talked and acted like humans made the "Circle of Life" story that much more powerful.  It's a beautiful, glorious movie.

I give "The Lion King" an "A".

The other film I recently saw was Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Hollywood".  It's a fable that hearkens back to the movie around the time of the Charles Manson murders.  Mr. Tarantino, to me, is a stone hero - he and the Coen brothers are my biggest influences.  However, because of Quentin's big success, I believe he feels he has license to include every thought in his head.  There are so many places in this film where my mind started to wander, and I asked, "Why is this sequence in the film?"  It's 2 hours and 15 minutes long, and would have been a dynamite 1 hour and 40 minutes if they trimmed it down.  That's the down side.

My favorite parts were Brad Pitt's fight with Bruce Lee - hilarious, and Brad Pitt entering the Spahn ranch and the nest of vicious hippies - creepy.  And, of course, the big battle at the end, with Brad and Leonardo DiCaprio fending off the Manson killers.  It's totally scary and outrageous, as only Tarantino can do it.  It's like "The Road Runner" only with real actors.

Brad and Leo make a great team - they reminded me of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction", just riffing on life and their careers as they cruise around 1960's L.A. in their car.

Another big plus is the beautifully lush cinematography by Robert Richardson.  The scene in Frank & Musso's is so lush and delicious, I wanted to eat it.

I saw the film at a screening for Academy members, and before they showed it we were read a text message from Quentin himself, asking us to not reveal the ending - so I will respectfully honor that request.

After I saw "Titanic", I left the theater on a "film high" and I wanted to tell everyone, "GO SEE THIS FILM!"  Well, that's how I felt after watching this film, like Brad Pitt after he just smoked an acid cigarette.  I give this one an "A+"!

--Bill P.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Simpsons, New Yorker and Weird Al News

First of all, you should probably know that for the last six months, I've been working on a big "secret project" for "The Simpsons".  They asked me to keep it secret - if not, the FOX lawyers would come down hard on me - and now that FOX-TV got bought by Disney, the even tougher Disney lawyers would come down on me even harder.  So even though many people have been asking me what I've been working on, I could only say that it was a secret Simpsons project.

Well, now, apparently there was a big panel of Simpsons creators at the San Diego Comic-Con last week and they revealed that they're going to release Season 19 of the show in a DVD box set, and that the brand new (and perhaps last) package design and art would be created by Bill Plympton!  Lots of applause!  But it won't be available until December 3, so you can start saving up your pennies and nickels.

It was a very fun project and I had almost complete control of the images and ideas.  And also, it will be very different, because instead of the typical Simpsons show artwork on the packaging and DVD menus, it's now a much more unique and outrageous style - so please check it out.  I had a lot of fun making it.

On a totally different topic - I have been good friends with Liza Donnelly and Mike Maslin for about 40 years.  They're both great New Yorker cartoonists and married - to each other, to be clear.  Anyway, Liza ended up going to my IFC "Trump Bites" show and she came up with the idea of having a barbecue in upstate New York, where they live, and inviting all the nearby local cartoonists to come over.  Unfortunately, it was on one of the hottest days of the year, like 107 degrees, so we had to eat inside their very cool 1800's colonial house.

Here's a list of some of the people there: Peter Steiner, who just did the most copied cartoon ever in the New Yorker (the one with the two dogs on the computer and one says, "You know, on the computer no one knows we're dogs.") and Danny Shanahan, who is one of my favorites and apparently was a ranked tennis player at one time.  Who knew?  Also, Elwood Smith, one of my earliest friends in New York - his illustrations were famous in the U.S. plus he's a great guitar player and played lead guitar in the all-cartoonist band Ben-Day and the Zip-a-Tones (starring Lou Brooks, Mark Stamaty, Elwood and myself)  We were like a shooting star - we did two or three big gigs and then exploded in a blaze of glory.  And John Cuneo, who lives in Woodstock, he's done a number of New Yorker covers.  He also designed the poster and promotions for the Woodstock Film Festival last year.  In fact, I heard they're putting together a book of Woodstock Film Fest art for this year, and it will include both of our posters.

And then, if that weren't enough, we had the pleasure of being joined by the great R.O. Blechman, who I shamelessly borrowed from for about 5 years when I was younger.  He had some great stories about working in animation and for the New Yorker in the 1950's and 60's - fascinating!  This is what I love about New York, all these great talented artists hanging out and talking shop gossip.

Mike Maslin, Peter Steiner, John Cuneo, R.O. Blechman, Liza Donnelly, Danny Shanahan, me and Elwood Smith at BBQ.
While I was up in Rhinebeck, I heard that another friend of mine, "Weird Al" Yankovic was in town, and performed a concert out in Queens, at the Forest Hills Stadium, with the Queens Symphony Orchestra.  This was called the "Strings Attached" tour, and obviously playing with an orchestra is different - but I think he's back to playing his parody songs again, the last tour he did was only his original songs.

Well, as you might imagine, a lot of the people who work for me are also fans of Al - so Kerri, an ex-employee of mine went to the concert and took some photos for me of Al performing in front of the animation I did for his "Don't Download This Song" music video.  I'm sorry that I couldn't be there, but my thanks to Kerri for sending along these photos!  Be sure to catch Weird Al on tour if you get the chance!

Weird Al Yankovic performing "Don't Download This Song" in Forest Hills, Queens
Now, here's this week's gag cartoon.  Enjoy!

--Bill P.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Shout! Factory deal

I've been in the animation business for almost 40 years - and I've had mixed success during those years.  I've won a bunch of awards and received worldwide attention, yet I've never been able to get one of my feature films to break out - in other words, it's hard for my films to get great distribution.

"The Tune" got a theatrical release in 1992 and it's only been recently, through DVD sales, that I've been able to break even with it.  In 1998 my film "I Married a Strange Person" was picked up and distributed by Lions Gate, and I actually got a large advance check - but the film never made a profit.
Later on, my film "Cheatin'" had a limited theatrical release and sold well on Netflix, but that film still never broke even.

All the rest of my features have struggled to get released or make a lot of money (however, my shorts usually break even or do better.)    So that's three feature films out of seven that were halfway successful.  My big problem is that I'm a New York independent animator, and I just don't have many connections with distributors, lawyers, agents, executives with the "juice", power-brokers, or influential Hollywood moguls.  It's just me against the industry.

But I'm not really complaining, because I love the whole process of making films - and I'd continue just for the pure pleasure of it.

Now, though, I think I have a chance to break out of this indie animation ghetto I'm in.  Thanks to my agent, Catherine Branscome, I've just signed a deal with Shout Factory to handle my entire library - seven animated features and over 50 shorts.  It's their vision to sell my stuff all over North America, and get it on as many platforms as possible, which will be good for them and good for me.

For too long, I've dwelled in the bosom of obscurity in the U.S. (although I must admit that in Europe, I'm a lot more famous...).  This is very important for my films and for my career.  I believe that the body of work that I've completed in the last 40 years has some amazing humor, stories and drawings, and hopefully, thanks to Shout Factory, more people can now have access to this great catalogue.

As as all of you are aware, right now there is an explosion of platforms to view animation: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Go, etc. and they are all demanding product.  I remember in the days of video stores, the best ones usually had different shelves for different genres of films, and there would often be an animation section, and sometimes there would even be a Bill Plympton section, which I was always happy to see.

So now I'd love to see a Bill Plympton section on some platform like Netflix or Amazon - and I hope that Shout Factory can be the facilitator for that.  I've got some links here where you can read more about my deal with Shout Factory:

Now, here's my cartoon for the week:

--Bill P.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Toy Story 4

I think that by now, all of my Scribble Junkies readers know that I'm not a particularly brilliant movie critic - my criticism is worth about 2 cents, or perhaps more appropriately, 1 cent - but here it is...

I liked "Toy Story 4".  I went to see it with my 6-year-old son, Lucas.  He initially didn't want to see it, but I dragged him with me anyway. And he loved the film, as usual.  Here are my thoughts on Pixar's new film:

The dialogue was excellent.  In fact, I'm writing dialogue now for my new feature, "Slide" and I'm so jealous of the wit and the emotion that they put into this script.  Of course, they had 5 or 6 highly-paid professional screenwriters working on this.

The visuals, as usual, were fantastic!  I loved the four little evil "Chucky"-like puppets.  They were hilarious!  And Little Bo Peep was hot!  I mean, I was in love!  How could Woody not fall head-over-boots in love with her?  She should be a model!

But my big complaint is how it got so sappy at the end.  You can't pile all these emotional moments, one on top of the other - after a while, I get "sad ending overload".  I'd prefer more jokes and satire over one more orphan girl finding her perfect doll.

Like I said, my criticism is worth about 1 cent, though -

I give "Toy Story 4" a B+.

Here's my cartoon for the week.  Have a great Fourth of July and I plan on watching the great Washington, DC Military Parade!

--Bill P.

Monday, July 1, 2019

IFC Center screening of "Trump Bites"

Last week we had a big show at the IFC Center movie theater here in NYC.  Billy Shebar (producer of the "Trump Bites" shorts) and I appeared at a screening of all six "Trump Bites" shorts and had a talk with a wonderful audience.

Since each "Trump Bites" short is only a minute long, we padded the show with my classic animated shorts "Guard Dog" and "Your Face", which incidently inspired "The Unraveling", one of the "Trump Bites" shorts.  We also talked about the origins (oranges?) of the series and how we put it all together.

The big audience was wonderful - they laughed and applauded at everything, and the screening was followed by a very energetic Q&A session - then everyone lingered around afterward to talk more extensively about the "Trump Crisis".

One interesting side-note was that Billy and I both feared that we'd get some political demonstrators interrupting our show.  As you may be aware, a certain big-time blogger wrote a very critical article about our Trump shorts, claiming I was homophobic for depicting Trump being smitten by Putin, and then we were barraged by hate mail and comments from Russian bots.  Not only that, but last week was also Pride Week in NY - a perfect opportunity for some kind of public protest or demonstration.

Fortunately, the audience was full of fans - no pie in my face or loud audience slogans, which I think goes to prove that all the negative backlash was from bots, and it was mostly all made up.  (Fake News!)

You'll be happy to know that I just finished a big project for a certain well-known Fox-TV show, which I'll talk about next time, and I'm free to go back to my favorite project, my new feature "Slide", an old country-western musical filled with lumberjacks, prostitutes, hired killers and a mythical cowboy.

Here's some art from the film - see ya next time.

Bill P.