One of my favorite aspects of the freedom animation gives filmmakers is how the form can so dramatically underline how each and every element in a film is interpreted and represented by its makers. When someone swigs a whiskey in a live action film often the realism of the activity—the clear weight of the glass, the refraction of light through the liquid, the mechanical quality of the drinking motion—will make one forget that probably any number of creative persons purposefully conceived the way that gesture looks on film. Yet in a movie like Bill Plympton's Idiots and Angels, when the main character takes a pull from his glass and we see a shot from inside the man's mouth as he downs the amber liquid, it is so much clearer that the action has been meditated, interpreted, and carefully thought over, its intended effect flourishing rather than being absorbed into the surroundings. Animated films can be overwhelming in their creative freedom, and Idiots and Angels's frames are filled to the brim with inspired interpretation.
In fact, this is the great pleasure of Plympton's film. The script is a mediocre grouping of clichés both moral and noir, involving a misanthropic, sex-hungry, gun-dealing dead-beat who starts to grow wings that have only goodness on mind and inspire envy in the people around him. He takes out his hatred on the world and on his wings until they inevitably spur him to act kinder to those who travel the same world that he does, of dive bars, criminals, suburban malaise, and other broad clichés of seedy unhappiness.
But while the action in conception treads ground that is uninspired, often unfunny, and sometimes awfully limited in generosity, Plympton's execution and imagination of the script is always exciting to behold. The animator's voluminous world has a craggy biliousness to it, as if everything was scuzzy, scarred, and disheveled—yet fluid and airy, as liable to puff up and blow away as it is to crease, crumple, and collapse into a dirty corner. This latter quality lets the world literally run together, meld, bend, and flow: smoke pouring like a waterfall straight up towards the ceiling, endlessly, water turns into shaving cream which turns into milk, a tear can be rolled up the cheek and deposited back in the eyelid, and whole animated bodies, be they nightmarish traffic jams or literally the body of a woman, are like treadmill loops that one endlessly drives along, flies over, or, in the case of the woman, imaginatively licks.
While the gathering force of Idiots and Angels actions and its world—that is, the definition and evolution of its plot and characters—are laughably simple and contrived, Plympton counteracts the aggregate by exploding the detail, making each-and-every-action-and-trait one of bizarre creative interpretation, a kind of typing-by-extremity. And in a film as generally hollow as this, these extreme, inspired flourishes of animation are a special, if lonely, pleasure.