Legendary animator Bill Plympton brings to life his first film since 2016’s Revengeance: the vibrant, outrageous, and endlessly entertaining musical/comedy/western, Slide. Named after its completely mute lead character and his “slide guitar,” this surreal movie overflows with ideas and mesmerizing imagery. Plympton individually animates every frame of his films himself, via his own Plymptoons Studios. For this reason, virtually every creation could be considered a “passion project.” Slide is no different. Many elements are not fully finished, but the creativity positively explodes off the screen. Backed on Kickstarter, Slide reflects Plympton’s Oregon upbringing, and subsequent obsession with all things country western.
Plympton’s signature, sketchy animation style is instantly recognizable as Slide begins. We follow a lone cowboy playing guitar from the back of his oddly-proportioned horse. They come to an array of trees covered in nooses. Slide licks his lips, with both tongue and lips cracked dry as sandpaper. Plympton’s literal depiction of metaphor recurs throughout thereafter. A chaotic thunderstorm breaks out, driving Slide and his horse off a cliff. By the end of the opening, Slide’s horse is sucked down a whirlpool, and lost forever.
Tinselwood Studios, scouting locations for their new feature, seem to have stumbled upon a goldmine. The producer writes the mayor of humble small-town Sourdough Creek to proposition filming there. The greedy Mayor Jeb and his brother, Zeke, happily accept; Jeb imagines his dreams finally coming to fruition. How could he possibly say no? The only catch: Jeb commits to finishing the ambitious casino/resort Monte Carlo Del Norte in just seven days, no matter the cost. Don’t forget about the “big beautiful dam” that goes with it.
Not much later, Slide rolls into town, having weathered the storm on the backs of two friendly gophers. His arrival comes at an opportune time, as Jeb promptly dispatches the town’s previous musician on the grounds of performing songs that are “too slow.” Now, they appear to have discovered an essential performer for the Lucky Buck Saloon. At least, Slide’s tunes seem to be driving the customers to drink the beer. Miss Delilah, a new girl from the local fishing village, has just started as one of the “ladies of delight.” In Sourdough Creek, this means Delilah is expected to please the men no matter what. One of the ladies sings a magical tune about—what else—“bareback riding” being her specialty, as she literally rides on the back of a naked man.
If Slide sounds bonkers, it absolutely is. With the producer, cast, and crew inbound to Sourdough Creek in an obscenely large vehicle, the insanity only mounts in the small town. A hellbug, said to be “the most evil creature in existence,” may be the key. Mayor Jeb’s sensibilities grow wilder by the minute in his determination to make the town pristine. Musical moments and creative songs are sprinkled in at the exact right time, and always add to the greater whole.
The iteration of Slide given to screen was version 8.2, considered the “almost final cut.” As such, some minor or major things may change going into the actual final cut. Hair High remains my ultimate favorite Plympton film; however, Plympton’s career has truly been a special one to follow. Slide represents the auteur at his most ambitious yet. If the fully-finished film is even halfway as impressive as this cut, animation addicts are in for a serious treat they won’t even need a “sugar shaker” to enjoy.
Slide screened at 2023’s Woodstock Film Festival.