Guard Dog (2004) dir. Bill Plympton
For the uninitiated, Bill Plympton is kind of the modern answer to Chuck Jones. His “Plymptoons” delve into far more mature-minded territory, as evidenced by his filmography of shorts that includes titles like “The Ultimate Blowjob” and “Pubic Hair Transplants.” Yet he’s more likely to make jokes through exaggeration ala Looney Tunes than South Park-ish shock humor.
The bouncy pug is the ultimate avatar of his work, gracing the Plymptoons logo and starring in several shorts after this one including “Guide Dog,” “Hot Dog,” “Horn Dog,” and “Cop Dog.” This look into the motivations of an average dog on a walk has the same scribbly, “barely-animate animation” that has been Plympton’s trademark since he turned from political cartoonist and illustrator into an animator. It also has his great timing and escalation, pausing to observe the dog’s squirm under a belly rub and his thumping little tail, then introducing the “threats” that much be neutralized at a faster and faster clip as the sudden music cuts become a joke of their own. Adding to the absurdity, the threats as imagined by our hero don’t even particularly align with the animal’s sensibilities (my favorite is the mole).
This was nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar in 2005. The nominees for feature that year were The Incredibles, Shark Tale, and Shrek 2 (still feeling heat from its showing in competition at Cannes) to give perspective on the headspace of mainstream animation. Digital animation was close to becoming the norm for even shortform with handdrawn belonging increasingly to niche adult animation including the middle-ages for The Simpsons, the rising Adult Swim fare, and the soon-to-be resurrected worlds of Seth MacFarlane. The outsider status of those brands of pictures for grown-ups would dissipate but the handmade style of Plymptoons still feels fresh – or at least no more crude than it did in the first place.