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Review: Bill Plympton’s ‘Hitler’s Folly’

Indie great releases free download of what might be his weirdest film yet.

Have you heard the one about the famous independent animator who produced a 67-minute feature film for $20,000 using his iPhone? A feature film about Adolf Hitler’s deep desire to become… the Walt Disney of Europe?

Bill Plympton’s Hitler’s Folly might be his weirdest film yet; no mean feat with movies like The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger, I Married a Strange Person, More Sex and Violence and (a precursor to Folly) Santa, the Fascist Years under his belt.

“I read an article a few years ago that Hitler was a big Disney fan,” Bill explains. “He loved Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, watched it all the time. I found the idea of the most evil man in history laughing at the dwarfs’ antics too surreal to believe. I started thinking about how he applied to art school and was rejected, how he drew cartoons of the dwarfs even as he was planning world conquest.”

I thought I misunderstood Bill at this point, or that he was describing a scene in his film; Adolf Hitler drawing fan art of Disney characters? However, unless this web page is a put-on or a hoax, the story is evidently true: (And his fan art of the dwarfs are on model.)

“I’ve got to make this film,” Bill continues. “I put together a scenario of how he got into cartoons: he was misrepresented as being a dictator when really just wanted to be the Walt Disney of Europe.”

Bill’s animation is quite sparse in the movie; just a handful of scenes featuring Hitler’s “Downy Duck,” an R. Crumb-ish character inspired by the führer’s beloved childhood pet who winds up a family dinner. The rest of the film’s short running time consists of several elements: a framing story recounting one man’s quest to protect the remnants of Hitler’s magnum opus (a five-hour animated version of Wagner’s Ring cycle starring Downy and shot on 100mm film); talking head interviews; Hitler’s concept art for the “Nazi Land” theme park he hoped to build; and World War II-era public domain footage and stills, much of it photoshopped to support the film’s loopy premise. (At one point someone in a Downy Duck mascot suit is artfully composited into footage of people surveying a rubble-strewn Berlin; according to the narrator it’s Hitler inside attempting to boost morale.)

A mockumentary making use of clever compositing and bogus historical materials to tell the story of an imaginary Hitler brings Zelig to mind, whose blank slate hero stumbles into a Third Reich rally, but Bill says Woody Allen’s film wasn’t particularly an inspiration.

“I wasn’t influenced by Zelig, but The Producers certainly, with its ‘dancing Hitlers on one side of the stage and singing Hitlers on the other,’ and goose stepping Nazis performing ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, those are films I love, This Is Spinal Tap is one of my favorite films.”

Not everyone in Bill’s crew got behind the idea unfortunately. “My producer, my art director and another person quit rather than work on a Hitler film.” Meanwhile, Bill had another concern: the Disney empire.

“Everybody says they’re a very litigious group who want to protect their good name. Even though I’ve done a lot of stuff with Disney, lectured and know half the people there, their lawyers may think differently. I don’t want them to get mad at me because I show Disney and Mickey in the film.” (At one point Hitler, wanting Walt to direct his film sends a Nazi airplane to California to kidnap the animation pioneer while he plays polo. “I have a picture of Disney playing polo; innocuous, but…”)

Bill’s solution: “Rather than pay a lawyer $10,000 and buy all these rights for another $10,000 we just don’t have, I decided to release film for free on June 3rd” on my website”

Bill extolls the iPhone’s image and audio quality, obviating any need for lighting or sound equipment. The live action footage does indeed look sharp and clear (except for the scenes processed to look like they came from a film print left in a moldy basement for decades), even when projected on the preview theater’s large screen. The film’s microscopic budget leads to me ask Bill if he’d ever like to direct a fully animated feature, something perhaps with a Hollywood budget. “I’d be very interested in talking to them. They know I have strange ideas, I don’t really do kids films, but I definitely would be excited to do a film with major distribution, marketing and advertising behind it. That’s something I’m very jealous of.”

Hitler’s Folly imagines a very surprising post-World War II career for a moustacheless Adolph Hitler, quite evil in its own right. “A number of people remarked the timing for this is kind of perfect now that Trump is running for president; there certainly are a lot of parallels there.”

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.