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Hair High Reviews

Animator Bill Plympton's seventh feature is a must-see for fans of his often witty, always scabrous, hand-drawn work. But this musical bogey tale takes his trademark style — rooted in jittery, broadly drawn images, grotesque transformations and abrupt shifts of perception — and combines it with an alienatingly heavy dose of grossness for its own sake. A bizarre mix of 1950s high-school melodrama, Twilight Zone-style spook tale, UFOs and body horror, it begins with a squabbling prom couple stopping into an old-fashioned diner, where JoJo the counterman (Keith Carradine) tells them a tale from long ago, in the 1950s. Nerdy new kid Spud (Eric Gilliland) offends BMOC Rod (Dermot Mulroney) and Rod's queen-bee girlfriend, Cherri (Sarah Silverman), on his very first day at school. Spud is forced to serve as Cherri's slave, and, defying the iron-clad rules of high-school cliques, they fall in love. Naturally, Rod learns of their plans to attend the prom together and plots his revenge. But he fails to reckon with the power of teen love, which proves stronger than a watery grave.... In between the setup and the comeuppance, Plympton mercilessly mocks mean girls, sports mascots, macho jocks, school suck-ups, clueless teachers and motor psychos. And the lesson is, well, hard to say, except that high school is a nightmare and just about everyone knows that already. The high-profile voice cast is a good indication of the esteem in which Plympton is held by a remarkable range of individuals; it includes Tom Noonan, David Carradine (as nicotine-addicted teacher Mr. Snerd, who coughs up his intestines in one of the film's more exuberantly disgusting sequences), Beverly D'Angelo, Justin Long, Craig Bierko, Ed Begley Jr., Martha Plimpton and fellow animators Matt Groening and Don Hertzfeldt. But the monstrous images that are so effective in Plympton's short Plymptoons can be unpleasant at feature length and eventually overwhelm what is, at heart, a GREASE-like teen–movie parody.