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'Hair High' cuts loose

The latest feature from the clever animator Bill Plympton injects anomie into the prom comedy. Set at a typical 1950s school, "Hair High" unspools the tale of Cherri and Spud, the popular girl and the unpopular new guy. They get close once Rod, Cherri's bullying boyfriend, makes Spud into her servant. Of course, the condition of this dim arrangement is that Spud not fall in love with Cherri.

But how could he not? Her head is so . . . big. Her bouffant, too. Displeased, Rod avenges his bruised ego in the foulest of ways -- and before prom night!

Notably, no one in "Hair High" is heroic. All of the characters are stupid, vain, or both, which is what you might expect from a gallery of kids whose noggins, by and large, resemble peeled root vegetables. (The cast of voices includes Sarah Silverman, Eric Gilliland, Dermot Mulroney, Craig Bierko, and Plympton disciples Matt Groening and Don Hertzfeldt .) Much of the visual comedy comes from the incongruous proportions of the bodies: skinny legs and puffed-out chests. Rod resembles a rooster, albeit one with abs of steel -- or rubber, since touching his six-pack (wait, is it eight?) produces a squishing sound.

Plympton's excellent short films usually tell their stories laconically, in a stark white space. Here the animation is robust, just as in Plympton's best long-form concoction: 1997's "I Married a Strange Person!" That film was a fully inspired consideration of the vagaries of maleness in middle age. "Hair High," by comparison, feels rather trite, if not occasionally passé, particularly in its fancy for gross-out. The chain-smoking teacher who pukes out his innards may be a feat of drawing, but it's also simply gross.

This movie does seem determined to evoke everything from anime and Nagisa Oshima's "Cruel Story of Youth" to "Grease" and the Frankie-and-Annette beach romps. The last act approaches the grim gags of a Tim Burton phantasmagoria. But if Plympton is making pastiche, he's also having a laugh at a universal experience that for a lot of people was probably pretty crummy. Apparently, it was a little crummier for him.

Wesley Morris can be reached at For more on movies, go to

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