Animator Bill Plympton has never shied away from disturbing content. His best shorts—many of which were showcased in Spike and Mike’s Sick And Twisted series in the ’90s—can be spectacularly gross, inspiring conflicting impulses to laugh and dry heave. Sadly, only the latter applies to Hitler’s Folly, which might as well be called Plympton’s Folly. Riffing on Adolf Hitler’s early efforts to become a painter, plus a report that the Führer had loved Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, this dire mockumentary purports to tell the secret history of the Nazi regime, with World War II more or less an afterthought to Hitler’s passion project: a four-hour, animated Die Nibelungen starring a cartoon duck. According to Plympton’s blog, three of his staffers quit the project early on, offended by its premise. The completed film (which Plympton is releasing for free on his website) only really crosses the line once, briefly, but it’s almost surreally unfunny throughout. At best, the idea might have made a clever five-minute short; instead, it labors on for over an hour, like the longest CollegeHumor video of all time.
The basic problem is simple: Plympton is an animator, and Hitler’s Folly is virtually animation-free. The film begins with deliberately cruddy-looking video footage of a man (Michael Sullivan) talking to the camera, instructing someone named Josh to seek out a box in the man’s apartment then being gunned down in the street. When Josh (Dana Ashbrook, who played Bobby Briggs on Twin Peaks but now resembles Jim Jarmusch) searches the box, he finds evidence of Hitler’s animation efforts, and the rest of Hitler’s Folly consists primarily of archival Nazi-era footage, accompanied by Josh’s voiceover narration. Occasionally, we see snippets of Hitler’s cartoons—most of them featuring his favorite character, Downy Duck—but the comedy here is overwhelmingly verbal and feeble. Typical jokes include reimagining the word Nazi as NACI, standing for National Animation Cinema Institute, and explaining that the goose step was derived from the need to lift one’s feet high while walking down cinema aisles sticky with spilled soda. The least effective Downfall parody, with fake subtitles that have Hitler ranting about Batman V. Superman or whatever, plays like Oscar Wilde by comparison. And those run for only four minutes, not a goddamn hour.
In fact, Hitler’s Folly is so monotonous that it’s almost a relief when Plympton does veer into material that’s outright offensive, if only because that spikes the adrenaline for a moment. A few actors were hired for fake archival interviews, and one of them plays a former concentration camp “inmate” who explains that the camps were just animation facilities, so nicknamed because the crew of animators concentrated so hard on their work. Plympton even doctors a still photo of Auschwitz I’s “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”) sign to add the words “Ink & Paint Dept” underneath, in the same iconically spindly lettering. If you’re gonna use Holocaust denial as a joke, you’d better have a sound satirical purpose in mind; here it’s just an astoundingly tasteless variation on the film’s central gag, which has already been beaten into the ground. The whole project seems fundamentally misconceived and was evidently so rushed that its narration features several audible mistakes by Ashbrook, in pronunciation and inflection, that were simply left as is. (The word “genius” is also misspelled as “genious” in onscreen text.) Plympton claims he’s giving the film away “as a special thank you to his loyal fans,” but the truth is simpler: Almost nobody would pay.