By THOMAS F. JOHNSON
Ralph Bakshi, famous for his X-rated adaptation of “Fritz the Cat,” has done high-profile work ranging from the groundbreaking-but-cancelled-before-its-time “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures” to the infamously ill-fated “Cool World.”
We’re here to talk about one of his more obscure films, “American Pop.” It’s chronicles an entertainment business family from the turn of the 20th century to the then-modern era of the 1980s.
It uses rotoscoping, a technique in which artists achieve lifelike motion by tracing animation over filmed actors and placing it on drawn backgrounds.
Bakshi is infamous for overusing rotoscoping to save on costs, especially in his much-criticized “Lord of the Rings” adaptation.
But the technique works in “American Pop,” giving characters both realistic movement and the visual appeal that only paint and ink can bring.
Fast-paced montages sometimes hop quickly from time to time, whisking viewers through events. However, the movie never feels rushed due to excellent pacing.
“American Pop” focuses on several characters, each written with nuance and wit. It starts with an immigrant who tries to break into vaudeville, then focuses on his grandson growing up in the tumultuous ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
That’s where the film’s one flaw comes into play. The grandson’s rebel-without-a-clue characterization can be grating, and he commits several very stupid actions. But he remains somewhat likable, and his narrative is still compelling.
This movie is definitely not for children. Its portrayal of mafia violence, war bloodshed and drug use upholds Bakshi’s reputation for sledgehammering the animation-age ghetto’s ugly face.
He’s also known for sleazy cityscapes, and the sleaze factor escalates during the film. Although the plot perfectly parallels the protagonist’s downward spiral into drugs and despair, one wonders whether Bakshi isn’t just revisiting familiar territory.
Bakshi hasn’t done much over the last 10 years. His next film, “The Last Days of Coney Island,” has been stuck in development.
However, Bakshi announced on Oct. 20 at the Dallas Comic Con that he is planning a kickstarter to fund the film. If you like “American Pop,” look into that when it comes out.
You can watch “American Pop” at hulu.com/watch/113330.