Tuesday, November 5, 2013

ANI-MOVIES, *Shinbone Alley

Here's one for the history books. Set back in 1971, this full-length animated feature was based on a Mel Brooks musical that in turn was based on the series of New York Tribune articles by Don Marquis titled Archy And Mehitabel about a philosophic cockroach and his flirty alley cat friend. The articles were first illustrated by George Herriman who was best known for creating the comic strip Krazy Kat, and his designs were a big influence on the movie. The animated film was directed by former Disney animator, John David Wilson, and done by his studio, Fine Arts Films, which most people know from the opening credits to Grease. This was meant to be a family feature, but tends to go towards more mature concepts that your average child just wouldn't get.

Set in New York, Archy, a magazine writer and poet drowns himself in the river, but is instantly reincarnated as a cockroach with all the memories that this new life as a roach entails, including his undying love for a certain frisky feline. Mehitabel(voiced by Carol Channing)is an estranged cat who waltzes through life from one affair to another. One in particular is the gruff one-eyed tomcat Big Bill(voiced by the original Fred Flintstone, Alan Reed)who she runs off, but ultimately dumps her. Archy convinces her to give her flippant ways and settle down as a regular house cat. However, she gets dazzled by the smooth talking dramatic cat Tyrone(voiced by John Carradine)who cons her into a career in the theatre. Mehitabel soon realizes thought that she's being taken for a ride with Tyrone as he really just uses her to steal food, and doesn't approve of her turning Romeo And Juliet into a swinging showtune. She gets back together with Big Bill, which makes her into a momma cat. Archy has a poetic tangent about how he wants to raise an army of insects to fight the human scourge in a scene done to mimic the style of George Herriman's Krazy Kat, but runs back to Mehitabel after hearing about her motherhood. She has a litter of kittens rather quickly, and regrettably takes Archy's advice to be a housecat with her kids. This makes her very upset, and she kicks Archy out. After an evening of debauchery with some loose ladybugs, he comes to his senses and find he accepts Mehitabel for what she wants to be. This is convenient as she then comes back to the alley, apparently leaving her kittens in the care of her former owners, and the two friends reunite in a big music number.

This is a very eclectic ensemble as far as an animated movie is concerned. It's style is very reminiscent of Ralph Bakshi's early works, and even some of the lower grade quality that Disney was producing at the time. The music numbers are pretty good, even if all the actors aren't professional singers. It's one that's definitely worth watching, at least for nostalgia's sake. Plus it provides an honest look at attempting to make an animation just for animation's sake.

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