(1970)3.5Craig ButlerShinbone Alley is a film that tends to divide its audience into those who really, really like it and those who really, really don't. One thing most people on both sides of the argument can agree on, however, is that while it may be an animated film, Shinbone is not really a child's film. Some children may enjoy it, especially older ones, but most will either find it boring or disturbing -- the latter because it starts off by dealing with the reincarnation of a suicide and because the film is really rather dark in tone. It's this darkness that also tends to divide its adult audience, but there are other "divisive" elements as well. The animation, for instance. Fans of the original Don Marquis books will balk at the manner in which the characters have been softened visually; the distinctive look that original illustrator George Herriman brought to them has been replaced with a more generic look, although the backgrounds do have a bit more Herriman edge to them. (There's also a brief "Archy goes to war" sequence done in the original style which shows how interesting the film could have been visually.) Those who favor the film, however, will appreciate its Ralph Bakshi-mixed-with-Peter Max stylings, and will find its looseness verging on sloppiness refreshing -- and they have a definite point here.
A bigger problem is the script, which is really a loosely connected series of incidents rather than a solid plot, a flaw which also afflicted the Broadway musical upon which it is based. And though many will find the character of Mehitabel too unsympathetic, others will find her appealing because of her forthrightness. George Kleinsinger's jazz-inflected score is actually quite complex and contains a good deal of very interesting music -- but again, some viewers will find its complexity off-putting. Even the vocal talent may be divisive. Most either love or hate Carol Channing to begin with, and even the fact that she is perfectly cast may not be enough to win over those who are not already fans. Eddie Bracken is perhaps less controversial, and John Carradine's presence is a plus, but generations raised on Alan Reed's Fred Flintstone may not be able to accept him as a sensual tomcat. Ultimately, for those who are willing to meet Shinbone on its own terms, it's a fascinating, if flawed, attempt at an adult funny animal cartoon -- not adult in the Fritz the Cat sense, but in terms of trying to simply present a cartoon that appeals to an older audience. Adventurous fans will be well rewarded; those not in the mood for something different would be well advised to skip it.
Based on a Broadway musical by Mel Brooks and Joe Darion, the animated feature Shinbone Alley is an adaptation of the Don Marquis stories. The film is about a love-struck cockroach named Archy (voiced by Eddie Bracken) and the object of his affections, a carefree cat named Mehitabel (Carol Channing). The movie is arranged as a series of episodic adventures and though it never quite gels into something cohesive, it has a number of fine moments, particularly when it sticks to the music.