Among the most ambitious animated films ever undertaken, Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop offers a sprawling multi-generational portrait of 20th century American history through the lens of music’s development and cultural impact. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, this long overlooked gem receives a lavish Blu-ray upgrade from Sony Pictures, letting Bakshi’s bold vision shine with renewed luster. Both a technical marvel and cultural time capsule, American Pop remains an affecting celebration of art blossoming from adversity.
Bakshi’s Rotoscoped Labor of Love
By the late 1970s, animator Ralph Bakshi had carved out a niche for provocative adult-oriented projects like Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. For his next undertaking, Bakshi turned his sights to a decade-hopping period piece intertwined with the evolution of modern music. From ragtime and vaudeville to punk rock, American Pop follows four generations of one immigrant family, using music both as a reflection of the times and an escape from hardship.
To realize this sprawling multi-generational tale, Bakshi employed rotoscoping, tracing over live-action footage to create fluid, hyper-realistic animation. While time-consuming, this process allowed more naturalistic motion and costumes faithful to each era. Archival war footage and newsreel material was also integrated, further rooting characters against the backdrop of major historical events.
Hand-drawn elements meld seamlessly with live-action through Bakshi’s approach. Sweeping panoramas and stylized perspectives amplify the story’s epic scope. And experimental techniques like cross-processing imbue later psychedelic sequences with a visually disorienting edge. Both intimate and panoramic, American Pop stands as a technical showpiece for Bakshi’s mastery.
Music as Means of Survival Through Turbulence
While renowned for his visual audacity, Bakshi’s script equally impresses, ambitiously charting how societal upheaval spurs musical evolution as means of expression. The multi-layered narrative follows ancestors of fictional band The American Pop Group across 20th century watersheds.
Each generation faces immense hardship, from the poverty of 1890s immigrants to Vietnam War disillusionment. Music provides solace, financial gain, and cathartic release as they traverse major historical touchpoints. The story illustrates music’s profound power to unite communities, process trauma, and provide hope.
Notable voice cameos from musical icons like Frank Zappa and Tom Waits as their own ancestors further contextualize the shifting soundscapes. Bakshi’s script movingly illustrates how discrimination and loss fueled innovation in rhythm and lyrics. This emphasis on music as survival adds resonance to the frequent tragedy within American Pop’s bold melodrama.
Initial Indifference, Eventual Reconsideration
Upon opening in 1981, American Pop earned middling reviews from critics uncertain what to make of Bakshi’s ambitious hybrid creation. Mainstream audiences failed to turn out as well, put off by Bakshi’s dark storytelling and maverick style. With a $6 million budget, American Pop fell short of box office expectations. But over time, the film’s reputation improved dramatically.
Many now hail American Pop as Bakshi’s crowning work, one that mines surprising depths beneath the audacity. And fans admire Bakshi’s empathy and technical wizardry in bringing a quintessentially American art form to screen with passion and innovation. After years of obscurity, American Pop has earned reappraisal as an emotionally rich cultural tapestry.
Stunning Technical Upgrade On Blu-ray
Sony Pictures’ new 4K restoration allows American Pop to bedazzle like never before. The film’s kaleidoscopic palette looks breathtaking, with neon hues and inky shadows popping beautifully. Fine details in period costumes and production design shine, revealing subtle intricacies lost on DVD. The increased resolution enhances the immersive quality of Bakshi’s extensive backgrounds.
The uncompressed PCM stereo track also impresses. The wall of sound presented clean and balanced across channels, putting viewers inside sweaty clubs and massive concerts. Range and fidelity show magnificent improvement over compressed DVD audio. Every note of American Pop’s incredible 60-song playlist bursts with vitality.
Sadly, special features remain disappointingly scant, with only a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette and the original trailer. New commentaries or retrospectives would have been invaluable. But most simply, the phenomenal presentation lets American Pop‘s singular artistry take center stage.
An Unforgettable Odyssey Through America’s Musical Soul
While American Pop is undeniably a product of its era, its rawness provides an intoxicating time capsule of animation’s capabilities for adult themes. The film helped open the door for boundary-pushing films like Heavy Metal. Bakshi’s flawed characters compellingly humanize oft-glossed historical events and cultural upheaval. The handcrafted uniqueness can’t be replicated today, giving American Pop an affecting nostalgic allure.
After 40 years, American Pop remains a one-of-a-kind testament to the transcendent power of music across communities and generations. Neither fully live-action nor animation, it bridges the forms with passion and innovation. Now on Blu-ray, Bakshi’s labor of love can finally be appreciated with incredible A/V presentation. Whether experienced for the first time or revisited, American Pop is an essential American odyssey.
The American Pop Blu-ray comes with no special features. Honestly, it looks quite not unlike the recent MOD treatments given to Real Genius, Marie Antoinette and Little Women. Still, it’s American Pop on Blu-ray. Give it a shot.