Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Man, I wanted to like Shinbone Alley. Here's the pitch: an animated musical version of Don Marquis' Archie and Mehitabel, based on the Broadway play. Archie the cockroach is voiced by Eddie Bracken, of Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Mehitabel the amoral cat is voiced by Carol Channing, although the role was premiered on Broadway by Eartha Kitt. Also on board are John Carradine as a ham actor cat, and tough tomcat Fred Flintstone (Alan Reed). The play was written by Joe Darion and Mel Brooks. So far, so good.

Where does it all go wrong?
  • The music is not that strong - Marquis' free-verse philosophizing doesn't really make for strong showtunes. Somehow, I got the impression of songs, without actually experiencing them.
  • The main animation is not very distinctive - character animation is kind of Hanna Barberra/Top Cat. The backgrounds are nicely done, though.
  • Carol Channing is not as annoying as you'd think. She does a gravelly, low-down growl, with her trademark squeak for emphasis only. Nonetheless, well, Carol Channing.
However, there are some very nice animation setpieces. Some borrow from the Peter Max/Yellow Submarine tradition. Some are sweet homages to Geo. Herriman, who drew Krazy Kat and illustrated the original Archie and Mehitabel stories. For me, the movie is worth it for these scenes alone.

Also worthwhile, Eddie Bracken, who is perfect in his role of dreamer, loser, bad poet, writer, conscience to the unconscionable Mehitabel. Mehitabel, as a character, is perhaps not as lovable as Marquis wished. She lost Ms. Beveridge when she attempts to let her kittens drown.

Confession time: I've never really read the A&M stories. Made a few attempts, probably looked at the pictures, gave up. I know they have maximum hipster credit, but I could never get into it. Maybe it's just as well. I don't know how a real fan would have reacted to this disappointing attempt.

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