A 1981 American animated musical drama film starring Ron Thompson and produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi. The film tells the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish immigrant family of musicians whose careers parallel the history of American popular music.
The majority of the film’s animation was completed through rotoscoping, a process in which live actors are filmed and the subsequent footage is used for animators to draw over. However, the film also uses a variety of other mixed media including water colors, computer graphics, live-action shots, and archival footage.
Following the production struggles of The Lord of the Rings, Ralph Bakshi decided that it was time to work on something more personal. He pitched American Pop to Columbia Pictures president Dan Melnick. Bakshi wanted to produce a film with an extensive soundtrack of songs which would be given an entirely new context in juxtaposition to the visuals in a film. While the film does not reflect Bakshi’s own experiences, its themes were strongly influenced by individuals he had encountered in Brownsville. The film’s crew included character layout and design artist Louise Zingarelli, Vita, Barry E. Jackson, and Marcia Adams, each of whom brought their own personal touch to the film. Bakshi once again used rotoscoping, in an attempt to capture the range of emotions and movement required for the film’s story. According to Bakshi, “Rotoscoping is terrible for subtleties, so it was tough to get facial performances to match the stage ones.”
The film was a success upon its February 12, 1981 release. Jerry Beck called it “one of Bakshi’s best films”. The film currently holds 59% on Rotten Tomatoes.