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lupercal's Review of Coonskin

rated it: posted: Aug 11, 2011
Reviews: 517 | KF Animation Editor
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"F**k You."

That's the first line from Ralph Bakshi's third feature film. It then goes into the intro song, 'Walk on Nigger, Walk on' - lyrics by Bakshi, performed by Scatman Crothers (same guy who played the black guy in 'The Shining' and Scat Cat in 'The Aristocats', which I'm guessing Bakshi was punning on, as it was from 4 years earlier). Stunning song, both lyrically and vocally. That guy could sing.

Ralph Bakshi's third feature film is both his most controversial, and toughest to rank. Chronoligically it falls smack in the middle of his classic period (73-77). Historically it falls into the same hole as 'Song of the South' - ironically, because both are re-tellings of Uncle Remus, and both versions were banned, for reasons that were ostensibly similar, but realistically opposite.

The film is about... well, ostensibly, two black guys waiting to be busted out of prison. While they're waiting the elder tells the younger a story (Uncle Remus style) which pertains to the other half of the film - the animated Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit and Preacher Fox, who are present day blacks screwed up in organised crime after escaping the deep south. And Brother Rabbit is very Black Pantherish. Is this getting confusing? Well, yeah - so is the film, which is its only big fault.

Forget rotoscope, which is the eternal criticism of early Bakshi: this one combines sequences of pure live action (mostly the first 10 mins) with pure animation, with animation over live backgrounds, with several different animation styles (consciously designed to represent different decades) in the same scene. It is enourmously ambitious, and I can't help but applaud it for that - but, at the same time, I can't help feeling that it gets itself a bit confused and trips over itself. It lacks the narrative cohesion of 'Heavy Traffic' or 'Wizards'. the films either side of it.

This film was withdrawn from release shortly after it opened, because of pressure from left-wing liberal groups and black groups, neither of whom had ever seen it. Since then it has become a favourite with the black groups it was supposed to have been dissing. Heavy irony. Bakshi clearly never meant this to be racist. It was emphatically anti-racist.

They would not listen
They're not listening still
Perhaps they never will.

Loop

animated movie Coonskin © Paramount Pictures
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Coonskin
3.63 stars / 4 ratings
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