Music has had such a huge impact on the history of animation that you’d think that there would have been a movie that captured the excitement of live Rock and Roll, but for some reasons American Pop is one of the few attempts I can think other than maybe Yellow Submarine and it isn’t really that successful. When this came out, there was all kind of talk about new animation techniques that were designed to capture the precise movements of Hendrix at Woodstock, but even that seeming slam dunk doesn’t become half as exciting as you think it would. It’s sad but I seriously doubt if I would trade the three minutes of A-Ha’s Take On Me video for the whole of American Pop. Then again how good can a movie be when it starts out with an orchestrated version of Freebird?
American Pop is certainly ambitious enough. It attempts to cover every musical style and political event of the first eighty or so years of the twentieth century through the story of four generations of an immigrant family. Along the way we see animated recreations of everybody from Vaudeville strippers straight through Johnny Rotten.
Most of the film covers the life of Tony the third generation of the family, who runs away from home as a beatnik, knocks up a girl in Kansas, and becomes the Bob Dylan of the psychedelic movement, before becoming a drug casualty. Though the result of that one night in Kansas hits it big, the whole journey is pretty damn depressing.
The only real likable member of this family is the second generation piano player, who winds up fighting in the second world war. In the film’s most effective moment, he discovers a piano in a bombed out German home. Having been away from home and music for the duration of the war he sits down and warmly plays a few bars, which unfortunately rouses an injured German soldier. Seeing that he is about to die, our hero tries to make peace with a brief version of a German anthem. The German soldier says thanks, blows him away anyway, and unfortunately things don’t get any more cheerful. Who knows what we’re supposed to get out of American Pop other than the stern lesson that life is hard, but music is cool. In the end it really only shows how boring and flat one hundred years of great music can be in the hands of the wrong animator.