Animated films haven’t always been kids stuff. Actually, the short subjects of animation’s golden age from the likes of Warner Brothers and the Fleischer Studios were most definitely not created with kids in mind. Still, these films were the type of thing that would appeal to youngsters, and they would become staples of kiddie TV programming in 60’s and 70’s. The films of Ralph Bakshi, however, could never be considered kiddie fare. As a matter of fact, one could make the case that his films often go out of their way to insure that they will never be mistaken for Saturday Morning reruns. Harsh language, nudity and frightening imagery is the norm for Bakshi and he certainly doesn’t stray from that formula for 1982’s Hey Good Lookin’.
The film takes place in Brooklyn, 1953. Vinnie (Richard Romanus) is the leader of a gang called The Stompers. Always following Vinnie around like some sort of deranged puppy is his pal Crazy Shapiro (David Proval). Vinnie tends to spend most of his time combing his hair, especially after he catches sight of Rozzie Featherschneid (Tina Romanus). She’s been a fixture of the neighborhood since she was little girl, but Vinnie has just noticed that she has, shall we say, developed nicely.
Rozzie’s over-protective father sets out to be sure she has nothing to do with Vinnie, however, literally chaining her to her bed. Without his best gal around, Vinnie and Crazy head out for the night and end up in the company of some prostitutes. Despite their best efforts, they end up spending the night sleeping on the beach. When they awake the next morning, they run into Boogaloo (Philip Michael Thomas), the leader of the rival African-american gang The Chaplains. Since Vinnie is trespassing on their beach, a rumble is in order. Vinnie accepts the challenge, but now must convince his fellow gang members to join in the fight, scheduled for that night. He also manages to squeeze in some time with Rozzie at a rock show and in the backseat of his car. Things turn bad for Vinnie, though, when Crazy guns down a few of the Chaplains and then tells his cop father that Vinnie was the actual culprit.
I admit that I am often intrigued by Ralph Bakshi’s work, but that usually I find his films to be disappointing. Bakshi likes things ugly, and that is certainly true of this film. All of the characters, with the exception of Rozzie, are grotesque. Not in the least bit appealing to look at. The design of Rozzie, on the other hand, is completely over-the-top in terms of curvaceousness and buoyancy. It comes off as a wee-bit childish, like the talented young cartoonist who never outgrew scribbling pictures of naked women on lined notebook paper during his 7th grade English class.
The background artwork is actually much more interesting than the characters Bakshi puts into the scenes. There is a great deal of artistic skill on display in them, still, I don’t know that they really work as backgrounds for animation. They are way too busy, cluttered even. I can imagine they would look great on a gallery wall, but I’m not loving them as backgrounds. Besides, the animation of the characters doesn’t really mix well with the backgrounds. Often the characters seem to be floating on top of the scenery, rather than actually being present in those environments.
There are also many rough spots in terms of the voice work. There’s really nothing about the voices that stands out or gives real life to the drawings. It doesn’t help that the actual recordings of the voices are rough to say the least. Some of the voices literally sound like they were recorded using a soup can at the end of a rope.
I think part of what disappointed me so much about Hey Good Lookin’ is that of all the Bakshi films I’ve seen, this story, I think, has the most potential. A look back at street gangs in Brooklyn 1953 could be a lot of fun. There’s so much style automatically built in to the atmosphere and music of that time in history that could’ve lent itself so well to animation. Just having some of the music of the time period would’ve added so much. No doubt legal red tape is in large part responsible for the exclusion of classic tunes. Even with so much visual potential, Bakshi seems to lose focus at times. Take the first moment that the members of the Stompers lay eyes on Rozzie…their eyes bug out of their skulls Tex Avery style. It’s just out of place. The final rumble sequence also has some bizarre elements, including a sequence where Crazy goes to a rooftop and seems to have hallucinations where he, dressed in a makeshift superhero outfit, battles monster TV antennas, street signs, and giant naked pink women!?!? Had this story been told straight, without resorting to such extremes, we might have had a much better film.
It seems that Hey Good Lookin’ is a film that experienced many problems on its way to the screen. It started production in the mid 70’s and originally was to feature more of a mixture of live-action and animation. For whatever reasons, the final product didn’t sit well with executives at Warner Brothers and it took many years for Bakshi to revamp the project. The final result will certainly be of interest to animation fans, but will leave many viewers confused and frustrated.