Abrasive, aggressive and banned, repackaged and, as of now, blocked from mass media consumption, Ralph Bakshi’s groundbreaking mix of animated and live action film concerns three African American animals who rise up the ranks of criminals in Harlem. As they take on the mob and crooked law enforcement officials, the trio float from live action to animation, as they move through African American history and iconography, exploiting the racist caricatures of the late twentieth century black man. It shows how deeply ingrained in our society the images lampooned in the film are when you watch “Coonskin” today and realize how little has actually changed, which speaks poorly to American society as much as it does to the lasting power of one of Bakshi’s best and most confrontational works.
“The Adventures of Mark Twain” (1986)
At some point not too long ago, a curious clip made rounds on the internet, one that involved three claymated kids and a creature speaking of death, the futility of mankind, and a few other disturbingly thoughtful topics in a creepy voice. Simply titled “Banned from TV,” seasoned vets were quick to point out that it was a sequence from Will Vinton's 1986 "The Adventures of Mark Twain," the first feature film to be entirely clay-animated. In this tale, Twain legends Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher hitch a ride on the author’s airship as he rides on a collision course towards Haley's Comet, encountering different embodiments of his philosophy along the way. Nothing in the film is as disturbingly odd as the clip above (some TV airings even went so far as to cut it out of the broadcast), but make no mistake: it's very much an acid-trip, from the warping pet frog to the extended story of Adam & Eve, all culminating with Twain meeting his "dark" half. It's an old treasure worth revisiting, sober or not.
“The Tune” (1992)
Certainly any of Bill Plympton's animated features would fit comfortably on the list, but it's his bizarre musical debut that remains closest to the heart. Following songwriter Del on a quest to write the perfect song in hopes to impress both boss and main squeeze, the filmmaker takes every opportunity in this charming collection of vignettes to showcase pure weirdness, with some catchy songs thrown in for good mesaure. Plympton (aka the man who flipped off Disney) has often been derided (unfairly) for having a crude style, but those that are less quick to dismiss his lo-fi sensibility will find much to appreciate, particularly in his ability to illustrate transformations and the unique tone his style brings. "The Tune" is completely wild, driven by a youthful desire that still feels fresh and fun almost two decades later. Plus, how can you not love a film that displays this kind of comic genius?