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SHINBONE ALLEY by Judith Crist

We have to thank a couple of 1916 characters, a poetic cockroach and a "toujourgai" alley cat, those classic Don Marquis creations with more soul than all the half-baked adolescents of all ages who've been cluttering up the screen of late. They return to us in a simply glorious animated film musical, Shinbone Alley.

Restoring animated movies to an adult level of artistic achievement and substance, John D .Wilson, Shinbone's executive producer and director, has formulated a blend of literature, musical comedy and fine arts, involving the best of the various styles of animation of recent years to set a new high standard for the genre. At the base are Marquis's archy and mehitabel stories, with the philosophical blank verse of the intellectual archy given full play and the wothehell approach to living of the amoral mehitabel providing the zest. Joe Darion's screenplay is based on the book of Shinbone Alley produced on Broadway in 1957 with Eddie Bracken and Eartha Kitt as the leads so for the film Darion and George Kleinsinger expanded their original lyrics and music, the former charmingly literate and the latter beautifully jazz-oriented.

As the stars, because another lovely feature of the film is that there are stars, rather than merely voices -Eddie Bracken is again archy and Carol Channing, that total vocal pussycat is mehitabel,huge-eyed beneath the blonde flop-mop, hips asway, bushy-tailed and temperamental,is a clear cartoon of Channing as a sex-kitten. John Carradine plays Tyrone T. Tattersall, the ultimate ham theatre cat, and Alan Reed Sr., as Big Bill, whose "come-to-me-ow" mehitabel cannot resist, bring a humanity to the cartoon characters that is rarely achieved in the usual Disneyish anthropomorphism.

Archy, a poet, reincarnated as a cockroach, finds his expressive outlet in laboriously typing his thoughts, verse and philosophy in a deserted newspaper office. He worships mehitabel,trying vainly to reform her despite her cheery "there's many a dance in the old girl yet". She knows from lust for living rather than motherhood, just as Big Bill, presented with his offspring, protests, "I'm a lover, see. From father I don't know nuthin.'" The music is blessedly rhythmic and non-cacophonous, the lyrics meaningful - and Mr. Wilson is fully justified in insisting that the film be regarded as a musical. He and his colleagues have re-established it as a true art form. Shinbone Alley is pure sophisticated entertainment for all, and a refreshment for moviegoers.

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