The story of hot rod cartoonist Ed "Big Daddy" Roth.
Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann has specialized in making counter-cultural documentaries since 1978, and Tales of the Rat Fink
is his masterpiece. Rarely has the combination of technique and subject matter been presented with such symbiotic perfection, and Mann's tribute to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth will appeal to anyone who recalls the glory days of hot rods and custom cars. Roth pioneered customizing in the late '50s, taking his cue from the legendary Von Dutch (whose automotive pinstripes "flowed like jazz") to become the first hot-rodder to sculpt custom cars out of fiberglass, the first to airbrush custom "monster" designs on T-shirts, and the inventor of Rat Fink, the "anti-Mickey Mouse" adopted as the drooling mascot of rodders, surfers, model-building hobbyists and assorted misfits throughout the '60s. Roth's best-known custom cars--The Outlaw, The Beatnik Bandit, Mysterion and others--remain timeless classics of southern California's custom-car culture, and they're all shown here on dazzling display.
It's a pity Roth (1932-2001) didn't live to witness Mann's exquisite collaboration with animator Mike Roberts, whose dynamic contributions bring Rat Fink to life in all his wretched glory. John Goodman splendidly narrates as a posthumous Roth, looking back at his creations as numerous pop-cultural icons (Ann-Margret, the Smothers Brothers, and author Tom Wolfe, who first brought Roth to the world's attention) lend their voices to custom cars that "talk" with flashing headlights, similar to (but more reverent than) Pixar's Cars. It's a perfect way of honoring Roth, the culture he created, and the enduring legacy of his "weirdo" ingenuity. Mann's playful tribute makes it perfectly clear that Roth and Rat Fink embody a creative spirit that will live forever. --Jeff Shannon