Born in Southern California in 1932, Ed Roth began driving when he was only twelve years old. By the fifties, Roth had taken the popular hobby of customizing cars to a new level, building hot-rods from scratch with old car parts and fiberglass. Known today for his unique cars and airbrushed monster illustrations, “Big Daddy” Roth’s imaginative creations served as an inspiration to misfits everywhere.
A posthumous tribute to this highly influential artist and inventor, Ron Mann’s “Tales of the Rat Fink” reconstructs the life of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth through the use of first-person narration, featuring John Goodman as the voice of Roth. Over three-dimensional landscapes created with photographs, old black-and-white footage, color animation and the occasional stock news story about hot-rodding, Roth reminisces about his life’s work and the events that inspired many of his legendary creations. Interwoven throughout the film are monologues by the cars themselves, delivered by the voices of Ann-Margret, Jay Leno and Matt Groening, among others.
The animation that carries “Tales of the Rat Fink” is highly engaging, and Roth’s own dynamic cars and illustrations naturally lend themselves to an aesthetically charismatic re-telling of his story. But that’s about as much as I can say for the film: it looked really cool. Amidst all the fast-paced animated cars and monster caricatures, the content in this movie was glaringly absent. The resurrected voice of Roth recalls many of the things that influenced his career as an artist, such as his decision to use fiberglass in the manufacture of his hot-rods and the deal he made with Revell toys to create models of his cars. However, there’s nothing here that tells us anything about Ed Roth as a person. At one point, he suddenly mentions that he has five sons, but there is little if any discussion of Roth as a father or a husband.
The narratives delivered from the cars’ perspectives also really detract from the film. Rather than offer any information or insight into Roth’s work, they are merely distracting and seem to go on for far too long. Towards the end of the film, Mann attempts to trace Roth’s influence to the present day, suggesting that “Big Daddy’s” work ultimately lead to the design of the iMac G3 and bubble chairs, without really explaining how he came to that conclusion. Through it all, I was just wondering when the actual story was going to start. Full of interesting visuals and illustrations, “Tales of the Rat Fink” would have made a really great introduction to a film that I never got to see.