AMERICAN POP -- AMC Academy, AMC Skyline, Aspen Hill, Embassy Circle, NTI Springfield Cinema, NTI Tysons Center, NTI White Flint and Showcase Fair City Mall.

Although it's done in animation, "American Pop" is a serious film that recounts the strivings of four generations of an American family.

It is the animation, in fact rather than the story line that makes the strongest point about American Pop culture. Ralph Bakshi, whose ventures in advanced animation include the X-rated "Fritz the Cat" and the leaden "Lord of the Rings," has used a variety of styles, from the plump heroes and dark thundering villains of cartoon fairy tales to impressionistic views of fields and highways from unusual levels and speeds.

"American Pop," while employing the American myth of the journey from ghetto to fame and fortune, does so without using a simple upward curve.

In the first generation, a fugitive from Russian programs comes to America. His drive and flair take him to success through show business, but then to an involvement in Prohibition gangsterism and into federal prison. His son, born to comfort, has lost that ambition but retains a sense of indebtedness to America. When the father tries to prevent his going off to World War II by saying "I gave at the office," the son replies, "But you took, too."

In the third and fourth generations, there is a return to illegality, this time in the drug trade. But while the immigrant's grandson succumbs to purposelessness and drug addiction, the representative of the present generation achieves a cynical but workable synthesis. He uses his connections as a pusher to get himself a showcase as a performer, completing the pattern of the original American, whose show business success dragged him into the underworld.

The occasional use of real people on old film is jarring. But cumulatively, the effect is the strength of American pop to convey American mythology.