" Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights" has got to be a first on two counts: an animated holiday musical invoking the spirit of Hanukkah instead of Christmas, playing against the sentimentality of the season with some of the raunchiest scatological humor ever seen or heard on the screen, at least in a mainstream movie. A couple of the lines are enough to make even the thought-we'd-heard-it-all types wince. But on the whole, this lively, bittersweet Columbia release works well and is sure to connect strongly with fans of Sandler at his most free-wheeling and uninhibited.

Scrub off the latrine humor, and underneath there's a heart-tugging sentimental tale of uplift and redemption. Sandler had a hand in all aspects of the film except for direction, which he left to Seth Kearsley, and he voices the three central characters.

He's first of all Davey, the 33-year-old scourge of a charming, small New England city. (Production designer Perry Andelin Blake visited New Hampshire, where Sandler grew up, to ensure authenticity in the details.) As a youngster Davey was a basketball prodigy, but he has long been the town troublemaker: surly, cruel, combative, and a frequent and obstreperous drunk. (We in good time learn why he turned out this way.)

His latest escapade is about to land Davey in prison for a substantial period of time when Whitey (also voiced by Sandler), the perennial referee of the town's youth basketball team, speaks up and asks the judge to be allowed to take responsibility for the community's most despised citizen. Squeaky-voiced, diminutive Whitey is a bouncy butterball of unalloyed love and devotion to the kids, but he's no pushover.

Predictably but ever so gradually, resisting all the way, Davey warms up to his job as Whitey's protégé, especially when he moves in with Whitey and his kvetchy but adorable twin sister Eleanore (also voiced by Sandler, in homage to his Aunt Sarah).

That Davey will eventually change is pretty much a given, but to its credit, the film effectively makes the point that it is easy to ridicule and overlook the selfless contributions that eccentric characters make to our lives. And the truth is that Sandler is probably right that kids wouldn't sit still for such a worthwhile message if it weren't served up with an onslaught of scabrous humor and a slew of rowdy, hard-driving songs.

'Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights'

MPAA rating: PG-13, for frequent crude and sexual humor, dialogue and brief drug reference.

Times guidelines: The film's scatological humor is extremely crude and not for the easily offended.

Adam Sandler ... Davey, Whitey and Eleanore
Jackie Titone ... Jennifer
Austin Stout ... Benjamin
Kevin Nealon ... Mayor
Rob Schneider ... Chinese Waiter and Narrator
Norm Crosby ... Judge
Jon Lovitz ... Tom Baltezor

A Columbia Pictures presentation of a Happy Madison production. Director Seth Kearsley. Producers Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Allen Covert. Executive producer Ken Tsumura. Screenplay Brooks Arthur, Allen Covert, Brad Isaacs, Adam Sandler. Editor Amy Budden. Music Ray Ellis, Marc Ellis, Teddy Castelucci. Production designer Perry Andelin Blake. Art director-layout supervisor Phillip A. Cruden. Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes.

In general release