Running Time: 80 Minutes (Only 2 of which you might feel comfortable watching with your grandmother.)
Directed By: Ralph Bakshi
Based Upon: The comic strip Fritz the Cat by Robert Crumb.
Voice Cast: Skip Hinnant
Rosetta LeNoire (Yes, the Rosetta LeNore who stared in Family Matters)
Plot: “In the age of awakening, Fritz (voice of Skip Hinnant) -- New York University student and one cool cat -- embraces every new experience that crosses his path, including easy sex and drugs. But Fritz ends up holding the dynamite that will detonate the ultimate 1960s statement when he joins a group of radical hippies. Based on underground comic-book artist Robert Crumb's revolutionary character, Fritz the Cat became the first X-rated cartoon.” - Netflix.
“Would I like this movie?” - My wife.
(Awkward Silence) - Me.
How I discovered it: This is another one that I was vaguely aware of for decades but didn’t really know anything about it until I took a class in animation. Most likely the first time I had ever really heard a reference to “Fritz the Cat” was in an episode of The Simpsons (Season 7. "The Day the Violence Died") in which Comic Book Guy shows Bart the following clip.
When I was a kid, I just thought that this was a funny spoof on cartoon violence. I had no idea that it was a direct reference to a famous movie from the 1970's.
Speaking of The Simpsons, Bakshi has stated, “Now they do as much on The Simpsons as I got an X rating for Fritz the Cat."
Memorable Moment: Who would ever be able to forget an animated inter-species bathtub orgy? Yep, won’t be able to get that image out of my brain no matter how hard I try.
• Director Ralph Bakshi was miserable producing educational animated films before he went on to Fritz the Cat, which was a more personal project. He has been quoted as saying, “The idea of grown men sitting in cubicles drawing butterflies floating over a field of flowers, while American planes are dropping bombs in Vietnam and kids are marching in the streets, is ludicrous."
• Bakshi had reportedly never heard of the comic strip until he came across it in an East Side Book Store. He claims that he instantly wanted to turn it into a movie.
• Funding, animating and finding a distributor for America’s first X rated cartoon is a story that deserves its own movie. Needless to say everyone behind this film were fighting an uphill battle the whole way.
• For the opening scene (in which a group of construction workers complain about the debauchery of today’s youth) Bakshi supposedly paid two actual construction workers fifty dollars each and drank scotch with them while recording their conversation. This is why the sound quality in this scene is so raw. The same technique was used for the sequence in the Harlem bar.
• In terms of box office Fritz the Cat is the most successful independently animated features of all time.
• Robert Crumb (the artist behind the original comic strip) was dissatisfied with the finished film for various reasons and has disassociated himself with the movie. Bakshi has been openly critical of the cartoonist’s response.
Connection to Other Works
- The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat was a sequel was released in 1974. Neither Bakshi nor Crumb were involved and the sequel is generally considered an inferior work.
- Bakshi went on to direct Coonskin, which also features anthropomorphic animals.
- Apparently footage from the film was edited to created the music video for Guru’s 2007 song “State of Clarity.”
Who Should Embrace it: The two groups of people who should definitely check out this movie are: 1) Anyone with a strong interest in the history of animation. Everything I have read about Fritz the Cat indicated that it was a definite turning point for western audiences. 2) Anyone interested in 20th Century American history. Watching this film is like opening a time capsule that contains the humor, rage, politics and psychedelic art of the early '70's.
As for the rest of us, the film still possesses an ability to shock and entertain. However, like El Topo there are few people who I would personally recommend this movie to without a disclaimer. (The poster itself says ‘We’re not rated X for nothin’, baby!”)
While many of us in 2015 are no longer phased by "adult content" in an animated feature, we as a society have (rightfully) become more sensitive to jokes about rape, race and domestic abuse. Therefore, there are moments in this film that modern audiences could potentially find more offensive than their 1970's counterparts. Fritz still manages to push the envelope, although for different reasons than it did when it was first released.
In short, this film is a great piece of history, but audiences looking for some superficial, edgy, mindlessly offensive animated entertainment might do well to look elsewhere.