“As a writer and poet it is my duty to get out there and dig the world… to swing with the whole friggin’ scene while there’s still time!”
So starts the adventure of one of moviedom’s most memorably animated experienced. Fritz The Cat is that movie you either know or you should really find a copy of. It’s a historical document, a political statement, a hedonist manifesto and the movie that changed animation forever…
It’s also just plain crazy fun. While the films initial marketing has still left it with the sheen of an animated porno, this is not the case at all. Yes, there is nudity and a bit of implied sex. But that is not the core of this film. Instead it’s about a character getting their head around the turmoil of 1960s America, where free love, rebellion against society and the bonds between America’s different races and classes all changed society.
Fritz is a cat that decides to sidestep his college career and instead go find meaning in the streets of New York. He soon hooks up with a wide range of oddball characters. These include the crows, a metaphor of the Black culture of the day, and a few tangles with the police, portrayed as pigs. The white middle class tend to appear as cats. Eventually Fritz’s journey takes him as far as meeting true revolutionaries, not to mention the violence that bubbled under those remarkable times.
This column has covered Ralph Bakshi’s movies before, specifically Fire & Ice. That was a more friendly collaboration with famed fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. Fritz The Cat was also based on previous material, namely the comics by underground comic legend Robert Crumb. But the two never saw eye to eye: Crumb hated the movie and accused Bakshi of hijacking it with his own ideas about the Sixties.
You can see some of that play out – the movie isn’t nearly as pro-radical as Crumb was. Yet at the same time this isn’t a mere adaptation, but also a calling card for Bakshi’s ambitions to break animation free from the child-orientated Disney and Warner Bros pigeonhole it found itself in. That ambition can be found with all of his movies, but Fritz The Cat succeeds most and has become a cult classic because of this.
That said, a lot of effort went into reflecting Crumb’s style and perhaps the hijacking accusations aren’t really fair. Bakshi did a lot of work making art that mirrored Crumb’s style, apparently impressing the cartoonist to some extent, and even the backgrounds were drawn with the same art tools so as to closely mimic Crumb’s work.
Whatever the animosity, Fritz The Cat went on to be a big indie hit, making around $100 million worldwide. It was to be Bakshi’s most successful film and the only animated adaptation of Crumb’s work – if you don’t count American Splendour. A sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz The Cat, was later made, but it didn’t involve either of the two men and would bomb badly.
Animated movies from the sixties, seventies and eighties that didn’t come from Disney or guys like Don Bluth can be hard to watch. But any fan of the format can’t call themselves that until they have seen this remarkable and utterly iconoclastic piece of animation history.[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ] [/column]
Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.
Last Updated: May 25, 2015