1.5/4, 1970s, Comedy, Ralph Bakshi, Review

Fritz the Cat

#5 in my ranking of Ralph Bakshi’s filmography.

Made after Ralph Bakshi had some stints animating some Saturday morning cartoon shows like Spider-Man and Mighty Mouse, he wanted to make something more uniquely his but was convinced by his producer, Steve Krantz, to pursue the rights to the R. Crumb comic Fritz the Cat to take on something more distinctly commercial. Well, it worked. The independent animation made $90 million at the box office and launched Bakshi’s independent animating career. A work of confused anger and directionless ambition, the film is not what one might call good, but it is certainly something that captured the era in a way that connected with audiences at the time. Taking a piss out of the 60s in every direction, but mostly from the perspective of someone who’d never lived outside of New York City, it’s a completely undisciplined work that says so much that it says very little, but it’s interesting along the way.

The titular Fritz (Skip Hinnant) is an NYU student who has absolutely no concern about his studies and only wants to troll the streets of New York for ladies. The film begins with the most absurd and outrageous sequence where Fritz picks up three cats, gets to a friend’s apartment, and begins an orgy with them before the rest of the apartment joins in, cutting Fritz out, while two pig cops (one of whom is played by Bakshi himself) bust in and break it all up before getting sidetracked by the naked girls at the same time. This is where the only real piece of pointed satire really seems to work, and it’s brief. The scene that starts the film begins in Central Park with three white cats coming up to a black crow and describing how they are down with the struggle (one even went to two Black Panther meetings!) before the crow walks off with a laugh and an obviously homosexual lisp, talking about how they don’t know anything about him. I think this is supposed to end up being the point, about how the revolutionary true believers developed in colleges are actually completely removed from the real problems of the underclasses of America, up to an including Fritz himself as the film plays out.

The problem is that the film isn’t really what one might call a story. It’s a series of loosely connected vignettes that barely connect together. The opening orgy feeds into a scene where Fritz runs from the cops through a synagogue filled with heavily bearded old dogs. He then just goes back to his NYU apartment where his friends are studying, he accidentally burns his own notes and books, and has a surrealist look into himself about how trying to be an intellectual is stupid and all he wants is to be with as many women as possible. He goes to a bar where he meets Duke (Charles Spidar), a crow, who defends him in a barfight and then takes him back to an apartment to hang with Bertha (Rosetta LeNoire) that Fritz just has to lay, especially after she gets him high. None of this is particularly connected to any other parts, but when Fritz leaves Bertha because he has a sudden political awakening, inciting a riot in Harlem that gets a lot of people killed while he slinks away. That part really does seem to connect with the earlier parts, especially the three cats in Central Park.

But then Fritz flees the city with an old girlfriend, heading toward the American Southwest where they hook up with some kind of terrorist cell that includes Blue, a stoned-out rabbit, and gets roped into a plot to destroy a power plant, an action that Fritz is never really on board with. However, when the snake leader of the cell beats Blue’s girlfriend, Harriet, to within an inch of her life, Fritz sees them for the violent psychopaths that they are, comes to terms with his imminent death, and then miraculously survives because even dirty, underground cartoons need the opportunity to get sequels.

So, this movie is kind of a complete mess narratively. It also ends up on a side against violent revolutionary action in the name of destroying capitalism (apparently the reason Crumb didn’t like the adaptation) with the hope of a love conquers all sort of solution (in a series of final shots that echo the final shots of Kubrick‘s A Clockwork Orange from the year before). The individual episodes barely connect together when they connect at all. The animation is ugly and simplistic (there’s hardly any shading or even shadowing anywhere to be seen). The humor is all childish, very little of it actually any kinds of funny (with a couple of exceptions, for sure). Bakshi wanted to make an animation film for adults, but it’s really just not appropriate for kids because it feels like a Saturday morning cartoon with lots of sex and violence.

However, as a time capsule into the mindset of a New Yorker in the early 70s as he processes his time through the sixties, there’s something there. There’s a sense of regret and need for escape from the prison of New York that’s interesting. The story doesn’t really build up any of the ideas in any significant way, but the ideas are percolating around in there in this dirty story of a horny cat.

Rating: 1.5/4

4 thoughts on “Fritz the Cat”

  1. There is a fascinating bit of cross pollination between Japanese and American animation. Japan has its own tradition, greatly expanded now, of adult animation but back in the early 70’s, Fritz the Cat was a huge influence on a lot of animators in Japan. (now the influence mostly flows the other direction, from Japan to here). Even here though, in the massively repressed and repressive North American continent, Fritz the Cat had a big impact. It came out the same year as Deep Throat and both films screened in major theater chains, Midnight Cowboy was just 3 years in the past when Fritz came on the scene.

    It is more of a time capsule than an enjoyable film, for me. It does take a look at the Hippie scene and show the emptiness, immorality and evil of the counter culture….which I suspect is another reason R. Crumb didn’t like the movie. Crumb just wanted to indulge his kinks, Bakshi actually held them up and showed how hollow they were.

    It’s worth watching, if you have your eyes open and mind switched on. But I can’t say I like the film. It’s no Ninja Scroll. Or Heavy Metal.


    1. Yeah, that’s what I largely came away with as well.

      There’s something interesting going on. It doesn’t work as a film, entertainment, or, really, animation, but there’s a view into a lost moment on display that is interesting.

      Never want to watch it again, though. Not worth what little I got from it.


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