Hey! An actual top ten! That hasn’t happened in a while.
I had a better time going through Wes Craven‘s body of work than this. The bright spots of Ralph Bakshi’s career rise all the way to the pinnacle of mediocrity (interesting mediocrity, I should add), while the rest of it gets mired in different levels of simple badness.
He was never a good storyteller. He was actually a pretty awful animator. I harped on it more than once, but his characters almost never cast shadows. It seems like a stupid thing to point out, but with scene after scene across movie after movie where characters just seem to float above the ground because there isn’t even the most basic of interactions between them and the floor their walking on, it’s a distraction that simply won’t go away. The characters never feel like they’re in the same space as the floor they are walking on. That’s a serious, and very basic, animation problem that he never worked out. Even in Cool World, his ninth and final animated film, this problem still persists.
The only time he was even remotely interesting was when two things happened. The first was when he worked on scripts that he didn’t write. His three best films are written by other people, and the rest are films he did write. The second was when he used rotoscoping. Rotoscoping was his effort to fix his problems in animation, things he couldn’t coach his less experienced animators out of, and it mostly worked. The characters in The Lord of the Rings and American Pop are surprisingly solid (though they still don’t interact with the stupid ground, dammit). His more free-form animation is far less likely to stay on character or, especially, look any good in motion. His character designs were generally plain and monochromatic as well.
Narratively, on his own, he felt like an underground comic artist that never even began to wonder why good books were the way they were. The only point was to shock and disgust in a few panels before moving on, and he took that mentality to his films where individual sequences stood uncomfortably next to other individual sequences with hardly any connective tissue at all.
Anyway, that’s enough belly-aching from me. I really struggled through this set of ten films, and I’m glad it’s over. Don’t forget to check the rest of my definitive rankings, though. They’re also definitive, and I enjoyed making all of them more than this one.
“Really, Wizards is awful and easily Bakshi’s worst film up to this point.”
“This movie is trash. It’s not the incoherent and dull nadir that was Wizards, but it’s close.”
“This is the last nail in the coffin of his career, and it was rightfully earned. That it’s mostly just boring instead of animatingly dreadful is something, I guess, though.”
7. Cool World
“It’s incoherent, difficult to look at, and just kind of confusing. It is one of Bakshi’s worst efforts.”
“I suppose there’s a certain amount of success there within a handful of individual moments, but it’s limited by Bakshi’s complete inability to tell a story across a feature length feature.”
“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.”
“It’s an improvement on Fritz the Cat, but it’s still not good.”
3. Fire and Ice
“Is this good? Nope. Is it entertaining? Mildly.”
“It fell apart a bit by the end, but there’s enough to recommend in the film to say that this is pretty easily his best film up to this point.”
1. American Pop
“This is something that, if Bakshi had been a better storyteller, could have been really interesting. Unfortunately, his reach exceeded his grasp, and he couldn’t make it quite work. This film is probably looked at best as a survey of American music over the course of about 70 years, but there’s still an attempt at story to be dealt with.”
2 thoughts on “Ralph Bakshi: The Definitive Ranking”
I’d go ‘Lord of the Rings’ at 1, Cool World and Fire and Ice tied at 2, American Pop at 3 and the rest tied with human poop left on the Seattle sidewalks.
MAN was this an ugly slog. I just plain skipped the Cool and the Crazy, I’ll admit.
I think there’s a good reason to skip Cool and the Crazy beyond just the fact that it’s Cool and the Crazy. It’s a television movie made in the last throws of his career. Television movies are kind of on the cusp material anyway (if I ever do Spielberg, I’ll do his television movies, though), and I do tend to do them. However, they’re so much smaller and less ambitious than most films, so I get the skipping in general.
I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. I suspected that I wouldn’t like a lot of it, but I really didn’t see it being so completely miserable through most of it. Oh well, it’s done. I’ve seen it all. I can talk about him and his work. That’s something.
Now, I can proceed to forget everything and pretend he never existed outside of his better fantasy work.
I need a palate cleanser…