Fritz the Cat is a 1972 American adult animated black comedy film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi in his directorial debut. Based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb and starring Skip Hinnant, the film focuses on Fritz, a glib, womanizing, and fraudulent cat in an anthropomorphic animal version of New York City during the mid-to-late 1960s. Fritz decides on a whim to drop out of college, interacts with inner city African American crows, unintentionally starts a race riot, and becomes a leftist revolutionary. The film is a satire focusing on American college life of the era, race relations, the free love movement and serves as a criticism of the countercultural political revolution and dishonest political activists.
The film had a troubled production history, as Crumb, who is politically left-wing, had disagreements with the filmmakers over the film’s political content, which he saw as being critical of the political left. Produced on a budget of $700,000, the film was intended by Bakshi to broaden the animation market. At that time period, animation was seen predominantly as a children’s medium. Bakshi envisioned animation as being a medium that could tell more dramatic or satirical storylines with larger scopes, dealing with more mature and diverse themes that would resonate with adults. Bakshi also wanted to establish an independent alternative to the films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which dominated the animation market due to a lack of independent competition.
The intention of featuring profanity, sex, and drug use provoked criticism from more conservative members of the animation industry, who accused Bakshi of attempting to produce a pornographic animated film, as the concept of adult animation was not widely understood at the time. The Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an X rating, making it the first American animated film to receive the rating, which was then predominantly associated with more arthouse films. The film was highly successful and also earned significant critical acclaim for its satire, social commentary, and animation innovations. The film’s use of satire and mature themes is seen as paving the way for future animated works for adults, including The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy. A sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), was produced without Crumb’s or Bakshi’s involvement.
Director: Ralph Bakshi Producer: by Ralph Bakshi Writer: Ralph Bakshi Starring: Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers Narrator: Susan Tyrrell Music: Andrew Belling Cinematography: C. Bemiller Editor: Donald W. Ernst
The film is notable for being the first fantasy film by Bakshi, a filmmaker who was previously known only for “urban films” such as Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin. The film has since become a cult classic.
Ralph Bakshi had long had an interest in fantasy, and had been drawing fantasy artwork as far back as 1955, while he was still in high school. Wizards originated in the concept for Tee-Witt, an unproduced television series Bakshi developed and pitched to CBS in 1967. In 1976, Bakshi pitched War Wizards to 20th Century Fox. Returning to the fantasy drawings he had created in high school for inspiration, Bakshi intended to prove that he could produce a “family picture” that had the same impact as his adult-oriented films.
The film is an allegorical comment on the moral ambiguity of technology and the potentially destructive powers of propaganda. Blackwolf’s secret weapon is propaganda, used to incite his legions and terrorize the fairy folk of Montagar; but Avatar’s willingness to use a technological tool (a handgun pulled from “up his sleeve”) destroys his evil twin. Bakshi also states that Wizards “was about the creation of the state of Israel and the Holocaust, about the Jews looking for a homeland, and about the fact that fascism was on the rise again”.
British illustrator Ian Miller and comic book artist Mike Ploog were hired to contribute backgrounds and designs. The crew included Vita, Turek, Sparey, Vitello, and Spence, who had become comfortable with Bakshi’s limited storyboarding and lack of pencil tests. Artist Alex Niño signed a contract with Bakshi to work on the film, and was granted a work visa, but was unable to gain permission from the Philippine government to leave for the United States until two months afterward, and later found that by the time he had arrived in the United States, not only had the film’s animation been completed, but Niño’s visa did not allow him to submit freelance work on any other projects.
The film’s main cast includes Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, and Steve Gravers. Bakshi cast Holt based on his ability to imitate the voice of actor Peter Falk, of whom Bakshi is a fan. Welles, Romanus, and Proval had previously worked with Bakshi on Hey Good Lookin’, where Romanus and Proval provided the voices of Vinnie and Crazy Shapiro, respectively. Actress Tina Bowman, who plays a small role in Wizards, has a larger role in Hey Good Lookin’. Actor Mark Hamill auditioned for and received a voice role in the film. Bakshi states that “He needed a job, and he came to me, and I thought he was great, and Lucas thought he should do it, and he got not only Wizards, he got Star Wars.” Bakshi had wanted a female narrator for his film, and he loved Susan Tyrrell’s acting. Tyrrell performed the narration for the film, but Bakshi was told that he couldn’t credit her for her narration. Years later, Tyrrell told Bakshi that she got most of her work from her narration on the film, and that she wished she had allowed him to put her name on it.
John Grant writes in his book Masters of Animation that “The overall affect of the animation is akin to that of the great anime creators – one has to keep reminding oneself that Wizards predates Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), not the other way round. The backgrounds are especially lovely, even the simplest of them; and in general the movie has a strong visual brio despite occasional technical hurriedness.” Notable artists involved in the production of Wizards include Ian Miller, who produced the gloomy backgrounds of Scortch, and Mike Ploog, who contributed likewise for the more arcadian landscapes of Montagar.
Bakshi was unable to complete the battle sequences with the budget Fox had given him. When he asked them for a budget increase, they refused (during the same meeting, director George Lucas had asked for a budget increase for Star Wars and was also refused). As a result, Bakshi finished his film by paying out of his own pocket and using rotoscoping for the unfinished battle sequences. According to Bakshi, “I thought that if we dropped all the detail, it would look very artistic and very beautiful. And I felt, why bother animating all of this? I’m looking for a way to get realism into my film and get real emotion.” In his audio commentary for the film’s DVD release, Bakshi states that “There’s no question that it was an easier way to get these gigantic scenes that I wanted. It also was the way that showed me how to do Lord of the Rings, so it worked two ways.” In addition to stock footage, the film used battle sequences from films such as Zulu, El Cid, Battle of the Bulge, and Alexander Nevsky for rotoscoping. Live-action sequences from Patton were also featured.
Vaughn Bode’s work has been credited as an influence on Wizards. Quentin Tarantino describes Avatar as “a cross between Tolkien’s Hobbit, Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck” and Blackwolf as physically similar to Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. In Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide, Andrew Leal writes that “The central figure, Avatar sounds a great deal like Peter Falk, and clearly owes much to cartoonist Vaughn Bodé’s Cheech Wizard character.”
As War Wizards neared completion, Lucas requested that Bakshi change the title of his film to Wizards in order to avoid conflict with Star Wars, and Bakshi agreed because Lucas had allowed Mark Hamill to take time off from Star Wars in order to record a voice for Wizards.
Fritz the Cat is a 1972 American adult animated comedy film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb and starring Skip Hinnant. The film focuses on Fritz (Hinnant), a glib, womanizing and fraudulent cat in an anthropomorphic animal version of New York City during the mid-1960s. Fritz decides on a whim to drop out of college, interacts with inner city African American crows, unintentionally starts a race riot, and becomes a leftist revolutionary. The film is a satire focusing on American college life of the era, race relations, the free love movement and serves as a criticism of political revolution and dishonest political activists.
From Fritz the Cat to Mr. Natural – meet the cult cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose artistic world is full of anti-heroes and demons from modern America and his own subconscious. In this rare interview, Crumb talks frankly about refusing to adhere to political correctness, and about his never-ending urge to unravel the layers of delusion in the world – as he says: “I’m still digging.”
“I was so alienated when I was young, that drawing was like my only connection to society. That was the only thing that I could see was going to save me from a really dismal fate of God knows what.” Crumb describes his social skills as a young man as being “completely nil.” At the same time, he was driven by his “fucked-up ego,” and he had to balance those two sides. Drawing became a way for him to deal with reality, and in the 1950s, where “being a comic-book artist was the lowest level of commercial art,” he pushed toward a more personal use of the medium: “At a certain point I decided I don’t want to be America’s best-loved hippie cartoonist. I don’t want that role. So I’ll just be honest about who I am, and the weirdness, and take my chances.” Consequently, Crumb alienated a lot of people with his often provocative content: “It was just too disturbing for most people, too weird.”
Crumb has an urge to question things and is acutely aware that he’s going to get hell for what he’s doing – even lose friends – but he is willing to take the heat for it. He feels that he plays with images, emphasising the word “play.” Nowadays, he argues, there’s a tendency to take everything at face value – including his artwork: “The artwork I did that used those images and expressed those kinds of feelings, I stand by it. I still think that that’s something that needed to be said and needed to be done. It probably hurts some people’s feelings to see those images, but still, I had to put it out there.”
Putting down anything that stands in the way of political correctness, he feels, becomes extreme and suppressive: “I can even lead to censorial policies in the government and stuff like that. They don’t realise that they’re playing into the hands of some very bad people.”
Robert Crumb is an American cartoonist. Crumb, a counterculture comic book artist and social satirist, has enjoyed cult status for his underground comic strips, full of anti-heroes. Among these is a wide range of popular characters including Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural. Much of his work has also appeared in Weirdo magazine (1981-1993), which he founded himself, and which was one of the most prominent publications of the alternative comics era. Crumb has received several accolades for his work, including his induction into the comic book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Angoulême Grand Prix in 1999. Crumb was also among the artists honoured in the exhibition ‘Masters of American Comics’ at the Jewish Museum in New York (2006-2007). In 2012 a retrospective of Crumb’s work was exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He has frequently collaborated with cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, with whom he is married, and the couple have made a joint comic strip based on their life together through four decades. A collection of the comics, ‘Drawn Together’, was published in 2012.
Robert Crumb was interviewed by Christian Monggaard in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark in August 2019.