Ralph Bakshi (1972)
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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.