The Most Controversial Animated Movie Ever Is About a Cat on Drugs

Ralph Bakshi's "Fritz the Cat" was a huge success in 1972, in part because of its level of obscenity.

In 1972, Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat - a cartoon full of sex, drugs and bloody violence - went mainstream and was not only the most successful release that year Animated film, and the most successful independent animated film of all time. How did a more grown-up animated film, like Fritz the Cat, achieve such success in an era when animation was all about clean-cut, family-friendly movies, dominated by Disney then as now? The story is almost as weird as the movie itself.

'Fritz the Cat's Origins

The character of Fritz the Cat was created by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, who throughout the 1960s portrayed the foul-mouthed cat in a fictional "super city" filled with anthropomorphic animals. kind of prank. Fritz was a con man, a hippie poet, a college student and a CIA agent. He smoked, took drugs, swore, and had sex with all kinds of female animals; he dabbled in politics, talked openly about race, preached free love, and became the darling of the underground comic book scene.

In 1969, animator Ralph Bakshi was looking for adult-themed cartoons suitable for adults feature length film. Bakshi was a Jewish immigrant born in Palestine in 1938 and raised in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood. His animation got his start at New York studio Terrytoons, creator of Mighty Mouse and quite a few not-so-memorable kid-friendly characters. Despite Bakshi's fame and rapid rise through the ranks at Terrytoons, he was dissatisfied with his lack of creative control on his projects and eventually moved to Paramount Pictures to lead their animation division. After the division closed in late 1967, Bakshi founded his own animation studio, Bakshi Productions, which had a reputation for advocating for women and people of color at a time when there was little room for them elsewhere.

Bakshi soon joined forces with producer Steve Krantz, and the two set out to find suitable projects for feature-length animation for adults. Krantz first stumbled across Fritz the Cat in 1969 and knew immediately that this was the material they were looking for.

The Making of 'Fritz the Cat'

However, the process of obtaining rights from Crumb was convoluted, as are various stories Bakshi and Crumb tell the story. For a variety of reasons, Crumb was reluctant to sign the rights, in part because he felt that by the end of the decade, Fritz's old story was outdated. Still, Bakshi tried to convince him that in the new medium of cinema, Fritz would be revolutionary. Bakshi and Krantz flew Crumb to New York to show him some drawings; in a later interview, Bakshi said Crumb liked them, while Crumb himself said "they're okay."

Whether Crumb himself actually signed a contract awarding Bakshi and Krantz the rights to Fritz is also a point of contention. Krantz claims that after Crumb's trip to New York, he received a contract signed by Crumb in the mail and sent him a check for $12,500 in damages (approximately $96,000 today), followed by dividends, and Crumb said his His wife signed the contract on his behalf and Bakshi later bought it for $10,000 when he visited Crumb in San Francisco.

Regardless, Bakshi and Krantz acquired the rights to Fritz and began looking for a studio and distributor. In early 1970, they signed with Warner Bros., but the deal didn't last. later That same year, Bakshi pulled out due to creative differences; he claimed, specifically, that Warner wanted celebrities to do the voice acting, and asked Bakshi to remove at least one more graphic sex scene between Fritz and a crow named Bertha. Bakshi declined, and without funding from Warner Bros., his staff was cut to just five. Later in 1970, Bakshi was able to secure financing from Cinemation Industries, producers of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss song, and Fantasy Records, publisher of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Ralph Bakshi's Artistic Methods Were Unconventional

Bakshi's artistic approach is sometimes innovative, but always unconventional. For Fritz and his next film, Heavy Traffic (considered by critics to be a more mature work than Fritz), Bakshi recorded real conversations in bars around New York City and in Harlem bars and incorporated them into his scenes, Making the dialogue more real is hard to replicate in any other way. Fritz was never storyboarded either. Bakshi prefers to keep the storyboard "in his head" and then describe and even act out the scene for his layout artists and animators.

Bakshi is known for high standards, and is known for checking his animators' work on a daily basis, a level of micromanagement they're not used to arrive. Because of this, and disagreements with the New York animators union, by the spring of 1971, Bakshi was having trouble hiring animators in New York, so he and Krantz moved production to Los Angeles. However, some of his animators remained in New York and continued to work by mail.

Finally, Fritz the Cat was completed and released in theaters in April 1972. In reality, the plot is actually a series of loosely connected vignettes: Fritz picks up three girls at a park and takes them back to his dorm for a rave; he hangs out at a bar in Harlem, where he meets Duke the Crow (crows represent black people throughout the film); Fritz and Duke steal a car and crash it, and get chased by the police (pigs, of course); The point — and fomented a riot in Harlem during which Duke was shot dead by police. Fritz then decides to move to San Francisco with his girlfriend, a fox named Winston, but when her car runs out of gas, he abandons her in the desert, where he Met some urban terrorists and had sex with a horse named Harriet. The terrorists convinced him to join their plot to overthrow the city government, and he was taken to the hospital when he exploded while helping them plant a bomb on a power plant.

All the while, Fritz brags about his exploits: "I have walked to and fro in the four corners of this great old world. I have seen it all, and I have done it. I have fought many men, I have slept Lots of nice women.” But Fritz is a poseur, a college dropout who calls himself a poet, but in reality, his main concern is getting tall and picking up girls.

If this all sounds a little disconnected, that's because it is. Bakshi drew much of the film's story directly from three of Crumb's Fritz comics: "Fritz the Cat," an early comic for Head Comix, and two Fritz stories that were later published separately, "Fritz Bugs Out" and "Fritz the Cat." No-Good". "The comics were created years apart and are loosely connected thematically and not at all in story, so the resulting mashup is borderline incoherent.

'Fritz the Cat' Was an Instant Success

Despite all As a result, Fritz was an instant success, grossing $25 million domestically (over $178 million adjusted for inflation) and $90 million worldwide on a budget of $700,000 to $850,000 In between, depending on how you look at the Bakshi interview. It was the first American animated feature to receive an X-rating, and Cinemation was more than happy to capitalize on it. "90 minutes of violence, excitement and sex," their marketing proclaimed. "He's X-rated and bubbly!"

However, Robert Crumb was not as enthusiastic about Fritz as other fans of the time. While much of the film was copied from Crumb's work, some of the changes and additions Bakshi made reportedly upset Fritz's creators. Crumb was a leftist, as was his agent, Fritz, but Crumb interpreted Bakshi's change as a critique and mockery of left-wing politics. "[T]he really pissed me off, how he changed it and twisted it into something I didn't want at all," Crumb said later.

Following Fritz's success, Krantz went on to make a sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, which was released in 1974, although neither Bakshi nor Crumb were involved, and the film received little success. The original Fritz made the concern. Released on VHS in 1988, Fritz introduced a new generation to the smooth-talking, feminine cat and ultimately catapulted him into cult classic status.

Although Fritz is less famous today, his legacy lives on. The film's massive success eventually convinced the studio that there was a market for feature-length adult animation, and saw the new genre skyrocket in popularity in the years following its release. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that Fritz and Bakshi have been involved in some of the most popular adult cartoons of today. If you're a fan of Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons, or Family Guy, you probably just have Ralph Bakshi and Fritz the Cat to thank.

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