If you think it’s perverse that Seth Rogen and Co. have made what is essentially Toy Story with F-Bombs, consider the fact Ralph Bakshi made an animated film far more perverse and profane over forty years ago. I’m talking about Fritz the Cat, the first ever X-rated animated film and one of the first (if not the first) animated film made for adults. Based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb, Fritz is a feisty feline in search of sex in the big city at the height of counterculture. Fritz is so crass and devious, he makes Bugs Bunny look like Mother Theresa. It’s crazy to think anyone would consider the character for a feature length film and yet it happened.
P.S. It was hard to find pics for this post that did not feature nude animals, so I apologize for the lack of quality images.
Before I discuss the film let me provide some background. In 1956, a young Ralph Bakshi began his career as a humble cel polisher for Terrytoons, the company behind characters like Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, and Gandy Goose. Rising through the ranks and various animation jobs, Bakshi built enough success to start his own production studio. Then in 1969, Bakshi stumbled across Crumb’s Fritz the Cat comic strip, instantly falling for its sharp satire. Bakshi met with Crumb to show drawings imitating Crumb’s style and the pair found a home for the project at Warner Bros—after being turned down by every studio in town. Though it was a difficult production, the film was a hit upon its release in 1972. Adult Animation was born.
The story begins with our titular character (voiced by Skip Hinnant) and his college buddies trying to pick up hippie chicks at a protest rally. Armed with guitars, Fritz tries to paint himself as a troubled troubadour, but the college girls are more interested in a crow. They prattle on and on about how knowledgeable they are about crow culture and other unintentionally condescending remarks. If you can’t tell, crows are used in the film as a metaphor for the black community. The crow ignores the girls and then in swoops Fritz going on about his “search for the truth.” The girls follow him back to a party and they all have an orgy in a bathtub.
Yes, anthropomorphic animals have an orgy—Did this movie give birth to furry culture too? Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Honestly, up to this point, I was enjoying the movie. I love the stabs Bakshi takes at young college students who convince themselves they’re cultured and searching for meaning when all they want to do is hook up and get high. Oh, and don’t worry. You don’t see anything in this animal orgy. I mean, you do see animal nudity but no weird corkscrew naughty bits or anything. This isn’t THAT kind of movie.
Two bumbling pig cops hear noises from the party/orgy/search for the truth and make their way to the apartment locked and loaded. Imagine if both characters in Of Mice and Men were Lennie and you have the pig cops. They act dumb, they talk dumb, because cops are dumb. The cops break in and panic ensues. Caught up in the action, a severely stoned Fritz takes a cop’s gun and shoots a toilet. He flees as fast as he can and disappears into the city. Though his night has just begun.
Fritz is chased across the city, ditching the cops in a synagogue and returns to his dorm where he decides to burn his books and hit the road. Fritz then goes to Harlem where he meets a pool playing crow named Duke (John McCurry). Fritz talks about how he wishes he was a crow, and how he understands their condition, which almost gets his ass kicked by a bartender, but Duke steps in. Duke then invites Fritz to “Bug Out!” which apparently means to steal a car. Fritz, always competing against himself to be the biggest idiot in every scene, decides to drive and goes off a bridge.
Fritz and Duke arrive at the apartment of a crow drug dealer named Bertha (Rosetta LeNoire) who gets Fritz high and makes love to him. Roll the awkward animal nudity! While in the throws of passion, Fritz has an epiphany that he must “tell the people about the revolution!” and runs into the city streets to start a riot. Not sure what Fritz’s deal is supposed to be. Is he just a moron? Yeah, I think that’s it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fritz represents some critique of the young white American male who forces himself into every situation and scenario even when it isn’t called for. Anything Fritz wants he goes for, regardless of how many others he hurts.
Ranting and raving through the streets, Fritz incites a riot against the crows and the pigs. Characters are beaten to death and Duke is killed by a bullet to the chest. They even go as far as to have an air force strike come in and drop a bomb. It’s gruesome stuff but a clever commentary on how America always overdoes everything. Even killing people.
Fritz flees and runs into his old fox girlfriend Winston (Judy Engles) and the two leave town on a road trip to San Francisco. Enamored by the open road, Fritz is soon brought down to Earth by the banality of roadside Howard Johnson’s and Winston’s endless babbling. The pair’s car breaks down and Fritz abandons Winston only to run into a drug-addled rabbit biker who takes Fritz to an underground hide-out. There, Fritz meets a group of revolutionaries planning to bomb a power station. The group convinces Fritz to carry out the bombing and though Fritz has a last second change of heart, he is unable to stop the bomb in time.
Fritz awakens in the hospital where the nurse brings in the three girls Fritz seduced in the beginning and they have a four way. The end. Not sure why Fritz didn’t die or go to jail but whatever, it’s a cartoon about a sex-crazed cat. I’m not going to complain.
There’s a lot I admire about Fritz the Cat. The animation is appealing and its edgy for most of the right reasons. I’m impressed by how Bakshi handles the struggles of black Americans and the ignorance of privileged white Americans. I also enjoyed his ribbing of the counterculture. What I didn’t like was the film’s portrayal of women. With the exception of Winston (who is insufferable) every female character is either sex crazed or just straight up nude in their scenes. Bakshi will look for any opportunity to degrade a woman with her clothes being stripped off. I would understand if 100% of Fritz the Cat was just running around with a boner, but the truth is it’s about 50% boner 50% social commentary. If you’re going to give a voice to all these different groups, why not give a stronger one to women? It left a bad taste in my mouth.
Additionally, I would have appreciated a tighter plot. I understand Robert Crumb’s strip didn’t follow any particular narrative but the film meanders far too often. The bomb plot feels tacked on and unnecessary. The film also scares the hell out of me. The junkie bikers, are you kidding me? So I give Fritz the Cat our standard Mildly Pleased reading. Though I do give it one unofficial invisible imaginary star for inventing the subgenre of Adult Animation. If it wasn’t for Fritz the Cat, Ralph Bakshi may have never made the 1992 masterpiece that is Cool World.
P.S. Cool World sucks.