Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Fritz the Cat (1972) ***

UR, 78 min.
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Writers: Ralph Bakshi, Robert Crumb (characters)
Starring: Skip Hinnant, Rosetta LeNoire, John McCurry, Judy Engles, Phil Seuling, Ralph Bakshi, Mary Dean, Charles Spidar

When I was much younger I had a hell of a time when I kept hearing about an animated movie called “Fritz the Cat”. I just couldn’t separate this cartoon in my head from “Felix the Cat”. But, what I heard about Fritz just didn’t jive with Felix. Felix is an old timey cartoon cat who does whacky, silly things that kids laugh at. Fritz is an adult cat, who concerns himself with adult things like drugs, violence, racism and sex. It wasn’t until I became aware of the other creations of alternative cartoonist Robert Crumb that I was able to make sense of my confusion.

Part of my confusion come from the fact that Fritz was created by Crumb, but the movie “Fritz the Cat”, based on his comic books, was written and directed by Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi was responsible for showing Americans in the 70s and early 80s that animation was not just for kids. His adult oriented cartoons tackled adult fantasy and 70s pop culture in movies like “American Pop”, “Heavy Traffic”, “Wizards”, and “Fire and Ice”. Perhaps he’s most famous for directing the first film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” as a cartoon that followed the popular animated version of “The Hobbit”; which wasn’t directed by Bakshi, but by Bass and Rankin, the team responsible for the stop motion animated television Christmas specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. They also finished up the Tolkien tales with “The Return of the King” after Bakshi’s “Rings”. Bakshi’s was the episode of the trilogy to watch.

But even Tolkien’s tales didn’t really venture into the adult territory in which Bakshi preferred to dabble. Crumb’s dirty cartoon animals made a good match with Bakshi’s rather twisted mind. “Fritz” is interested in exploring the free spirit of the early 70s. Gone are the flower power mantras of peace and love. Fritz represents the new youth, who want the freedom of the hippie movement, but not for any worldly reasons. They want their sex, drugs and fun without the message. Fritz is the embodiment of that mentality.

The movie is certainly an acquired taste. There aren’t many people who demand to see a cartoon cat having sex with various species of animals and getting high, and causing offense with racial slurs and pretend sentiments about what’s right. There is a good deal of value to be found in this social criticism, however. Fritz is far from a hero, but he a great representation of what was going on in our country at the time.

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