‘Fritz the Cat’ (1972)
by Ralph Bakshi
Fritz the Cat, described by Roger Ebert as “an X-rated excursion into the urban underworld”, is an idea by cartoonist Robert Crumb adapted by Ralph Bakshi that instantaneously lets you know what you’re in for. Released in a decade where the art of animation would be no more crude than the grittiest works of Walt Disney, especially if the animations starred talking animals, here is a film that opens on anthropomorphic creatures discussing societal problems of the era right before an ox whips out his manhood and his golden shower transitions into the film’s title sequence.
This is, understandably, a movie that no major studio wanted any business distributing (hence it went to the exploitation company Cinemation Industries), but it would go on to be one of the highest-grossing and, eventually, iconic indie films of all time. Although there existed adult animations before it (Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind and there is a case to be made when it comes to the subject matter of certain Disney works), there had been none as defiant as Fritz the Cat but there would be imitators a plenty – as well of the film as the comics. As Bakshi’s voice tells us, it takes place in the 1960’s; “happy times, heavy times”.
Temporal setting notwithstanding, Fritz the Cat is a timeless satire with parallels to be drawn to the Western world of recent times. Some critics have compared the hippies of the era to modern-day social justice activism; a scene to especially consider is one where a trinity of college girls try to signal to a crow, a “black person” in the film’s universe, how much they respect black people and care about racial justice. Its depiction of far-right beliefs is also familiar, perhaps moreso in recent years than ever. As for Robert Crumb being oft cited as the great grandfather of the present-day furry movement, that’s a different horror story altogether.
These are the sort of satirical works I love most – ones that seem prescient, almost as if the writer has discovered a specific set of human errors that will eternally repeat themselves. Fritz the Cat, fulfilling these criteria, may therefore be categorized alongside such works as Mike Judge‘s Idiocracy and the 2004 puppet-comedy Team America; another film I plan on writing a Movie Magnifique/Favorite Movies entry on in the forseeable future.
Fritz the Cat is unrelentingly cruel and disturbing, in addition to being an outrageously funny trip on whatever asorted substances the 60’s had to offer. In spite of budgetary issues, it is clear that significant effort has gone into making this psychadelic world with raunchy cartoon animals feel indistinguishable from the version ruled by man. This is right down to the photograph backgrounds and the dialogue – which, as I watched, often made me wonder if it was recorded in one go in a non-studio environment featuring non-actors and nothing resembling a script. After a bit of research on my part, it turned out I was right. Many scenes are comprised of random documentary footage turned into trippy animations by Bakshi and his team afterwards; a decision that will be seen as jarring by viewers on an inappropriate wavelength.
If you’re either a squeamish type or of the belief that Sausage Party is somehow revolutionary in how outrageous it is and how “offended” it must have made people because cartoon characters have sex and say no-no words in it, Fritz the Cat is probably not for you. If a major studio like Columbia Pictures still wants their hands on it, chances are you’re not sticking that much of middle finger at “the man” or “the easily offended”. The philosophy behind this way of thinking is not unlike that of certain characters in Fritz the Cat.
And considering that this is a film that has been uncomfortably close to the truth for four decades and counting, the fact that its main characters are cartoon animals as opposed to real human beings is perhaps the ultimate joke.