There was a time when the very idea of sex and violence in a cartoon was so antithetical it would draw an audience on the novelty alone.
Fritz The Cat was the first of its kind to receive an X rating and audiences flocked, making it a midnight movie staple and a forerunner for cult cinema as a recognised and marketable genre.
These days cartoons like South Park exceed the boundaries pressed by Fritz on a weekly basis. But it is important to take the film in its historical context before judging it too harshly.
Though it may appear dated today, the very things that made it audacious for its time serve as an important document to the effort to exceed limitations.
You name a hot topic of the late 60s/early 70s and Ralph Bakshi went after it.
Based – loosely – on Robert Crumb‘s groundbreaking underground comic, Bakshi took Fritz – a cool, hip and oversexed cat – and tried to paint a portrait of 60s America and its shortcomings.
He attempted to shock with both a raunchy sex comedy and biting political drama. However, the film – like the counterculture that inspired it – didn’t really succeed on either level.
We meet our hero Fritz as he begins his descent into proverbial madness.
The cast of characters is meant to be representative of race, colour and creed, all in the guise of different animals.
The story is simple enough. Fritz the cat is a college student in New York and he is out to get laid. At the park, he meets three girls, who he impresses enough with his hackneyed ‘philosophy’ to entice them to an apartment for sex.
From there, Fritz goes on a series of misadventures, running from the cops (represented as pigs), burning his college dorm, winding up stoned in Harlem with the crows (the film’s depiction of blacks), starting a riot and ultimately meeting up with the ‘real’ revolution – a crypto-fascist gang plotting to blow up a power plant somewhere in the American Southwest.
Like Fritz, the movie is confused about what it wants. Overall it has a ‘groovy’ late 60s/early 70s feel to it.
Unfortunately, it drags severely in most places and skips around from vignette to vignette without any real theme to connect them.
The most important break with tradition was that here was a cartoon written for adults.
But beyond the fact that animated characters were naked and having sex, Fritz broke other ‘rules’ of animation also.
Most of the backgrounds are minimalist, with only line drawings instead of the rich Disney-style detail. Bakshi overlays his animation with colour gels, reinforcing the psychedelic world that Fritz sometimes lives in.
There are parts of the film in which characters react against a black background with few, if any, further details. Instead, music adds depth to the animated scenes – and Bakshi uses it extremely well.
Bakshi did not return for the 1974 sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, which saw Fritz – married to a shrew and living on welfare – getting stoned and hallucinating various alternate lives, including working as Adolf Hitler’s personal orderly!.