Fritz the Cat (1972)
Fritz the Cat (1972)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 18 min.

Release Date: April 14th, 1972 MPAA Rating: X

Director: Ralph Bakshi Actors: Skip Hinnant, Rosetta LeNoire, John McCurry, Judy Engles, Phil Seuling, Mary Dean

 


 

I

n the 1960s, three construction workers gab about blue-collar routines and troublesome family life. When one of them urinates over the edge of the crane on which they’re perched, the film transitions into the opening titles; it’s an immediately crass, unexpected action and introduction for cartoon characters and their activities – especially as they are typical anthropomorphized animals wearing human clothing. Based on Robert Crumb’s popular characters, it’s evident right from the start that “Fritz the Cat” isn’t going to be of the Disney-type variety of family-friendly animated features.

Aspiring writer and poet Fritz (Skip Hinnant) and his pals strum their guitars on the streets of New York, hoping to attract the attention of some girls. Their tunes don’t work, but Fritz manages to seduce a female cat and her two friends by talking about existentialism and other lofty ideas, which appeal to their ideals of enlightened, worldly intelligence. In short time, Fritz is having a foursome in a bathtub. And not long after that, several more critters turn up, stripping off their clothes, smoking pipes full of marijuana, and engaging in a rambunctious orgy. “Ever made it with an aardvark before?”

As Fritz works his way (and psychedelically trips his way) through the counterculture movement of the ’60s, the film presents commentary on race (manifested by the guilt complex of light-skinned cats claiming to understand the plights of black-skinned crows), social issues of the times, authority figures, police brutality, free love, religion, hippies, intellectuals, and more, though the various subjects rarely possess much resonance. At least there’s catchy music always playing in the background. Fritz’s endeavors are additionally infused with comedy, but it’s not particularly imaginative or funny; if the intent is to lampoon the consternations of the era, it fails to do so with creativity or effectiveness. Essentially, what stands out is the graphic sex and strong language.

The animation is actually a bit ugly, especially compared to its peers. There’s something unusually primitive about the artwork and the character designs; it’s obvious that the artists (led by writer/director Ralph Bakshi) aren’t trying to craft a visually stunning masterpiece. Instead, the imagery merely serves to complement the continual talking, which regularly sounds as if secret recordings of numerous voices casually speaking in bars and other public places. Syncing lip movements is virtually impossible, considering the overabundance of multi-person conversations full of mumbling and slang. As a result, the look of the picture suffers in favor of dialogue and style.

Ultimately, the most notable aspects of “Fritz the Cat” are the sex (breasts are fondled or they pop out of garments continuously), nudity (characters frequently lose their pants, revealing simplistic genitals), drug-taking (not just smoking but also needle use), violence, imbibing, and cursing – all exhibited by furry cartoon animals. It’s certainly unique to construct an animated film with the playful and goofy character designs customarily reserved for children’s entertainment, here aimed solely at adults. Notoriously rated X during its initial release, “Fritz the Cat” is definitely not for kids. But the result is something merely boorish and obscene – to the point that any thought-provoking critiques of antiestablishment and race relations are almost entirely lost. In many ways, Bakshi’s vision is the polar opposite of Bill Plympton, who uses his animated vulgarities to generate belly-laughs, not stale parodies of historical social and political contentions.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10