Fritz the Cat (1972)

Oh boy, I’ve chasing this film for five years, and now that I finally managed to find it, I could now experience it in all its freaky glory…and it was amazing. I’ve said a few times on this site (and many elsewhere in life) that I’m a big fan of Ralph Bakshi, and the reason why is that unlike the other animators of his time, he was taking animation to stranger, more mature territory. Of course, he is most famous for Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated film, at least in America. Controversial on release, the film broke all the rules of cartoon films, and it proved that animation could explore adult themes and turn a profit, and thus a cartoon classic was born.

The story involves Fritz the Cat, a character created in the 1960’s by the cartoonist Robert Crumb, who also wrote the other characters in the film (as a side note, Fritz was one of Crumb’s most popular characters, and became a countercultural icon during the run of Crumb’s comics). Fritz is a hedonistic university student in the late 1960’s who constantly tries to get in bed with as many women as possible. After a night of sex, drugs and avoiding “the fuzz”, he drops out of New York University and embarks on a journey through New York City in order to find himself.

The film’s story was quite a wild ride. You have Fritz going through the entire city to get his funk on, and he gets chased by cops, gets caught in the middle of a riot (which he started), and ends up in the middle of the desert and hanging out with a group of dangerous revolutionaries. It’s a surreal tale of ecstasy and emptiness, with the kind of political commentary that characterises Bakshi’s classic works of the early to mid 1970’s. Fritz also offers a window into the radical time in which it was made in its own way, poking fun at both the radical left and the radical right, while painting a deliciously satirical, and poignantly accurate picture of the hippies of its time.

Fritz is interesting character, a freewheeling college student who doesn’t like the pretentiousness of the hippies (despite aping them with the whole “quest for truth” schtick). He starts out as a completely selfish character, and to be fair he sort of remains that way throughout the film. He may be crass and horny, but he’s smart in his own way. His philosophy seems to be that the only way to learn about life is to see it and grab it for yourself. In effect, he is an embodiment of the counterculture of his time, and his interaction with the world around him often leads to hilarious results.

I’ve always loved Bakshi’s animation style, mainly because of the penchant for artistic innovative he displays. In Bakshi’s directorial debut, you see a traditional sort of style, though with a looser style than one might see in Walt Disney’s films. In addition to that, the film makes use of backgrounds made with watercolour painting, and city skylines based on tracings from photographs. There’s a nice mixture of styles blended together in a way that brings out the seediness of Fritz’s world. The film also has an excellent psychedelic music score so infectiously ecstatic it that takes you into another state of mind.

The film may have garnered a reputation as a cartoon porno (which is funny considering the sex wasn’t really that graphic) simply because it was full of brazen nudity, but it’s really far more than that. It’s a satirical exploration of the depravity, confusion, hedonism and self-delusion that permeated the late stage of the 60’s-70’s counterculture. It was an innovative work of art that pioneered the concept of adult-oriented animation, and damned if I wasn’t entertained by it.

  • Score: 89%
  • Grade: A