Grindhouse Weekly: ‘Fritz the Cat’ (1972)

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For this entry of Grindhouse Weekly, I wanted to discuss an animated feature and while there certainly aren’t many, they do exist. Of the handful of notable releases, the granddaddy of them all is 1972’s Fritz the Cat. Based on characters by famed comic artist Robert Crumb, Fritz the Cat follows the exploits of an anthropomorphic cat, who is a college student at NYU. The film garnered an X rating from the MPAA, the first animated film to do so, and became the most successful independent animated feature to date.

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Directed by famed animator Ralph Bakshi, the film takes a satirical look at youth culture of the 60s including race relations, drugs, sex, violence, politics, and religion. As Fritz goes on his various sex and drug fueled misadventures, he encounters everything from Rabbis to Nazi bikers.

It’s a film that revels in its offensiveness, going out of its way to be as dirty and crude as possible, making sure that it pisses off everyone in its wake. Women will hate the objectification and violence toward them, African Americans will hate the depiction of their race as jive-talking crows, and white men…well white men probably won’t be offended. It’s the type of film that’s controversial for the sake of being controversial, where it acts like it has something to say, but in the end it’s just a thinly veiled excuse to show naked animal people doing it.

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Because the film was released in 1972, the animation style fits the time, however looks extremely dated by today’s standards. Ralph Bakshi worked on a number of other adult-themed animated films including Heavy Traffic and American Pop, however most may know him from his last film, Cool World, with Brad Pitt.  Bakshi’s crude animation style, and watercolored backgrounds fit Crumbs illustrations well enough, but Crumb had some serious issues with the film’s content after its initial release.

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Crumb, as well as some critics at the time, found the movie to be something of a mess, that favored shock value over any kind of cohesive message. Overall however, the film was a giant success, bringing in over $100 million, which to this day hasn’t been surpassed by any other independent animated film.

This success of course spawned a sequel released in 1974 titled The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat. This title partially came from the fact that Robert Crumb hated the first film so much that he killed off Fritz in the comics. While Skip Hinnant returns to voice Fritz, Ralph Bakshi was not involved, and Robert Taylor was brought in. The sequel wasn’t met with the same kind of praise as the original, and was generally considered a flop by most critics. Taylor however, would go on to direct and animate shows for Disney such as Duck Tales and Bonkers.

Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny that Fritz the Cat was a groundbreaking film that pushed the envelope of adult animation. It paved the way for independent animators to make their own adult-themed films, and proved that there was a market for such a thing. For those interested in traveling through the history of animation, Fritz is probably someone you’ll definitely want to meet.