5/10/09

The LBL Mother's Day Special with Fritz the Cat (1972)

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there, and special wishes, of course, go out to my Mama Bugg. Without my mom, I never would have discovered the wonders and joys of so many things. I can thank her for my love of The Beatles, the works of John Waters, and the humor of R. Crumb. The latter of which we’re gonna look at today. Plus how cool is it to dedicate a review to your mother of a movie like…

Fritz the Cat (1972) starring Skip Hinnant. Directed by Ralph Bakshi.  

Collage going tom-cat, Fritz, is on the prowl for female companionship, but his adventures leave him tangled up in a mess. He runs from the cops, tangles with militant revolutionaries, and somehow always ends up with a girl, or three. 

The Bugg Speaks

This is a horrid movie to try and synopsize. Fritz the Cat is more of a series of stories than one singular arc. The glue that sticks them together is the skewering of basically every part of the 60’s counterculture, and Ralph Bakshi, basing his script on R. Crumb’s comics, doesn’t play favorites. From the hippies to the black panthers to Hell’s Angels to women and men, Bakshi turns an unflinching, and sometimes offensive, eye to showing the darker side of each. 

Now to really start getting into this film, I feel like I have to take a moment to talk about the two large personalities involved here. First is director, Bakshi who got his start animating Heckle and Jeckle cartoons in the late 1950’s. He would have prosperous careers that eventually lead him to be the writer/producer/director of the late 60’s Amazing Spider Man cartoon. When that ended in 1970 he landed the job bringing Fritz the Cat to the big screen. He would go on to give us the animated The Lord of the Rings, American Pop, Fire & Ice, and the nineties animation meets live action flop Cool World.

Meanwhile the other end of the equation is R. Crumb who’s Fritz the Cat stories had been published in underground comics and the pages of Cavalier Magazine, an off brand girlie magazine,  in 1968. Crumb is perhaps most known in popular culture for a few of his creations including the cover for Big Brother and Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album, his transcendental guru parody Mr. Natural, and the iconic “Keep on Truckin’” designs of the late  ‘60’s. He also was the subject of Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 film Crumb

To say that these two did not see eye to eye is underselling it. Crumb claimed that the rights to his character were sold by his first wife, and he was very critical of both the film’s sexual attitude which he described as “repressed horniness”.  He also felt the humor was “twisted in a really unfunny way” and was very critical of the broad caricature of the radical left wing activists. Having read the comics that the film is based on many times, I feel that the themes and ideas that Crumb drew in his strips are represented, but Bakski definitely took liberties in expressing his views of New York during the era. 

The left winger radicals, both the hippies gone terrorists and the black panther-ish militants, are painted in broad strokes, but that being said, there’s not much in the movie that is not. After all, this is a film where the Police are literal pigs, and African Americans are all crows. I assume the latter is a reference to some off color slang as well as the crows in Disney’s Dumbo, and that’s exactly where this film intended to go. With its hardcore sexual attitude, cavalier depiction of drug use, and the genuinely offensive nature of much of the humor, it’s no wonder that Fritz the Cat ended up with an X rating. 

In an era where South Park regularly revels in bad taste and offensive humor, Fritz is still impressive in its power. That is if you get the jokes. I am thankful that I was brought up in home where I was aware and interested in the modern history and pop culture of the United States. I think that folks that are not well versed in the era will find many of the jokes dated and undecipherable. However, there are not so many of these instances that it could completely ruin the enjoyment of the flick for the uninitiated. 

In talking too much about the background of the film, I feel I might have shortchanged the feature itself. It is beautifully animated, and this is the first time I had seen it on DVD. My previous viewings of the film came from a bootleg VHS my Dad bought for my Mom in the early 1990’s, and it was stunning to see the film in such vivid colors. The soundtrack is also quite brilliant with tunes from Bo Diddly and Billy Holliday woven into the original score by Ed Bogas, who would go on to do the music for the Garfield cartoon, and Ray Shanklin, the composer of the score for Bakshi’s ’73 film Heavy Traffic

The last thing I want to mention is the vocal work of Skip Hinnant as Fritz. Hinnant would repeat his role in the Bakshi-less sequel The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, but he might be most well known for one of his other roles. As a performer on Sesame Streets older brother, The Electric Company, Hinnant would appear as many characters, but the one that brought back the memories was Fargo North the bumbling private eye with a knack for decoding word puzzles. I can’t even imagine the shit-storm that would erupt if a kid’s show tried to cast some one who had appeared, even if only as a voice, in an X rated cartoon. 

In the end, while Fritz the Cat is not a perfect translation of Crumb’s work for the screen, it is the best we will ever get. While attitudes have changed a lot over the years, I find it hard to believe that a film which reveled in sex, drugs, and stereotypes like this one could manage to get made by a major studio. That being said, it makes Fritz the Cat one of a kind, and for that alone, it is among the films that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in late ‘70’s cinema. Without Fritz, would we have Family Guy, South Park, or Beavis and Butthead? In its wake, it opened the door to adult animation and that in and of itself is reason to check this one out. Plus my Mom says it's great, and do I really need to give you more of a reccomendation than that?

Bugg Rating 


No Trailer, but Here's the first 10 minutes of the film.

3 comments:

  1. Awwww.....thanks for the Mother's Day wishes & the review of Fritz. Makes me all warm & fuzzy knowing my fondness of Crumb, Waters & The Beatles helped make you the Bugg you are today.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have yet to see this movie, but I'm a huge fan of Robert Crumb's comics. Going to have to watch this one soon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great Post.

    I remember that i saw in television the naked animals scene in bathroom, but in my imagination i rebember a scene more hardcore with a lot o of french kiss´s.
    It´s possible that could exists more alternate versions of Fritz the Cat???????

    I have a bloge

    http://madmax-interzone.blogspot.com

    Im from Portugal

    Could you answer to my Bloge

    Saudations

    ReplyDelete

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