Written by: Ralph Bakshi
Directed by: Ralph Bakshi
Based on: characters created by R. Crumb
Genre: Animation / Comedy
Rated: X for extreme, but overly cartoonish, sex and violence.
Followed by: The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974)
Fritz the Cat was the first feature-length cartoon by animator Ralph Bakshi, based on characters from comics by R. Crumb. Crumb's artwork mingles well with Bakshi's distinctive animation style, the two look like they were made for each other. Big legged mommas are back in style throughout the flick. Early on a few of the characters do the Keep on Truckin' walk, but this idea seems to have been forgotten about later in the movie.
The World of Fritz the Cat
The world Fritz inhabits is one entirely populated by anthropomorphic animals, with some rather blatant symbolism involved in species selection. The police, for example, are of course all pigs, because police in all cartoons must be portrayed by pigs. Women are predominantly dogs, the symbolism of which should also be obvious. Blacks are portrayed as crows, oddly the only birds involved in the cartoon, and although reference is made to them being able to fly they never do so. White males are a wide variety of other animals, such as housecats, lions, rabbits, and one character that I think was a slug, although it had arms and was almost completely covered by a cloak. Aside from one female lizard (with hair, possibly a wig), everyone else is a mammal of some kind.
Aside from a reference to the idea that cats (possibly other animals too) once oppressed the crows, who are still struggling for equality, species does not appear to play into the interaction of the characters. All characters are roughly the same height (within cartoonish norms), they all walk on two legs (except that slug), and they date between species freely. Ordinary predator/prey interactions are not an issue.
The story takes place in the 1960s, and a reference overheard on the radio to the Six Day War places the year at 1967. Fritz is a college student in New York, studying who knows what. After watching three women try to impress a crow with their sensitivity towards and knowledge of the race issue, he manages to talk them into coming back to the dorms with him to a pot party, where he starts an orgy in the bathroom but is interrupted by the other party-goers inviting themselves in. Soon after two police show up, and in a cartoonish parody of police brutality break up the party. Fritz grabs one of their guns in a marijuana-fueled haze, not completely understanding what he's doing, and suddenly he's a fugitive from justice.
He manages to evade the cops but when he gets back to his dorm room, he decides that he doesn't want to be an intellectual phony anymore. He wants to head out, see the real world, and have adventure, so he sets his books on fire and heads down to predominantly-crow Harlem. After being snubbed by a crow bartender, he makes friends with a crow shooting pool (badly), who offers to buy him a drink. Things are looking up for him until he unthinkingly calls the bartender "boy", nearly starting a knife fight. Not looking for trouble, his new friend takes him out of the bar, they steal a car, and they head out to a crow nightclub. There, Fritz meets a female crow who gives him marijuana, insults the size of his genitalia, and then has sex with him. The sequence, although graphically depicted, is so cartoonishly over the top that it loses all sense of eroticism.
Right in the middle of everything, he suddenly takes it into his head to start a race riot which is quelled by the national guard (all pigs), using shotguns and fighter jets (!), and his new friend is killed trying to get him out of the crossfire.
Now convinced the law is actively hunting him down, Fritz flees New York with Winston Schwartz, one of the three girls from the beginning. At first she shares Fritz's enjoyment of the adventure but soon gets passive-aggressive and moody, acting out the role of a Jewish-American Princess, as the initial excitement wanes and she finds herself without the comforts she is used to. After several days on the road, the car runs out of gas, and Fritz abandons her, upset with her attitude.
After some wandering, he meets a heroin-addicted biker rabbit and his moose (I think) girlfriend, who bring him to meet some radical political activists planning on blowing up a nearby power plant, to some unknown end, if indeed they thought past that point at all. While setting the dynamite, Fritz holds a long conversation with himself about what these domestic terrorists are trying to accomplish, eventually deciding that they're using their political agenda as an excuse to hurt people, which is their only real goal. Unfortunately this revelation comes seconds before the fuse burns down, catching Fritz in the explosion.
Not dead, but seriously injured, Fritz is under house arrest in the hospital when the three girls, including Winston, come to visit him, accompanied by the biker rabbit's girlfriend (who has apparently left him for being abusive), who is disguised as a nun. Upon seeing his old friends, the bandaged and broken Fritz manages to find the strength to hold an orgy.
Upon first glance, one could easily mistake the movie for being racist, misogynist, and glorifying violence. Upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that the movie is just plain pissed off at everyone. It's not against civil rights for blacks, but it is upset that the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that some whites, in a fit of misplaced cultural guilt, are now looking up to blacks simply for being black (where before they were looked down on simply for being black; is this any less racist?). It's not angry with women, but is trying to honestly portray certain female college archetypes and a woman caught in an abusive relationship. It's not against law and order, but is angry with police brutality.
And Fritz's search for adventure and the "real world" ultimately tells us two things; first that there is no real adventure left in America, and second that hate isn't going to do anything but get people hurt. He'd have been better off staying in school and getting his degree. Finally, although the movie is clearly unhappy with the status quo, it doesn't believe that hate and anger are the answer to the problems. Rather, we need to learn how to care about each other as much as we care about ourselves.
The movie was rated X when it was released (and the DVD is now classified as "unrated") for its extreme depictions of sex and violence. However the violence and nudity are so over the top, so cartoonish, and so detached from any sense of reality that they can hardly be considered offensive. Violence in particular is portrayed in a bad light, almost always the strong picking on the weak, and is shown to have consequences. In any case, characters twist and stretch like a Tex Avery short, softening the blow of the violence (except when Fritz's crow friend gets shot during the riot), and rendering any nude imagery more funny than erotic.
Overall, I rate it three out of five stars. A good movie, but not a must-see. It would be a good view for any Ralph Bakshi fan though.