Released in 1972, Ralph Bakshi still considers Fritz the Cat to be the major turning point in his career, the breakthrough film that helped the animator make the blind leap from the Heckle and Jeckle cartoons of his early career at TerryToons to gritty urban underground work like Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, which, to this day, are largely considered Bakshi’s masterpieces.
Adapted from a series of Robert Crumb strips, Fritz the Cat became the first animated film to be tagged with an X Rating, courtesy of the MPAA. Despite, or more likely because of this, the film also did gangbusters, becoming the first animated film to rack up more than $100 million at the box office.
In the wake of the film’s release, Crumb made public his aggressive disdain for the adaptation well-known, going so far as to file a suit to have his name removed from its credits and later killing off his reluctant Hollywood star in a subsequent strip.
Bakshi, for the record, would like it known that the feeling is mutual. As our conversation transitions from questions about his own jump from kids cartoons to the topic of Fritz’s subversive nature (or, to a degree, he might argue, lack thereof), Bakshi’s own feelings about Crumb quickly take the reigns of the conversation, along with a commentary how the press has long opted to report Crumb’s feelings on the matter while neglecting his own. And while, despite a bit of finger pointing at me on Bakshi’s part (referring to said press as a collective “you”), I can’t honestly take an credit for this perceived lopsided account (though, for the record, at the top of the interview I did mention Crumb’s name amongst a list of cartoonists whose work I admire).
That said, it’s hard to argue with Bakshi’s assessment that the press have been far more eager to print Crumb’s opinions on the subject than his own. The matter is certainly not due to a lack of passion on Bakshi’s part. A few months shy of 70, the animator is still more than happy to let his feelings be known, with a force that, to be totally honest, is a little frightening when sitting a few feet away.
I agree to print his opinions on the matter during the conversation, and to break some of the tension, I make some off-handed joke about having momentarily lost control of my bladder in the face of the fury that’s still alive and well in the heart of the Brooklyn animator,
Bakshi pauses for a moment and then smiles, “I like him.”
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