Loosely based on Robert Crumb's underground comic, Ralph Bakshi's feature debut put a distinctively counterculture spin on the usual cast of furry, anthropomorphic animated creatures. Rated X at the time of its release, it follows a cartoon feline on his journey into sex, drugs, and
revolution. When this $700,000 comedy became a financial hit, Bakshi found himself at the forefront of a new generation of animators hoping to break free from the G-rated, Disney mold.
Set in "The 1960s," Fritz is a college-age cat, hanging out in NYC's Greenwich Village with his pals. Picking up a trio of gullible young women, he pretends to be a tortured artist and lures them back to an apartment with promises of "the truth." Instead, they find themselves in a bathtub orgy.
But their fun is interrupted when two inept cops (portrayed as pigs) break down the apartment door and club the partygoers, while the stoned Fritz grabs one policeman's pistol, blows up the toilet, and escapes.
Tired of his pretentious college classes, Fritz vows to live life to its fullest. First stop is a Harlem barroom filled with crows, where he inadvertently ignites a brawl and is befriended by Duke, a pool-playing crow who lets Fritz behind the wheel of his car--only to have him drive it off a
bridge. From there, it's onto to Big Bertha's Harlem pad, where Fritz smokes some grass and wildly hallucinates. In the middle of sex with Bertha, he's suddenly filled with the spirit of revolution--inciting an uprising against the pair of cops, who in turn, begin shooting into the crowd. Duke is
killed in the skirmish, even as the riot squad is called in and the neighborhood goes up in flames. Wanted by the cops, Fritz and girlfriend Winston drive across country in her VW Bug, and in the desert they meet a heroin-abusing biker rabbit. Soon, Fritz becomes a pawn of sadistic terrorists, and
while planting a bomb, he's caught in the blast. Ending up in the hospital, under police guard, Fritz suddenly awakens from his apparent deathbed in order to have sex with his female visitors.
When creator Robert Crumb first viewed some of FRITZ's footage, midway into production, he made his objections no secret. Nevertheless, the film was embraced by curiosity-seekers and the youth audience. In retrospect, its sexual escapades and anti-establishment attitude seem rather quaint, while
the film's cynical view of humanity and graphic violence have best withstood the test of time. And even though Bakshi gets to make light of white-bread naivete by making Fritz a pompous student, it doesn't make him a very likable fellow. In the long run, everyone who tries to help him out ends up
worse off, while this animated Candide never learns a thing from his tribulations.
On a purely technical level, the character animation is standard fare, meshed with static (but often realistic) backgrounds. Real imagination comes into play during the more abstract moments, including its segues, hallucinations, and montages---which allow Bakshi to experiment with the potential
of the animated film. A good example is the death of Duke, which has pool balls bouncing into their pockets, in time with his final heartbeats. All in all, FRITZ is best observed as a cultural artifact, with its success allowing Bakshi to follow it up with more heartfelt projects such as HEAVY
TRAFFIC (1973) and COONSKIN (1975). (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.) leave a comment