MGM Studios DVD presents
Fritz the Cat (1972)
"Far out!"- Fritz the Cat (voice of Skip Hinnant)
Stars: Skip Hinnant, Rosetta LeNoire
Other Stars: John McCurry, Phil Seuling
Director: Ralph Bakshi
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, animated sex/nudity and violence)
Run Time: 01h:18m:19s
Release Date: 2001-12-11
DVD ReviewFritz the Cat is a feline white-bread poseur, a pseudo-intellectual attending New York University, where he chases chicks, smokes pot and strives to be "with it" even when he's not sure what "it" is. His reckless sense of adventure leads him into bathtub orgies, race riots, desert wastelands, radical politics, and a dormitory fire of his own creation. Egotistical and self-centered, he considers himself a profound philosopher and poet, though he invests more effort in personal pleasure than in following his muse.
Underground comix legend Robert Crumb created Fritz as an alter-ego of sorts, sketching his Disney-esque early adventures for years before the nineteen-sixties gave Fritz a wider and more sophisticated platform in publications like Head Comix. Fritz is a furry Everyman, a gray tabby who exemplifies the best and worst qualities of the young adult male—his anger at the Establishment is incoherent, ineffectual, and a little bit disingenuous, while his personal relationships tend to begin and end with his own gratification. The early Fritz the Cat stories were loose and funny—Fritz bedding and devouring a cute young bird (literally), or working as a Bible salesman in the Midwest. During the nineteen-sixties, Crumb used Fritz to voice his own uncertainties about the counterculture, lampooning various movements with a jaundiced cartoonist's eye. Fritz rides the wave of rebellion and fancies himself a revolutionary when it's convenient, but he's not immune to its occasional hypocrisies or the consequences of his own actions. The iconography of Crumb's urban "furry animal" universe is obvious and borderline offensive, populated by porcine policemen and black crows, but his take on the changing times remains complex and pointedly satirical.
Crumb was reportedly disappointed in the animated Fritz the Cat film, adapted and directed by Ralph Bakshi. Both artists came out of the New York commercial art world—Crumb toiled as an artist for American Greetings Corporation, while Bakshi worked at Terrytoons during the low-end animation house's final years. There's no doubt that Bakshi took some liberties with Crumb's characters and material—the film contains more graphic violence than the strips ever did, presaging some of the director's predilections in his later work, and some characters are merged and modified to accommodate the story needs of a feature-length film. Bakshi's screenplay also added several relatively lengthy animated gag sequences, including scenes in a synagogue where kibbitzing rabbis mumble and joke as a fugitive Fritz attempts to elude two policemen.
But Bakshi's film and Crumb's comix are more alike than they are different. Several key sequences are lifted directly from the original Fritz strips, with dialogue, character designs and layouts closely matching Crumb's original work. Gritty, darkly beautiful backgrounds lend the film "underground" credibility, as do references to the Fillmore East and Peter Max. And the spirit of Fritz, self-anointed philosopher, observer and world-class lover, comes through loud and clear in animated form. Bakshi's uniquely urban approach to animation finds its footing securely in this, his debut feature effort, and Crumb's feline anti-hero survives the translation better than, perhaps, his creator realized. The film isn't perfect—its episodic structure meanders from one set piece to another, and the animation and voice work are occasionally a bit sloppy. The 1974 sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, went much further afield; this time around, it's still recognizably R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat—not "Li'l Fritz," or "Fritz the Cat and the Ghost Mashers," or "Fritz and Water Safety."
It should be noted here that, while Fritz the Cat gained considerable notoriety as the first animated film to carry an "X" rating, it's hardly pornographic. Yes, there is full-frontal nudity, and yes, there is animated sexual intercourse. But the sex isn't explicit, and there are no animated "money shots" or salacious "fan service" moments. The sex is portrayed simply as part of the fabric of the times, along with the drugs, violence, racial tensions and radical movements that give the film its raw texture. Most Hollywood productions of the day ignored the counterculture or misunderstood it, focusing on hairdos, pop music and other fads with a thinly-veiled "those crazy kids" attitude. By that standard, Fritz the Cat presents a remarkably clear-eyed view of America in the sixties—the animated caricature melts away, and we're left with a picture of a society in turmoil and transition. The film isn't perfect, and Bakshi's later American Pop does it better—but few animated films even attempt this level of honesty.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: MGM presents Fritz the Cat in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. The anamorphic transfer is drawn from a slightly damaged source print, but colors are rich and do proper justice to the film's gorgeous urban watercolor backgrounds and its colorful characters. Ralph Bakshi's film contains quite a few cel-dust spots and other visual glitches, all of which are faithfully preserved here, and the clean, stable DVD transfer captures the linework, funky color schemes and original film grain very well. The film has never looked better on video, and it's a huge improvement over the old Warner Home Video VHS release—many scenes which were dark and murky at home are now vibrant, detailed and full of life. Kudos to MGM for the quality DVD presentation of this minor cult classic.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Fritz the Cat retains its original monaural soundtrack as well as a French "dub," both presented in Dolby 2.0 format for ProLogic decoding to the center channel. The 1972 film was produced on a relatively low budget, and Bakshi's attempts at naturalism sometimes lead to excessive echo and muddiness in dialogue, especially where secondary characters are concerned. Frequency and dynamic range are limited, and a couple of songs written for the film don't sound as clear as one would like. Still, the soundtrack retains its original character, and the subtitles are useful where the recording technique disappoints. The French dub is noticeably cleaner where dialogue is concerned, and the acting and "lip-synch" aren't bad at all. A competent if unimpressive audio presentation.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: Animation fans have been spoiled by super-deluxe DVD releases of animated films in recent years. Unfortunately, the Fritz the Cat DVD features no substantial supplements, just 16 picture-menu chapter stops, subtitles in three languages, and the film's theatrical trailer. The trailer is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic format drawn from a fairly clean source print; it consists of funky music and bits of dialogue and sound effects over clips from the film, and leaves no doubt about the feature's content. Oddly enough, the final title card hangs on for quite a long while, bringing the trailer's running time up to nearly two-and-a-half minutes.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsNotoriety aside, Fritz the Cat is a fascinating animated portrait of American culture in the turbulent nineteen-sixties. MGM's DVD features a solid anamorphic transfer, though supplements are minimal. No animation fan should miss this semi-underground gem.
Dale Dobson 2001-11-15