There's a good chance you've never heard of Fritz the Cat, which is a shame. The 1972 feature animation was the very first of its kind; long before the likes of South Park, Family Guy or even The Simpsons, Fritz was creating a hurricane of animated havoc, participating in orgies, taking drugs and starting riots.
The breakthrough X-rated cartoon was created as an "antithesis" of Disney's "ludicrous" fairytale storylines during the Vietnam war. It's controversial content and political satire paved the way for modern animation to push boundaries, at a time when this was unheard of.
Based on a comic strip by Robert Crumb, it was produced on a budget of $800,000, and grossed an astonishing $90 million, making it the most successful independent animation at the time.
So, who is Fritz? Fritz is a hedonistic feline who explores 1960s New York, going on a rampage of sex, drugs and rock and roll. In brief, lets just say he's no Garfield.
He's a bit purrmiscuous
Fritz is a bit raunchy, to say the least. At the beginning of the movie, he has group sex in a bathtub at a house party. Unfortunately for him, the whole event is broken up by the police, who are, conveniently, portrayed as pigs.
The film ends with him having another orgy with numerous women while in a hospital bed, while his girlfriend watches on in horror.
He Doesn't Play by the Rules
Our Fritz doesn't like playing things safe, oh no. As well as regularly smoking marijuana, he also steals cars and starts a riot which leads to the death of one of his friends.
He's a Revolutionist
So, naturally, he befriends fellow revolutionaries. They tell him of their plan to blow up a power plant, of which Fritz agrees to be a part of.
The group include a rabbit called Blue, who is addicted to heroin, who has a horse girlfriend, Harriet.
After setting up dynamite to blow up the power station, he has a sudden change of heart and tries to prevent it. This leads him to hospital where he ends up having orgy number two.
You can watch the trailer below to get a full, x-rated taste of what Fritz is all about:
Ahead of its Time
Director and screenwriter Ralph Bakshi had a torrid time trying to get the movie produced. It's not hard to see why; at the time, sex and violence in animation was practically unheard of. As was political content in animation. Bakshi felt this was wrong. He said:
"[The idea of] grown men sitting in cubicles drawing butterflies floating over a field of flowers, while American planes are dropping bombs in Vietnam and kids are marching in the streets, is ludicrous.”
The comment was undoubtedly a dig at Disney. Bakshi himself wanted the film to be the antithesis of Disney, and included two references: one of silhouetted Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Daisie Duck cheering the neighbourhood of Harlem being napalmed. The other was a reference to the 'Pink Elephants on Parade' in Dumbo.
A Troubled Production
When the movie was released, it broke boundaries that animation had never before attempted. Naturally, when breaking boundaries, issues will arise. Bakshi found it difficult to secure funding and faced backlash from producers. He said:
"There has never been a project that was received with less enthusiasm. Animation is essentially a dirty word for distributors, who think that only Disney can paint a tree, and in addition to that, Fritz was so far out that there was a failure to understand that we were onto something very important.”
These hurdles didn't stop the film going ahead. Although they weren't the last challenges to face - due to its controversial x-rating (which is, usually, given to pornography) newspapers refused to run ads or write promotional material.
Seeing this as an opportunity, the marketing team used the controversy to its advantage and ran with the slogan:
"90 minutes of violence, excitement, and SEX... he's X-rated and animated!”
A Lasting Legacy
It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say Fritz the Cat opened the door for modern animations to be more outspoken, more controversial and essentially not Disney-fied. A sequel followed, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, but it was the impact of the first movie that, arguably, changed the tone of animation forever.