I first saw ’Fritz the Cat’ during a midnight screening in college and, while I knew full well what to expect, I was still unprepared for the jarring juxtaposition between the cute animation style and the very adult and dark subject matter. Originally appearing in underground comics in the 1960s, Fritz was created by the great Robert Crumb and was brought to the screen in 1972 by Ralph Bakshi. This cult classic is an important film in the history of animation but it is very much a product of its times and will most certainly not appeal to a broad audience.
Fritz the cat is a student at NYU who is blissfully unaware of the conditions of those who aren’t part of the privileged class of cats and dogs. After a somewhat rowdy orgy (is there really any other kind?) brings the cops crashing in on a friend’s pad, Fritz finds himself on the run from The Man. Stopping by his own place to grab some things, Fritz sets fire to the joint and hightails it to Harlem to hide out with the crows. There he finally has his eyes opened to the racial injustice in the world and decides to do something about it. Yes indeed, our young Fritz is now a revolutionary who criss-crosses the country with a menagerie of odd sidekicks on his quest for social justice.
MGM Home Entertainment is bringing us ’Fritz the Cat’ in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> on this DVD, in a transfer that is framed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For a very low-budget film of this vintage, the transfer is really quite good. Although the films age is evident, blemishes, mars and scratches are never overly obvious or distracting from the experience. The movie’s colors are wonderfully vibrant and really bring the hand-painted images to life. Blacks are very deep and solid and never break up, rooting the image very firmly. The source materials do contain a number of nicks and blemishes and a fair amount of film grain but this is far and away the best that ’Fritz’ has looked on home video.
Audio comes in their original English and French <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 mono mixes that don’t fare quite as well as the video. Dynamic range is extremely limited leading to a soundtrack that is fairly flat sounding without sonic highlights or dynamics. The frequency response is also very limited, creating a presentation that is sometimes harsh and other times almost unintelligible. Again, this is a low-budget production, so viewers will need to bear this in mind when listening to the somewhat sub-par audio mix.
The only extra on the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer and it is this lack of any substantive bonus features that I find most objectionable. This film is a true cult classic and an important animated film and it just screams for some informative background materials.
’Fritz the Cat’ is a harsh film, and viewers are herewith cautioned. Rampant drug use, violence, and sex are the law of the land and earned the film an ’X’ rating during its initial release – adding quite a bit to the notoriety surrounding it even after all these years. First-time viewers will be shocked by the antics of this cute little kitty and his furry and feathered friends.
The moral of the story is plain to see and it was obviously Bakshi’s intent to use animation as a way to get the message across in a manner that would catch audiences by surprise. I’ve always enjoyed Ralph Bakshi’s films and even though none — this one included — are without their faults, he has always been willing to take chances and utilize the often underappreciated art of animation in new ways.
This new DVD offers up a fine home video presentation of ’Fritz the Cat’ with great video and adequate audio. While it is certainly priced to move, a nice special edition would have been most appreciated. Recommended for fans of underground cinema, animation, and the counterculture era — just be prepared for one seriously whacked-out film.