Fritz the Cat (voiced by Skip Hinnant) is a college student in the New York of the nineteen-sixties, and more interested in where his next woman is coming from than his studies. Today he wanders down to the park with his guitar and two friends, who also carry guitars, to try and impress some "chicks" with their busking but when they get there they find to their disappointment that a lot of others have had the same idea. Nevertheless they strum away when a group of three young ladies walk past, yet to the buskers' dismay they're more interested in patronising a black crow who they try to make believe that there's a connection between them. When the crow dismisses them, Fritz seizes his chance and makes his move, playing the tortured artist and writer to the hilt. But will Fritz learn the true meaning of what he preaches?
Fritz the Cat was proudly proclaimed as the first X-rated feature length cartoon on its release, and after decades of depicting animals as people, it seemed as though American animators had finally taken things to their logical extreme with animals depicted swearing, having sex, fighting and partaking of alcohol and drugs with great enthusiasm. The film was the first feature from Ralph Bakshi, who quickly became a cult animator for his then-groundbreaking style, although here his trademark rotoscoping, that is drawing the frames over live action footage, was not so much in evidence as it would be in the future.
It was also the first feature to be adapted from the work of cartoonist Robert Crumb, and as legend has it, the legend being true this time, Crumb really hated it (the rumour was he wanted sole credit and sulked when he didn't receive it). Crumb was so annoyed with the result that he killed off Fritz almost immediately in a strip entitled "Fritz the Cat Superstar", where his character goes Hollywood and ends up with an ice pick in his head to finish him off ("Violence in the Media" says a caption). But while the film tries to emulate the daring and rejection of the sixties' new morals of Crumb's originals, it only succeeds so far, an example of the counterculture film in animated form and infused with an unimpressed cynicism regarding just about every character.
Fritz claims to be socially conscious, even radical in his politics, but everything he says is just means to have his wicked way with the females, who are either naive or sourly scornful. There's some novelty to be gained from watching the anthropomorphised cat's sexual exploits, which although not explicit leave you in no doubt about what is going on, but novelty is about as far as that aspect goes. More interesting is the social angle, which has the "whites" like Fritz (well, he's more of a light grey) wanting to be associated with the "blacks", that is the crows, without any understanding of the implications - almost everyone is hopelessly shallow. In spite of this, Fritz does befriend a crow who he helps score an incredible shot at pool and they end up stealing car together for a spot of joyriding, followed by a riot which Fritz starts with his rhetoric. By the finish, our hero seems to have had his consciousness raised by a damaging brush with genuine radicals, but there's still a lot of the old Fritz in him too. More interesting for its place in history, the film's bitterness doesn't raise many laughs but is skillfully handled. Music by Ed Bogas and Ray Shanklin.