In Fritz The Cat (dir. Ralph Bakshi, 1972), exposed ‘private parts’ are a recurring gag. Few moments of the film are spared full-frontal exposure; clothes themselves are animated — in constant states of slippage like rogue planets.

The film also has a slippery, anthropomorphic race taxonomy that mirrors our own: respected white people are cats, pigs, and other domesticated animals, and on the other end of the spectrum, Black people are wild, deep-dark crows.

Across social distinctions, every character’s voice floats above the scene; as I listened, I had the sensation of eavesdropping on the street, or at a bar.

Sex is always on everyone’s mind in Bakshi’s fictive universe. Our introduction to Fritz, the film’s literal cool-cat protagonist, shows him luring a cadre of women into a seedy, ‘mind-altering’ orgy. In his visualized internal monologue, Fritz manically reasons that sexcapades have much more to teach him about writing than academia ever will. In fact, Fritz has his major intellectual awakening after frolicking with a sexually liberated Black woman, pawing her like a cat in heat:

“Suddenly it’s all very clear,” he exclaimed, standing atop her unsated body like Neil Armstrong on the moon. “I must tell the people about the revolution! Revolt, revolt!”

Fritz was rashly empowered to tell the Black crows of Harlem why they weren’t free, despite only having had a brief stint in their side of the city. He stood atop a stranger’s car, enjoining Black masses to vote and resist current orders of power. He condescended: “Revolt! Revolt! Revolt, you thick-skulled idiots! You have carried heavy burdens for the bosses! You have swept your life away for the bosses! The bosses! They ride around in limousines […] eating strawberries and cream! […] Come the revolution, there are gonna be no more limousines! Come the revolution, there are gonna be no more strawberries and cream, see!” He was ignorant to efforts crows may have already made toward freedom, presuming he was the first to sing a song of revolution. Duke (Charles Spidar), his only crow friend, ironically called him “a boss” for taking on this elevated stance — slyly recognizing Fritz’s unchanged status as a cat in a cat’s world.

Heeding Fritz’s revolutionary speech, many crows were killed for revolting while he perched above the scene, untouched by the consequences of his actions. When Duke was shot, his failing heartbeat was animated as bouncing pool balls — signifying that his longevity in a Black body was always an uneven game of luck and strategy.

*Fritz The Cat can be streamed on Prime Video. Content Warnings: high sexual content, rape

Further Reading:

Crashing the Boy’s Club: Women Speak Out About Gender Inequality in Animation

By Amid Amidi (includes coverage of Ralph Bakshi’s alleged sexual harassment of female colleagues)

They don’t make them like Ralph Bakshi anymore: “Now, animators don’t have ideas. They just like to move things around”’ by Marc Spitz

A Conversation with Michael Boyce Gillespie on Film Blackness and the Idea of Black Film’ by Regina Longo