Ralph Bakshi: call him the anti-Disneyes


Call him the anti-Disney, Ralph Bakshi's debauched animated fantasies viciously parodied Uncle Walt's apple-pie schmaltz. His 1972 breakthrough, Fritz the Cat, an X-rated romp replete with drug binges and group sex, sparked uproar. Cartoons weren't meant to be like this!

That Bakshi chose to follow it with Streetfighter, a lewd blaxploitation pastiche which (unfairly) prompted accusations of racism, underlined his refusal to cleave to the moral consensus.

Brooklyn-raised Bakshi brought a gritty, ghetto sensibility to his best work. An adept cartoonist, he joined the Terrytoons stable when he was 18, and by his early 20s was directing animated shorts for Paramount. When the studio called time on its animation wing, Bakshi struck out alone, making his name - and a lot of money - with a string of lurid and ground-breaking features.

Fritz struck gold at the box office but 1975's Streetfighter almost derailed his career. Originally titled Coonskin, this foul-mouthed satire provoked rioting in cinemas and was hastily junked.

Bakshi attempted a come-back with the ill-judged 1977 epic, Sorcerers, a bizarre anti-war allegory notable for its pioneering use of "rotoscoping", the imposition of live actors on to animated film. He honed the technique on his next project, a never-completed adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Recklessly seeking to condense the trilogy's first half into a cohesive two-hour narrative, the 1978 project emerged as a spirited but bewildering mess.

There was much to enjoy in Bakshi's muddled vision. He remained rigorously faithful to the source material and fleetingly captured the novel's mythic grandeur. But he had bitten off too much and the movie descended into incomprehensible mush. Bakshi claimed he cobbled together the ending after the studio cut off his money. It showed.

Although he never really recovered from that debacle, Bakshi, continued to plough his solitary furrow. He directed the Rolling Stones' Harlem Shuffle video and in 1987 returned to television animation as producer on the short-lived Mighty Mouse, a mainstream children's cartoon slyly incorporating his anti-establishment credo. Bakshi threatened a revival with 1992's Cool World but the film, featuring the voice talents of Kim Basinger, proved a slovenly executed flop. He's since been notably quiet, content to machinate in Kubrickesque isolation. Meanwhile, Disney minions prepare to unleash an umpteenth feel-good abomination upon us. More than ever, we require a Bakshi to muddy the waters.

For more information on Ralph Bakshi see www.ralphbakshi.com