Friday, December 22, 2006

Adults-Rated Animations in the 70s and After

Ralph Bakshi

Normally, animations are regarded as an innocent, innocuous form of entertainment, even though iconoclastic writer/director Ralph Bakshi's, adults-only rated-X feature (in its original release) Fritz the Cat (1972), based upon cartoonist Robert Crumb's underground comics character, was the first X-rated animated feature in Hollywood history. It was about a hippie-like, sex and drug-loving cat.

Writer/director Bakshi's next X-rated animated feature (later re-cut and re-released with an R-rating) was the violent, gritty and misogynistic Heavy Traffic (1973), a semi-autobiographical tale about a misfit comic-book cartoonist that was loosely adapted from Hubert Selby's novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. It blended together animated and live-action sequences in its urban scenes, and also layered old film clips into cartoon backgrounds. The animation auteur also released the controversial Coonskin (1975) (aka Street Fight) that was accused of being racist and offensive. It contained urban-oriented, politically-oriented blaxploitation content about a rabbit that ruled the streets of Harlem.

The surrealistic animator Bakshi also directed the animated cult film Wizards (1977) - a tale of good vs. evil and a test run for his next animation - The Lord of the Rings (1978). This latter film had an adapted screenplay co-written by Peter Beagle (based, although incompletely, upon books in J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy), and was noted for its extensive use of the animation technique of rotoscoping, in which human actors were filmed and 'traced' as cartoon characters. [Tolkien’s earlier introductory work The Hobbit (1937) was filmed as an hour-long animated TV movie by the team of Arthur Rankin Jr.-Jules Bass in 1977 as The Hobbit (1978). Voices for the characters were: Orson Bean (the hobbit Bilbo Baggins), John Huston (the wizard Gandalf), Otto Preminger (Elvenking), Richard Boone (Smaug), Hans Conreid (Thorin), and Brother Theodore (Gollum). Rankin-Bass also concluded the story in the animated TV film The Return of the King (1979).]

Bakshi also released the not-for-children sword-and-scorcery animated Fire and Ice (1983), with work by fantasy design artist Frank Frazetta. (Bakshi also directed various dark and psychedelic-flavored episodes of the Spider-Man cartoon series on ABC-TV beginning in its second season in the late 1960s.) One of his later works was the Paramount studio-financed, poorly-received Cool World (1992), containing a plot with similarities to the parallel animated Toon World in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It also raised the intriguing question of whether a live-action person could have sex with a cartoon character, and featured Brad Pitt as the voice of a Las Vegas cop, and Kim Basinger as cartoon sex symbol creation Holli Would, who wished to become a 'noid' in the human world.

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