Animated Manhattan: Fritz the Cat
This is the first entry in a continuing series examining New York City as depicted in animation. I have a long list of animated films — features, shorts, hand-drawn, made with clay, made with computers, popular, and obscure — that take place at least partly in Manhattan. I’ll be sharing some images and examining how New York City is portrayed in each film.
Kicking things off: 1972’s “Fritz the Cat,” directed by Ralph Bakshi and based on the comic books by Robert Crumb.
This movie, the first x-rated cartoon, follows Fritz the Cat on his drug-filled sex romp in search of love in Manhattan. The movie begins with a gloomy view of Times Square, and eventually takes our hero from his NYU haunts downtown, all the way up to Harlem on his adventures. Here is how the movie is described in the Fritz the Cat entry in Wikipedia:
The animated film is a satire on college life of the 1960s: while Fritz doesn’t attend any classes during the movie, he participates in major social upheavals based around the popular college protest movement of the time. Fritz invites several girls to his “pad” for an orgy, does a lot of drugs, escapes when the place is raided by the police, takes part in organizing an angry, violent mob that riots against “authority” (without actually figuring out what the target of its anger is), is briefly associated with a protest group similar to the Black Panthers, and apparently “dies” at the film’s climax (before coming back for one final roll in the hay with his nubile girlfriends).
Crumb has famously stated that he detested Bakshi’s film — so much so that he killed off the character in his comics, by having an ostrich-woman stab him in the head with an ice pick.
Most of the movie takes place in lower Manhattan in the 1960s, in and around Greenwich Village. When we first meet Fritz, he’s hanging out with a hip crowd in Washington Square Park.
Even today, Washington Square is home to folk singers and other musicians. In the 1960s, it was especially so. As a college student in Greenwich Village in the 60s, it’s not surprising to find Fritz hanging out with musicians in the park.
Occasionally the movie gives us broad, sweeping views of Manhattan as establishing shots for upcoming scenes. This overview of lower Manhattan shows off the gloomy monochromatic pallette with which much of the film is painted:
Under the closing credits, actual photographs of locations around Manhattan are shown, real-life versions of the neighborhoods Fritz hung out in. The last photo depicts the same view of Times Square that we see as the opening shot. Here is a side-by-side comparison:
I have to say, I didn’t love this movie. But its depiction of New York City was okay. Manhattan can be shown sparkly clean or dingy and dirty. It can be colorful or gray, cheerful or gloomy. Fritz’s life in this movie consists of just a lot of meaningless sex and drugs. The mostly subdued colors and monochromatic depiction of Manhattan presents an adequate background for his adventure.