Ralph Bakshi

Wizards (1977)

Ah Bakshi, the man they couldn’t tame.

I’ve reviewed two of Ralph Bakshi’s movies now, and even though my feelings on them were, oh let’s just go with “mixed” I have to say I have been looking forward to this one quite a bit. Why? Well, partially it’s because the animation reviews tend to be more fun to write, and also because, even if I don’t think they’re necessarily good films, they’re always a hell of a trip and fascinating to watch and talk about. Look, the guy walked into mainstream animation and just started throwing petrol bombs and I’ve always said I’ll take fascinatingly bad over dully competent any day.

And yet, the more I read up on Wizards (Papa Bear Bakshi’s third feature) the more anxious I got. Wizards is Ralph Bakshi’s most popular movie, and the one that, by Bakshi’s own admission, no one gave him shit over and genuinely seemed to like. This is the movie that even the squares seem to dig.

“You sold out, man.”

“Fuck you, man.”

Could that work? Could Ralph Bakshi actually make a standard, mainstream animated film? Or would his movie lose that inherent grungy Bak-shit insane quality that’s really the only thing that makes his output interesting? What happens when Ralph Bakshi shaves and puts on some damn pants? Let’s take a look.


Fritz the Cat (1972)

“Heeey everyone.”

“Heeey everyone.”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”


“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule. You hurt the ones I love?”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule: You hurt the ones I love?”



“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”


 Do you know what it’s like to review Fritz the Cat? To sit in the dark watching that cat fuck everything that moves, to feel your brain slowly coming apart from the constant assault of surreal, messed up, toked out, crazy shit? No. You don’t. Because you’ve never been out there, man. Out in the real deep shit. This movie man. You don’t know, man. It’s like, you think you have a handle on things, man, like life and art and truth and beauty man like they’re all just packaged and sold in these neat little Styrofoam boxes, man, and then this movie comes along and it’s like, you know man? Like, what does it all mean, man? I…I…I shouldn’t be doing this man, I should be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas, man…
“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”



 Sorry. Sorry. I’m alright. Okay. Let’s do this.
For as long as there have been comics there have been “underground” comics, the kind of comics that aren’t read in a newspaper at the breakfast table on a lazy Sunday morning but are more usually read at night. Under the covers. With a flashlight.
Jerkin’ it.
Pornographic comic books or “Tijuana Bibles” were especially popular in the Great Depression and usually featured well known comic book characters or public figures engaging in what scripture calls “the hard fuckin’”. No one was safe. Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman you name it, someone drew them doin’ it.
Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

By the 1960s the underground comics (or “comix”) scene had merged with the broader counter culture movement. In contrast to mainstream comics which had to abide by the Comics Code Authority, comix were uncensored and didn’t abide by jack shit. These books were absolutely steeped in sixties drug and music culture, often politically radical and transgressive and extreme in their depictions of sex and violence. They also, it must be said, frequently had a streak of misogyny a mile wide. But at its best, the comix scene produced some of the finest American sequential art of the twentieth century (Art Spiegelman, for example, honed his craft in indie magazines in the seventies).
The one creator who is probably more associated with the comix scene than any other is Robert Crumb and his most famous creation is almost certainly Fritz the Cat, an anthropomorphised cat who’s kinda like Felix crossed with Roosh V. The Fritz strips first appeared in the magazine Help! where the editors famously responded to his submission with a letter saying; “Dear R. Crumb, we think the little pussycat drawings you sent us were just great. Question is, how do we print them without going to jail?” The comic became a genuine breakout hit and was read by many a long-haired hippie degenerate, one of whom was our old friend Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi had set up his own animation studio and was looking to create animation for adults. He came across one of Crumb’s books and bought the rights to the strip. Warner Bros originally were going to fund it but then they saw Bakshi’s early shoots.
Instead, the movie ended up being funded by Cinemation Industries, purveyor of such highbrow classics as The Black Godfather, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and The Eighteen Year Old Cheerleaders.
It’s important to remember that there was a weird period from the late sixties to around the mid-eighties where porn was pretty much mainstream, and you could just go to the cinema and watch a big budget porno made and financed by a large studio as opposed to some dude with a camera and a couch. Fritz the Cat is very much a part of that. It’s not solely a porno but it’s got relatives who are pornos if you catch me. So before we get into this review please take note that this is a movie with sex and nudity, pretty grotesque ethnic caricatures, frequent homophobic and racial slurs and some generally fucked up shit.
What I’m trying to say is…
“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”


Charity Movie Deathmatch: FIGHT!

For the month of February on Unshaved Mouse we are running the Charity Movie Deathmatch and I need YOU (yes you, no, not you, the person behind you. Yes. You.) to make it as big a success as possible. Here’s how it works.
Below are the twelve movies that readers of this blog expressed the most interest in me reviewing. Here’s how to play.
  1. Go to this year’s charity, Love Without Boundaries, and make a donation, small or large. Love Without Boundaries provides vital services to Chinese orphaneges and is ranked four out of a possible four stars on Charity Navigator.
  2. Email me your receipt to unshavedmouse@gmail.com together with your choice of movie (movie. Singular. Although you can donate and vote as many times as you like for as many different movies as you like). Remember: Generosity is your weapon.
  3. The three lowest scoring movies will be eliminated on the 13th and again on the 20rd with the highest scoring three movies at the end of the month getting reviewed.
Simple right? And now, let’s meet the movies that will be brawling to the death for your entertainment.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
Studio: Sullivan Bluth
Age: 26
Runtime: 85 Minutes
AKA: “The Rabid Redeemer”, “Ol’ Killer.”
Studio: Amblin Entertainment
Age: 20
Runtime: 77 minutes
AKA: “The Disast-ah from Alaska”
Younger, hungrier, leaner, Balto is probably what keeps All Dogs go to Heaven up at night. If they could put their differences aside however, these two canine-themes movies might be unstoppable and both get a spot in the final three. Regardless, Balto will be a formidable opponent, with plenty of support from the crowd and a reputation for being able to go that final mile.
Fievel Goes West
Studio: Amblin Entertainment
Age: 24
Runtime: 74 minutes
AKA: “The Don’t-Suck Sequel”
An immigrant kid with a tough upbringing, Fievel Goes West has battled his whole life against anti-sequel prejudice. Now, he takes that fight to the ring with everything on the line. Fievel Goes West is battling to support a family of less successful sequels and so cannot afford to show mercy to his opponents. If they die, they die.
Fritz the Cat
Studio: Various
Age: 43
Runtime: 80 Minutes
AKA: “Fritz the Blitz”, “The X-Rated Executioner”
The oldest fighter in this year’s death-match is a heel through and through, bribing referees, using illegal moves and feeding on the hatred of the crowd. That hatred may be his greatest asset. The question is, who do the fans want to suffer more? The Cat, or the Mouse?
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Studio: Dreamworks
Age: 1
Runtime: 102 minutes
AKA: “Babyface”
Layout 1
Kung Fu Panda
Studio: Dreamworks
Age: 7
Runtime: 92 Minutes
AKA: “The Beast from the East”
The Land Before Time
Studio: Sullivan Bluth
Age: 27
Runtime: 79 Minutes
AKA: “Extinction Event”
Studio: Disney
Age: 1
Runtime: 97 Minutes
AKA:  “The Mistress of All Evil Morally Ambigous Anti-Heroism”, 
The Secret of Nimh
Studio: Don Bluth Productions
Age: 32
Runtime: 82 Minutes
AKA: “Mouse of Pain”
Rounding out the trio of Don Bluth movies competing for a spot, Secret of Nimh may be the most formidable contender of them all. It’s not unknown for movies to enter the ring, see who they’re up against and say “Nah. Forget it. I quit. Yes, I know it’s a deathmatch. Just make it quick.”
Studio: Dreamworks
Age: 14
Runtime: 90 Minutes
AKA: “The Glaswegian Dandy”
The Iron Giant
Age: 16
Runtime: 87 Minutes
AKA: “The Furious Fe”
Beloved by children, feared by his enemies, this gentle giant understands that as a role model he has to set an example. “STAY IN SCHOOL, EARTH-SPAWN!” he bellows as he crushes yet another challenger beneath his cold metallic heel.
Watership Down
Age: 37
Runtime: 101 minutes
AKA: “The Black Rabbit of Inlé”, “The Tharninantor”
It’s a movie about bunnies. How tough can it be? Has been the last thought of too many movies to count.
Charity Movie Deathmatch will be running all through February 2015. Please donate whatever you can, big or small and vot for your favourite movie. And don’t forget to share on Facebook and Twitter and the backs of the heads of passing bald people.
See ya at the final bout.

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

My father was the one who introduced me to JRR Tolkien, giving me a dog-eared, well-thumbed chunk called The Lord of the Rings one summer when we were on holiday (I was maybe…eight, I guess? Pre-transformation anyway). I remember there was this weird picture on the cover of the Black Riders that looked sort of animated but also sort of not and I asked my father what it was from.
“That’s from the movie.” He said.
“There’s a movie?”
“Oh yeah. You have to see it.”
“Is it any good?”
“No. No, it’s awful.”
This was really the problem you had if you were a fantasy fan any time before the turn of the millennium:
We had no good movies.
Our brothers and sisters in the science fiction fandom had it pretty bad too of course, the vast majority of their movies were cheap schlock but at least they could point to a few straight up classics that even the hoity-toity critics had to admit were the real deal; Alien, 2001, Bladerunner.
Fantasy fans though? What did we have?
Truly, our cup ranneth over.

Truly, our cup ranneth over.

So if you were a fantasy fan in the seventies, eighties or nineties and you heard there was a Lord of the Rings movie, you had to see it even if it was terrible. Because it’s not exactly like you had a whole lot of options. The Lord of the Rings, the undisputed big swingin’ dick of the high fantasy genre, used to spend most of its time on lists of “unfilmable” books and with good reason. I can think of two periods in Hollywood history where a faithful film adaptation might have been possible. The first would be in the late fifties, when studios were creating gargantuan epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. The second would be now, the current era of movie history which (not coincidentally) was largely kick-started by Peter Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings trilogy. The current movie scene owes almost as much to The Lord of the Rings as the fantasy genre does. Planned trilogies, huge runtimes, massive battle scenes, copious amounts of CGI…so much of how movies are made, look and sound in the modern era can be laid at the feet of Peter Jackson (though we won’t hold that against him).
On the flipside, if I had to choose the worst possible time to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie (aside from, I dunno, the silent era) it would be the nineteen seventies. The seventies is often lauded as the greatest movie decade and it’s won that reputation for a slew of grungy, lo-fi, morally ambiguous classics. It was that kind of era (contrast that to 2001 when Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring came out when everything seemed a good deal more black and white). So you have a decade where no one is really spending big money on movies anymore, epics are largely a thing of the past and the cultural zeitgeist is really not grokking a simple morality tale of noble heroes trying to defeat an evil lord of darkness who lives in a black spiky castle. Who (Who, I ask you?) would be a mad enough bastard to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie in the nineteen seventies?

When not animating, he keeps his drawing arm strong by wrasslin’ grizzlies.

Ralph Bakshi is one of the most famous (or at least notorious) American animators out there. Having made his bones in the Terrytoons studio (Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse and the like) he went on to create the animated adaptation of R. Crumb’s comic strip Fritz the Cat.
Oh sure. I'll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

Oh sure. I’ll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

By 1969 the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings had found their way to United Artist’s, where Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman both had a crack at adapting it, with Boorman turning in a 700 page script that no one at the studio could even understand. Bakshi, who’d been obsessed with the idea of doing an animated version of the story since the fifties begged UA for the chance to direct. Impressed by Bakshi’s passion, UA junked Boorman’s script and told Ralph to go do his own version.
Bakshi was a true Tolkien die-hard and, in stark contrast to Boorman who had altered characters and plot points willy-nilly, wanted to do a movie version of the book that was as faithful as possible. Bakshi firmly believed that Tolkien was a genius who could do no wrong.
My rebuttal.

My rebuttal.

I can respect fidelity to the source material (and if anyone ever decides to do a movie of The Hangman’s Daughter I’ll probably start respecting it a whole lot more) but ultimately I think this was the movie’s undoing. Being faithful to the text is all well and good if you have hundreds of millions of dollars and a New Zealand but if you’re trying to do the story in two moderately budgeted animated features (as was the plan) then you really need to start looking at the story with a gaze of grim determination and a pair of scissors clenched in one hand. Bakshi tried to fit as much of the book as possible into the movie and we’ll see further on the problems that this caused.
Bakshi made the decision to use rotoscoping, a technique he’d first used in his earlier animated feature Wizards as a way of saving money. Rotoscoping is about as old as animation itself and basically involves drawing and painting over live action footage to create an animated effect. This has the upside of giving you more realistic movement and it tends to be cheaper and less labor intensive than traditional cel animation. Despite this, rotoscoping has traditionally been used more as a tool than a style. There’s plenty of instances of rotoscoping in animated movies (Cruella De Ville’s Car, Edgar’s motorbike in The Aristocats, The Giant Mouse of Minsk in An American Tail) but it’s rare for it to be used for extended sequences and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings represents probably the most extensive use of the technique in a feature film until Richard Linklater’s Waking Life in 2001 (and that was digital, rather than hand-drawn rotoscoping). Why is that? Well, part of the appeal of animation is that animated characters don’t move like real people and can be stretched or distorted or flattened however the animator pleases. Another reason (and a big part of why all the examples I listed above are inanimate objects or vehicles) is that living characters that are rotoscoped tend to have their home address in the Uncanny Valley. No one had ever tried to make a movie that was almost entirely rotoscoped.
So. Untested animation techniques. Impossible to adapt source material. Certainty of death. Small chance of success.
"What are we waiting for?"

“What are we waiting for?”