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Posted February 29, 2008
If all you know about Bakshi is his rotoscope pictures, you're in for a surprise. Ralph is one of the most innovative and wildly creative geniuses of recent times. His influence on animation is immense. On the back cover, Frank Frazetta is quoted as saying, 'Ralph Bakshi is one of the finest artists I've ever met.' He isn't exaggerating a bit. If you are an artist working in animation, whether you know it or not, Ralph Bakshi is the reason you're here. Don't believe me? Throw your mind back to 1970. Look at what the animation business had turned into... Disney was cranking out Robin Hood, a film without a single new idea. On TV, Filmation was lowering the bar so Hanna Barbera could play 'quality limbo' with them. Animation was dying, animators were choosing retirement over flogging the dead carcass of the art form they loved, and it looked like it the situation would never get any better. Enter Bakshi. With his first three films, he turned animation upside down. He showed that it wasn't just a medium for big bears with Phil Harris's voice and crappy sitcom characters in outer space. His films shocked and terrified people... they were crass and sloppy. They were made on a shoestring, and sometimes it showed. But they had something honest to say, and that got noticed. Ralph showed that animation- the most collaborative art form ever- could be an intensely personal medium. Ralph's first three films- Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin- came totally out of the blue. They are the animation equivalent of Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives. Great old time animators like Irv Spence, Ambi Paliwoda and Virgil Ross were offered the opportunity to cut loose and make films that weren't just cats chasing mice and dogs chasing cats. These films dealt with what it meant to be an artist, the battle of the sexes, race relations, and the unsenimentalized realities of urban life. They were improvisational and had no rules. These three films, made in the darkest of the dark ages of animation, offered a glint of hope for what animation could become. If all you've seen of Ralph's work is Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice you don't know what I'm talking about here. All of the adult targeted animation you see in the US today has its roots in Ralph's example in these three films. They stirred up controversy and caused riots at screenings back in the day, but now they seem to us like they could have been made yesterday, not three decades ago- except for the fact that today's world has trouble accepting brutal honesty when it comes to politically charged topics. Ralph has never been one to pull punches. In the 1980s, Ralph did for television animation what he did for theatrical features, blowing the lid off of CBS's Saturday morning schedule with Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. Ralph took a chance on the ideas of a kid named John Kricfalusi, and set up the studio after the unit structure model used at Warners. Artists were cut loose to create cartoons. Without Mighty Mouse, there never would have been Ren & Stimpy or The Simpsons. The artists who worked on Mighty Mouse have gone on to lead the TV animation industry. Ralph is an absolute genius when it comes to spotting raw talent. He can take a kid straight out of school and turn him into a pro faster than anyone else. Every film had its 'graduating class' of kids. Those kids now populate the animation business on every level, from the top Producer at Disney feature to the creative sparks at Warners. I know of Bakshi alumni who are top dogs at Dreamworks and the CGI companies too. As a filmmaker, Ralph is one-of-a-kind. He doesn't make films for executives... he doesn't even make films for a specific audience. He makes them for himself. You can count the number of animators capable of using this unweildy medium for personal expression on one hand and stWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.