Presented as an omnibus with no real sense of purpose, 1974’s The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat is the “We have Fritz the Cat at home” meme printed to celluloid. Stacked to the rafters with pot humor, condom gags, dick and fart jokes, and knee slappers involving diarrhea, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat is a cheap ode to the worst kind of taste and the most unsophisticated political incorrectness one could imagine and a mere shell of the Ralph Bakshi film from two years prior and completely eradicated the sensibilities of character creator Robert Crumb.
The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat features the same titular character (voiced again by Skip Hinnant) dialed forward to “the 1970’s” where a married Fritz daydreams his days away while his wife screams at him about how shiftless he is and how she’s fucking his best friend. This gives the film the license to spread out in any which way it pleases just as long as the action returns back to Fritz as he sits on the couch and gets read the riot act by his shrewish wife.
Through many of Fritz’s adventures and fantasies (which include him romping through Nazi Germany, haggling with a pawnshop owner over a commode, traveling to space, and being a messenger in a dystopian future where the United States is re-segregated), the film certainly has hallucinatory moments as anthropomorphic creatures run through a brightly watercolored landscape of America in the 1970’s. But what it lacks is any real cohesion. If Fritz the Cat was unified by Ralph Bakshi’s keen sense of sociological concerns coupled with a sly arc for its titular character, Nine Lives is barely held together with the cinematic equivalent of a Tijuana bible’s weak staples. Director Robert Taylor, an animator who had worked for Bakshi since The Mighty Heroes days, attempts to pull of Bakshi’s technique which only goes to show what made the latter so special and singular.
There is actually something about this movie that correctly captures early 70’s American pop culture in the waning days of the Nixon administration but only in the literal sense that it comes off as if Fritz the Cat got a television series adaptation and this was its lone season, each bit its own separate episode linked together by the framing device of Fritz’s pot-addled daydreams. Each character’s ethnicity is played to the back row and, worse, their characterizations seem less tethered to creatures in the animal kingdom and just more like lazy and gross caricatures.
The film does have its moments but they all seem to be tied to some kind of horrible force that brings them down. For example, the material collage that occurs directly after the space sequence predates the “Empty Spaces” sequence in Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd The Wall by eight years, but yet it also looks like something that you could purchase in the blacklight poster section of Spencer’s Gifts; the indelible Duke the Crow shows back up in this movie but he’s given a voice that makes me wonder too much if that’s actually Wolfman Jack or just someone doing an ersatz Wolfman Jack impression; and the score by Tom Scott and the L.A. Express is mostly great but it’s forever married to this film.
But to put some very fine polish on a very real turd, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat has benefited from the Noah Cross school of value economics: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they hang around long enough.” That this film has remained in some kind of legitimate, studio-supported print throughout the years of home video where a movie like the same year’s Down and Dirty Duck has only existed in the shady greymarket of online commerce, one has to admire the persistence of The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat. But that the film has become some kind of misidentified classic or a curio is nothing special. If the right people are at the right auction, a mint condition Ford Pinto would likewise fetch a pretty price.
(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain