Ralph Bakshi
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc.
Emru Townsend · July 2, 2004 | The cliché is to describe Ralph Bakshi as the "bad boy" of animation. It's sort of deserved; for a about fifteen years he worked on television cartoon fare such as Deputy Dawg, The Mighty Heroes, Spider-Man, and Rocket Robin Hood—and then exploded on the theatrical scene in 1972 with Fritz the Cat, based on the Robert Crumb underground comic. Bakshi was a bad boy indeed; Fritz the Cat deserved its X rating, as it featured sex, drugs, and an unflinching, satirical look at the experiences of an opportunistic, sex-obsessed college-dropout tomcat. His next two films, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, cemented his rep, as they offered a bleak (and farcical) look at the modern urban reality that animated feature films generally preferred to ignore. That he used images that many decried as racist (especially in Coonskin, which was about racial stereotypes) only added to his image as a controversial figure.

It's understandable that "bad boy" became the accepted descriptor, but I prefer the term "maverick" for Bakshi. His films from the 1970s and '80s are fiercely individual, exploring themes that concern him personally—and just about all of them have been lightning rods for one issue or another. Born in Palestine in 1938 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I've found his films to have the same quality as the archetypical Brooklynite: maybe not so subtle, but with a forthright populist energy that's more than a little infectious.

When Bakshi's Wizards was released on DVD in May, I had the opportunity to speak to Bakshi in a conference call with him (from his home in New Mexico) and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's publicist, Josh Kushins. We spoke for the better part of an hour on Wizards, growing up in Brooklyn, and the Lord of the Rings movie—that is, the animated one he directed that came out in 1978. Our conversation was much like his urban films—coarse, a bit profane, surprising, and a hell of a lot of fun. I should mention that the interview below doesn't do the actual conversation justice; we constantly overlapped dialogue, and there's far more laughter than I could transcribe without seeming absurd. While our talk lasted the better part of an hour, what we really needed was a bar, several pitchers of beer, and a couple of hours to kill—and, in a segment not printed here, I offered just that. Remember, Ralph—the next time you're in Montreal, the drinks are on me.
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