"What adult animation means to me is not tits and ass, but the right to animate any subject or idea you have and let the ratings fall where they may. All I wanted to do was animate the things I thought about and not the dolls they (studio marketing teams) thought about." - Ralph Bakshi
Whether a fan of animation or not, there is no denying Ralph Bakshi's enormous impact and influence in the world of animation. While many animation directors like Walt Disney and Tex Avery had distinctive styles, Bakshi was certainly the first auteur animator—a man who chose not to make films for merchandising purposes, but for political and adult messages.
Bakshi grew up in Brooklyn and attended Manhattan's High School of Industrial Arts. He may be best known as the director of the first X-rated animated feature, Fritz the Cat, and the critically acclaimed Heavy Traffic, Wizards, and Lord of the Rings, but his career began much earlier. Hired at Terrytoons Studios at the age of 21, he became the youngest animator in the business and director for the Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Deputy Dawg cartoons. Within a few years, he was promoted to the position of Creative Director of the entire studio, which helped to eventually garner him the position as producer and director of Paramount Cartoon Studios—resulting in a whole new library of unforgettable characters.
Bakshi left the studio animation system to write and direct his first independent animated feature film, Fritz the Cat—which reaped the benefit of having large audiences for its X-rating. Heralded as the first to introduce personal adult themes to a largely Disney-oriented medium, Bakshi smashed down the walls imprisoning animation as a children's medium and never faltered in his stride, amassing animated films like Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, Wizards, American Pop, and one of his crowning achievements, Lord of the Rings, where Bakshi implemented rotoscoping technique—the Disney method for animating realistic characters.
Continuing to astound audiences with his kinetic style, Bakshi's already impressive body of work also includes: Fire and Ice, where he worked with world renowned fantasy illustrator, Frank Frazetta; a music video for The Rolling Stones called "Harlem Shuffle"; Cool World, starring Gabriel Byrne and Kim Basinger; animated series for both HBO and Showtime; and over sixty more projects. He has created controversy in all of his films while breaking new ground in his art form. He has helped the public look at animation in new and exciting ways by constructing familiar, yet bizarre and intense, worlds. He pioneered animation with adult themes using political commentary and satire. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has added his films, Coonskin, Heavy Traffic, Fritz the Cat, and American Pop to their collection.
An artist who challenges his audience and a maverick who believes in the power of creativity, Ralph Bakshi is a master whose films have been either applauded or criticized with a passion. This is the way he wanted them to be seen. Passive is not in his vocabulary.