From ‘Fritz the Cat’ to ‘Wizards’, All Ralph Bakshi Movies, Ranked

Ralph Bakshi is a director like no other. After working nearly a decade for Terrytoons and on shows like Rocket Robin Hood and the 1967 Spider-Man, he founded his own animated studio in 1969. Unsatisfied with the state of animation at the time, he began making movies to prove that animation could tackle adult issues and didn’t need to be relegated to family entertainment.



Bakshi certainly succeeded in that regard: his movies draw from his own experiences to present gritty, unfiltered looks at racism, disassociation, and the struggles of life. They also tend to be some of the weirdest animated films ever made, with lots of psychedelic imagery and transgressive themes.

10 ‘Cool World’ (1992)

Frank Harris and Holli Would

Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) returns home from World War II, only to lose his mother in a motorcycle accident and be transported to a parallel world called Cool World. It is inhabited by living cartoon characters called “doodles,” and Frank restarts his life there as a police officer. He spends most of his time monitoring Holli Would (Kim Basinger), who wishes to become human.

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Cool World suffered the most out of Bakshi’s work from executive meddling, and it shows. The plot is nonsensical, and much of the movie is taken up by background characters killing time with random slapstick. It also doesn’t help that the movie was released after Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which had more believable interactions between real actors and animated characters.

9 ‘Last Days of Coney Island’ (2015)

Various characters in a bar from Last Days of Coney Island

In the 1960s, two storylines unfurl around Coney Island. The first follows Shorty (Omar Jones), a short-tempered and homicidal individual with a hatred of clowns due to some childhood trauma. The other follows Max (Robert Costanzo), a police officer torn between his love for a stripper and the promotion he could get by busting the establishment she works at.

After languishing in development hell for years, Bakshi got this short film finished with the help of Kickstarter backing. As such, it’s less polished than his other films, with a sketchy, unfinished art style, but this works in the movie’s favor. It captures the film’s gritty tone and allows for some truly grotesque and expressive reactions.

8 ‘Fritz the Cat’ (1972)

Fritz the cat and Duke the crow

As the counter-culture movement of the 1960s is in full swing, Fritz (Skip Hinnant), an average cat trying to get by, finds himself caught in the middle of these changing times. Some of his misadventures include meeting extremist protestors and racism against Black crows. Plus, there’s an extra helping of drugs, sex, and murder.

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This is the first animated movie to receive an X rating, which paved the way for future adult animations like The Simpsons and Family Guy.While despised by the creator of Fritz, Robert Crumb, it was a hit with audiences at the time for its unapologetic approach to mature themes and imagery. Unfortunately, Fritz doesn’t seem to learn anything from his experience, so the narrative feels flat by the end.

7 ‘Hey Good Lookin’ (1982)

Vinnie Genzianna from Hey Good Lookin'

In 1953 Brooklyn, Vinnie Genzianna (Richard Romanus) and his friend Crazy Shapiro (David Proval) led a greaser gang called the Stompers. After a wild night on the town, they awaken on a beach and are confronted by their gang’s rivals, the Chaplains, who arrange a fight between the gangs. Unfortunately, Vinnie has a hard time convincing the Stompers to agree to it.

While not the strongest of Bakshi’s work, this film still offers an interesting take on themes like nostalgia. The story is told via flashback and contrasts the sad lives of the characters in the present day with their more upbeat and optimistic youth. However, their youth was also filled with lots of violence, which warns audiences not to glorify the past too much.

6 ‘Fire and Ice’ (1983)

Image via 20th Century Fox

Humanity is fighting a losing war against the sorcerer king Necron (Stephen Mendel), who pushes glaciers further south as his vanguard. To subjugate his greatest rival, Firekeep, his mother, Juliana (Susan Tyrrell), orchestrates the kidnapping of Princess Teegra (Maggie Roswell). Fortunately, she manages to escape her captors and meets Larn (William Ostrander), a warrior who lost his village to Necron, and Darwolf (Steve Sandor), an enigmatic warrior.

Fire and Ice is a beautiful example of an ’80s fantasy movie. While its plot and characters are formulaic, the film is entertaining from beginning to end, thanks to its world-building and presentation. It also has probably the best example of Bakshi’s rotoscoping, which makes for some well-choreographed action scenes.

5 ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (1978)

Frodo and Gandalf as they appeared in Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings

Following the departure of his uncle, Bilbo (Norman Bird), the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Christopher Guard) comes into possession of a magic ring. The wizard Gandalf (William Squire) tells him that it is the One Ring: it was created by the dark lord, Sauron, with which he could conquer the world. A fellowship is quickly put together to embark on a dangerous quest to escort the ring to Mordor and destroy it in the very volcano it was forged in.

RELATED: Why the 1978 Animated ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Is a Strange Adventure

Bakshi could only cover two of the three Lord of the Rings books in his movie, so the narrative feels very disjointed, and a lot is left out. Still, this adaptation has a lot to like, such as the voice performances. A fair number of ideas in this film were also re-used by Peter Jackson in his own trilogy, such as the decision to end at the battle of Helms Deep, and the shot of the Hobbits hiding from the Nazgûl under a tree.

4 ‘Coonskin’ (1975)

Still of Miss America in the film Coonskin

In an Oklahoma prison, two prisoners named Randy (Philip Michael Thomas) and Pappy (Scatman Crothers) wait for Randy’s friends to break them out. Pappy passes the time by reminiscing how this reminds him of the adventures of Brother Rabbit (Philip Michael Thomas), Brother Bear (Barry White), and Preacher Fox (Charles Gordone). After losing their home, the three move to Harlem and quickly rise through the ranks of the local criminal underworld.

Coonskin combines the Br’er Rabbit stories with blaxploitation to criticize racism and stereotypes. This is best shown through the character of Miss America (Jesse Welles), an escort who tempts Black people only to leave them beaten and bloodied.

3 ‘Wizards’ (1977)

Blackwolf showing his troops a film reel of Nazi footage

Two million years after a nuclear war, magic has returned to Earth, and with it, mystical creatures such as elves, fairies, and orcs. Two brothers, Avatar (Bob Holt) and Blackwolf (Steve Gravers) are born powerful wizards who represent good and evil, respectively. One day, Blackwolf discovers ancient Nazi footage, which he uses to inspire his army to wage war on Avatar and his allies.

This was Bakshi’s first venture into fantasy movies instead of urban films, and it remains one of the most creative in the genre. Its mix of live-action footage with Bakshi’s unique character designs creates a harsh, brutal world while still leaving room for moments of wonder. It’s also notable for being Mark Hamill’s first venture into voice acting.

2 ‘Heavy Traffic’ (1973)

Michael and Carole from Heavy Traffic

Michael Corleone (Joseph Kaufmann) is a 22-year-old cartoonist born to an Italian Mafioso father and a Jewish mother. Seeing solace from their never-ending attempts to kill one another, he sneaks out to wander the city. He gets involved with a bartender named Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson), and together they try to figure out a plan for the future.

RELATED: 33 Great 70s Films That Time Forgot

Heavy Traffic is probably Bakshi’s most down-to-earth production. It uses exaggerated characters to tell a relatable story about young people trying to navigate the confusing and violent landscape of urban life. Heavy themes of inequality, racial tension, and disassociation are on full display and presented in a raw and ugly way.

1 ‘American Pop’ (1981)

Animated jukebox musical American Pop (1981)
Image via Columbia Pictures

After losing his father to a pogrom, Zalmie (Jeffrey Lippa) and his mother immigrate to America. He is drawn to the music industry but is unable to become a singer due to personal tragedy. This becomes a trend with his descendants, who all have musical talent but rotten luck in pursuing it.

While the rotoscoping isn’t as good as some of Bakshi’s later films, American Pop is a phenomenal look at how each generation influences the attitude of the next. Bakshi shows how people are shaped by their families, upbringings, and the cultural landscape of the time, which gives each generation a unique set of challenges to overcome.

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