Wednesday, January 31, 2007

RALPH BAKSHI: HERO

I put up something about Ralph a few months ago but there's a lot more to say about the man than I was able to say in a single post so here I am, telling the same story again in more detail. Everybody knows that Ralph directed ground-breaking films like "Fritz the Cat" and "Heavy Traffic" but a lot of fans don't know what a decisive role he played in starting up the animation boom that started in the late 80s.
If you remember, the animation boom had two causes: "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse" and "Rodger Rabbit." I don't know the story about how a flamboyant project like Rodger Rabbit ever got OK'd by Disney but I was at ground zero for the Mighty Mouse show. Here's the way it happened....
At the outset of the project Ralph called in his three directors, John K, Bruce Woodside and I, and begged us not to do anything drastic that would get him in trouble with the networks. Ralph explained that he had a reputation as a pornographer because of his X-rated features and was anxious to get a foothold in TV animation where he could turn out charming, beautifully executed cartoons for kids and make a legitimate and uncontroversial dollar. This show was all about building his credibility as a mass-market, quality film maker. He said he knew that we were all chomping at the bit to make something edgey but that we should put a lid on it for a season or two. Later, when he'd proven himself, he'd give us more slack.
I was genuinely moved and resolved to do what he asked for. So was John. We both did relatively sedate first cartoons. They were so sedate that the first show won an award for "pro-social filmmaking" from the then powerfull Action for Children's Programs (or is it "programming?" I can never remember).
The problem was that we had a really hot studio with a lot of gifted artists mostly picked by John. Not only that but John was in the throws of a personal creative explosion. He was always sharp but now that he was in his element, living his dream and surrounded by every physical asset needed to turn out great cartoons, he went into ecstatic creative overdrive. I wish I'd kept the drawings and written down the ideas that came out at lunchtime and during breaks. Every one of them was side-splittingly hilarious! Add to this that Ralph himself was a first-rate cartoonist and could appreciate what was happening even while he was struggling to control it...add that and well, it was a ticking bomb that was bound to explode.
Ralph could see where things were going. He kept reminding us that this show was his nest-egg and that we needed to rope ourselves in but he couldn't prevent himself from laughing at it all. This was a high-stakes game for Ralph and I can only guess at the anxiety all this must have caused him. He must have had moments when he'd wished he'd never met any of us.
I imagine that the network was also getting antsy but, like Ralph, they were also aware that they had something unique and special on their hands. I'm sure the good reviews helped but Ralph still had to spend a lot of time on the phone, soothing things over. At some point in all the complicated negotiations Ralph decided to dig in and fight for the show as it really was. He was no longer pitching it as a harmless show for 5 year-olds but as an unashamedly funny show for all age groups. He crossed the Rubicon. I heard him say to someone in the corridor: "I'm Ralph Bakshi! My name is on this show! I'm not going to put my name on something second-rate!"
Well, the rest is history. Ralph backed up John and TV animation was never the same again. Ralph risked everything to make it happen. He didn't have to do it. He did it because he was a true artist and because, when push came to shove, he had guts and integrity. So, by the way, did Judy Price, the network executive who had to stand up for all this to her superiors; two courageous people that we all owe a debt to.
BTW, the drawings here are all telephone doodles by Ralph Bakshi.

28 comments:

Pat McMicheal said...

As a lad, I was greatly inspired by the Bakshi film WIZARDS1977..I remember being delighted by the first cartoon boobs I've ever seen!

Michael Sporn said...

Thanks for this great posting. Ralph Bakshi doesn't get the credit he deserves in animation circles. He turned out original features one after another in a time when no one else could figure out how to do anything. The industry, for the most part, put him down, but he continued to bring animation into a new era.

Jennifer said...

Uncle Eddie - what a fabulous story! I actually liked Fritz the Cat - I thought it was funny. I never knew that it was Ralph Bakshi that came up with that cartoon.

BTW - when are you going to podcast? I can't wait until you do!

Jorge Garrido said...

Wow, this should all be in a book!

I hope Ralph gets his new film done!

William said...

That you and other industry veterans with half a lick of sense can blog freely about whatever you like, telling the 'uninitiated' like me all this fantastic awesome stuff really justifies the internet. Like how I never really liked Ralph Bakshi, he was just a fringe, completely bizarre but unique animator to me until you & John brought his real accomplishments to light. Keep it up!

By the way, this is some a-maz-ing shit and surefire ammunition for future Corners Of Theory!:
http://telstarlogistics.typepad.com/telstarlogistics/2007/01/color_photograp.html
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsachtml/fsacsubjindex1.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks Uncle Eddie ! What is trivia to some is history in your hands. I appreciate these stories so much !

..d

Ape Lad said...

I absolutely loved Bakshi's Mighty Mouse as a kid and was genuinely sad when it was taken of the air for something so stupid. Thanks for sharing this Eddie.

Kent B said...

Thanks for reminding us about Ralph's contribution to the Animation Boom. He had that old-school artistic integrity that's in short supply today.

But what's this about "sedate cartoons"? Are you talking about "Petey Pate" and "Witch Tricks"? I wouldn't call them sedate. Woodside was the most "sedate" of the directors, but he was working from Tom Minton's cunningly subversive scripts. Even the "reuse" shorts were intense!

Shawn said...

Wow! That was a historical time for cartoons! You're lucky to have been there!


Sorry if this question sounds ignorant, but what are phone doodles? It that when you doodle while you talk on the phone?

Anonymous said...

Kent, I wasn't alone writing on Mighty Mouse, though I was designated head writer by Ralph Bakshi, coming off a decade of boarding. We also had Jim Reardon and a fellow named Andrew Stanton contributing their first professional industry scripts fresh out of Cal-Arts. (Jim wrote "Night of the Bat-Bat", among others, and Andrew penned "Aqua Guppy") Wonder whatever happened to them? BTW, Eddie, the organization that gave Mighty Mouse the ACT award was Americans for Children's Television, the trophy handed to Ralph himself at Harvard in early 1988. ACT head Peggy Charren, long a severe critic of Saturday morning cartoons, absolutely loved Mighty Mouse and stuck up for the series when it counted. You're right, none of it could have happened nor made it to air without Ralph. Two years later I asked Ralph why we never got any notes on our scripts from CBS. Ralph laughed "You DID get notes. I burned 'em!" He wasn't kidding. Ralph did all this without any corporate backing nor even a business loan. "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures" deserves to be on DVD in something other than the bootleg, incomplete, off-air versions still being hawked at comic conventions. Perhaps this will happen with Blu-Ray or DVD-HD, once all the partners in that 1987 deal can make legal peace with each other.

Tom Minton

PCUnfunny said...

"I hope Ralph gets his new film done"

He is doing a new film,it is called The Last Days of Coney Island.

I have seen one of Ralph's films "Heavy Traffic" which was simply excellent.I saw "Cool Wrold" but Ralph had nothing to do with the final product so I don't really count it as his film. Oh and Uncle Eddie, it is National Gorilla Suit Day !

PCUnfunny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PCUnfunny said...

Sorry I miss read that post Jorge. Well for anyone who dosen't know, The Last Days of Coney Island is his new film.

Ryan G. said...

>> I actually liked Fritz the Cat - I thought it was funny. I never knew that it was Ralph Bakshi that came up with that cartoon.<<

Robert Crumb created Fritz the Cat and was actually upset that it got made into a cartoon.


Eddie, why wasnt Ralph involved with Spumco?

Vincent Waller said...

Ryan,
As I understand it. R's biggest problem with Fritz movie was the Tax hassles that followed him from the money he made from the movie.

Charlie J. said...

hey Eddie,
who wrote "twitch and writhe"?

Max Ward said...

I don't remember reading your post on Ralph before this one, but I will have to look for it.

I have a shameful bootleg copy of the New Adventures of Mighty Mouse. The credits are all fucked up though and they don't cite which episodes were directed by who, it just names three directors.

Gabriel said...

and then he fired you and turned me into a coke addict!!!

I remember when asifa posted some of his sketches, my respect for Mr. Bakshi went up immensely, I didn't know he was such a damn good artist. I didn't like the lord of the rings so I had an indisposition towards the guy, but since then I've given a chance to some of his movies and they have a lot of interesting stuff going on, even not being perfect.

Anyway, nice post, eddie!

Ken Mitchroney said...

It was great going over and visiting you guys during production. All that crazy energy was infectious.

CartoonSteve said...

Thanks Eddie - for inspiring me to seek out this legendary episode, which I'd only heard about: "Don't Touch That Dial" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKm3Ol1EqYU
Proof that a cartoon can have hilarious satire and a good message at the same time. Imagine that.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Everybody: I wrote long answers to several letters but they didn't publish for some reason and I haven't the heart to write them over again. Thanks for the comments just the same!

Eric Dotseth said...

'The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse' was the greatest Saturday morning cartoon of the 1980's...nothing else came even close.

Anonymous said...

The music for "Twitch and Writhe" was written by the late sound editor and garage band musician Kent Holaday. Don't know if he also wrote its lyrics.

Anonymous said...

lord of the rings was god awful, hes a good artist but hes storytelling and direction is really hacky

Charles Brubaker said...

Tom Minton-

Regarding Jim Reardon, he became a director for "Simpsons," a position he still holds today.

Jim recieved notice about a year ago when his CalArts film, "Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown," was leaked through the internet.

Marc Crisafulli said...

People complain about the 'State of the Industry' today, but I cringe when I think of what the future of TV animation could easily have become.
How many more "He-Man" spinoffs and Care Bears movies would we have had to endure? Anyone who tells you this show didn't make a historical impact or difference either doesn't know what they're talking about, or didn't have to endure season after season of "The Get Along Gang", "The Wuzzles", or any number of other
forget-me-pleases.

http://marcc.smugmug.com/photos/127381929-M.jpg

Jim Smith said...

To Charlie J: "Twitch and Writhe" was written by John K and the late, great Kent Halliday - a fine musician, Disney animator, and track reader for the "Simpsons" I had the privilege of jamming and recording at Kent's home studio. We miss him. Ask Dave Spafford about Kent.

Jim Smith said...

To Marc: My first job as a storyboardist was The Get Along Gang. I was so thrilled with having the job I carry a special memory of that show.