Ralph Bakshi Arthur Cooper - Essay

Arthur Cooper

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Walt Disney

Elysian Fields

Dear Walt,

Well, old buddy, things have come to a pretty pass. A young animator named Ralph Bakshi—you might remember, he made the first two X-rated feature-length cartoons, "Fritz the Cat" and "Heavy Traffic"—anyway, he's now made "Coonskin." It's got an R rating, which must stand for Ripoff because what he's done is turn your Uncle Remus stories inside out.

The movie is about these three black characters who leave the South and come to Harlem where they try to take over the rackets. Along the way they have to knock off a corrupt detective named Mannigan who looks like a women's-lib caricature of Telly Savalas. And, Walt, Bakshi represents Miss America with a cartoon character who's nekked. Bakshi tells his story, if you want to call it a story, as he did in his earlier movies, by intercutting the fantasy footage with live action, including black performers like singer Barry White.

The trouble is that even with his eye for detail, Bakshi has no point of view. He creates tense situation and fritters them away without tension. Nor is there much humor. Still, the movie is making a lot of people angry….

I don't know why CORE is making all this fuss because it's clear that Bakshi doesn't have much affection for man or womankind—black or white. All "Coonskin"'s characters are grotesque except Miss America, and as I said before, she's nekked. Last night I watched an old print of your "Song of the South," with all those cute bluebirds and sharecroppers, and I think I'll send it to Bakshi. Although there were protests about that film, in this case CORE ought to just let sleeping dogs snore. Actually, if it were a question of dogs, I wouldn't be so mad. But one of the stars of "Coonskin" is, can you believe it, a rabbit.

                           Sadly, your old cottontail buddy,

                                                  Thumper

Arthur Cooper, "Color It Black," in Newsweek (copyright 1975, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LXXXVI, No. 7, August 18, 1975, p. 73.