Ralph Bakshi John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With Coonskin, Ralph Bakshi convinces me that the sum total of his talent was exhausted in Fritz the Cat, and that even there the chief interest lay in novelty rather than ultimate worth….

As in the equally bad Heavy Traffic, Bakshi is once again mixing live action and cartoon footage, alternating, juxtaposing, and superimposing them by turns. This is stylistically deleterious, rather like mixing Bach and the Rolling Stones. Each genre may have its own validity, but each sets up different responses, different degrees of involvement: the cartoon sequences try to make the fantastic real, which is fair enough; but the obtrusion of live action makes the real people look out of place, ridiculous, unreal (especially since Bakshi uses a great deal of deliberate distortion and coloristic hocus-pocus), and, finally, makes even the cartoon characters diminished and impotent, dwarfed by the human presences.

Moreoever, Bakshi proves yet again that he cannot tell a story. He can occasionally make a very brief episode, not exactly funny but, at least, biting; he has no idea, however, of how to make a plot connect, unfurl, develop. And hardly any individual episode is interesting and funny enough in itself to make us overlook the poor continuity—we miss out even on that picaresque, episodic fascination that Fritz, to some extent, achieved. Seldom, in fact, have I sat in a crowded screening room so empty of laughs.

Worse yet, there is no overarching satirical vision here. It's no use making out all humanity as more or less stupid and corrupt unless you can do it with enough sustaining wit and a point of view, a notion of where salvation might lie. For it is only in the name of a genuine moral vision, a true and powerful outrage, that such sweeping satire becomes viable; here all we get is a sour, intermittently grinning, peevishness. Indeed, sheer intelligibility is often missing: the images are frequently inscrutable and the sound track as clotted and muddy as [Robert] Altman at his worst. I urge black protest groups to leave Bakshi to heaven, or, rather, to the hell of his dullness and insufficiency. (p. 67)

John Simon, "Nashville without Tears," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1975 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 8, No. 32, August 11, 1975, pp. 66-7.∗