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Ralph Bakshi

(1938- )

BAKSHI, RALPH (1938– ), U.S. animator and film director. Bakshi was born in Haifa, Israel, but moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, when he was a year old. He showed an early talent for drawing, winning an award in animation upon graduation from high school. He went to work for Terrytoons, an animation studio, and during his ten years there he directed episodes of the television series Deputy Dawg and worked on the popular cartoons Hekyll and Jekyll and Mighty Mouse. By 1965 he was in charge of Terrytoons and was asked to put together a "superhero" TV cartoon series. He demonstrated disdain for the assignment by creating odd superheroes: Tornado Man, Cuckooman, Ropeman, and Diaper Baby. The CBS Television network, which then owned Terrytoons, loved the concept and broadcast The Mighty Heroes, a shortlived series.

After Terrytoons shut down, Bakshi moved to Paramount's cartoon division and stayed until 1967, when the studio closed it down. After working for Steve Krantz Productions on its adaptation of the Spider-Man comic book series in 1967, Bakshi produced his first theatrical animated feature, an obscenity-laced adaptation of Robert *Crumb 's underground comic strip Fritz the Cat in 1972. The X-rated feline who uttered profanities onscreen stirred controversy. "There was talk about if I were a pornographer or not," Bakshi said. "What I did was anti everything animation was about." Animated characters, he felt, could elicit more powerful emotions than flesh-and-blood actors. His next feature, Heavy Traffic, was even more outrageous than Fritz, which went on to gross more than $90 million worldwide, creating a previously unknown market, adult animation. Traffic was a nihilistic, highly scatological tale of a young New York artist's drawing board fantasies. It featured several Jewish characters. In 1975 Bakshi released Coonskin, a savage attack on Hollywood racial stereotypes. It was one of the first animated features to depict black characters (drug dealers). Civil rights organizations boycotted the film to protest its unflattering portrayal of blacks.

After three urban animated dramas, Bakshi turned to fantasy in 1977 with Wizards, "about the creation of the State of Israel and the Holocaust, about the Jews looking for a homeland, and about the fact that fascism was on the rise again," he said. Bakshi withdrew from animated films but returned in 1981 with American Pop, a social history about four generations of Jewish-American immigrants. He devoted the next decade to painting but returned to animation with the 1992 film Cool World.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.