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R.I.P. Robert Taylor – underground (adult) cartoonist

– by David Morgan-Brown

robert taylorOn December 11th, the animator Robert Taylor passed away at age 70 due to complications from lung disease. Although many people may not be aware of this late great cartoonist, it’s likely he had an effect on many people, especially those who were kids during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. He worked as a storyboard artist/director for many children’s programmes including Scooby-Doo, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the ‘80s/’90s version), the Men in Black series, The Rugrats Movie, and many, many more shows.

His influence in cartoons aimed at adults was higher, as he worked closely with Ralph Bakshi (the king of adult animation who paved the way for shows like South Park and Family Guy) as an animator for his films like Heavy Traffic, Wizards, and Hey Good Lookin’. Yet his shining moment was what will always keep him in my heart and the hearts of other fans of trashy, liberated, groovy adult animation flicks of the ‘70s. He only ever directed two films, Heidi’s Song (which I have no interest in seeing, apart from the fact he directed it) and The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat.

As the title suggests, this is a sequel to Bakshi’s directorial debut, Fritz the Cat (based on the Robert Crumb comic), which kick-started the adult animation sub-genre at the start of the ‘70s with a bang, being the first X-rated animated film ever and running with it – plenty of sex, drugs, and jazz, all performed by anthropomorphic characters that were cooler and more hip than any real life counterpart. That was not a perfect film, but Taylor’s sequel seemed to iron out the creases by creating one of the greatest animation films ever. Daring, fearless, stereotypical, and fleshing out the titular character to be the dopest animated feline ever. As delightfully crude and crass as this gets, there’s a strong underlying criticism at times aimed towards New York’s political and social state in several different decades of the 20th century. Just watch the first clip below and tell me that’s not an extraordinary piece of animation, combined with real-life archive footage and ‘Jump Back’ by Tom Scott and the LA Express (who provided the film’s excellent soundtrack) to show how the excess of America caused its own economic collapse.

Unfortunately, it sounds like Taylor himself (nor Bakshi, nor Robert Crumb) were fans of the animated masterpiece, despite that it shares the psychedelic animated wonder, counterculture hipness, and poignancy of Bakshi’s best works. Although its own makers weren’t fans, I am a fan of this incredible sequel and I hope many others will too and continue to commemorate the legacy of this underrated underground master of the cel.

 

Banner image: The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat– MGM Home Video
Poster image: Michael Sporn Animation

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