The world of filmmaking is a cut-throat battleground of concessions. For every movie that reaches theaters, there are dozens that never make it past the pitching stage, and fewer still make it to the screen without excessive alterations. This is especially true in the realm of animation, where changes to the script can require entire segments and characters to be scrapped and redone.
As new films are produced, and sensibilities change, many older films can make one question how they were accepted while so many are rejected. This is to say nothing of their quality: good or bad films can still leave audiences wondering what got rejected for these.
‘Fritz the Cat’ (1972)
Legendary animator Ralph Bakshi‘s directorial debut adapts the comic strip of the same name by Robert Crumb. It stars the titular cat as he makes his way through the world of ’60s counterculture and gets wrapped up in drugs, violence, and plenty of sex. For this, it became the first animated film to be rated X.
While the film’s pacing is very wonky, it still offers a fascinating window into the disillusion of the American people in the 60s. The cynicism and excessive hedonism of the characters could be a turn-off and are an excellent example of how it could never be made today. However, it also makes Fritz the Cat bizarrely unique and sets the tone for Bakshi’s future works.
‘Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure’ (1977)
A girl named Marcella receives a bisque doll named Babette as a birthday present. When she leaves, the rest of the toys in her nursery try to welcome her, but a snow-globe pirate captain abducts her and sails off. Not wanting Marcella to be sad, her favorite doll, Raggedy Ann, and her brother Andy set off to rescue Babette.
The film is directed by Richard Williams, animated by some of the best animators of the time, and features songs fromSesame Street composer Joe Raposo. Sadly, all this talent can’t save the film from being a jumbled mess with a scatterbrained plot and some of the strangest visuals seen in a kid’s film. To date, the film has never seen a home video release, but it is available in its entirety online.
Two brothers are born in a dystopian future which sees the return of magic. Both are born with magical talents, but one brother, Avatar, uses his for good, while the other, Blackwood, meddles with technology for power. One day, Blackwood uncovers old Natzi propaganda, which inspires his followers, allowing him to wage a war of conquest.
Bakshi intended this film to be a family picture, but it’s hard to imagine that since it retains his usual level of risqué female designs and animated gore. It remains one of his strongest works thanks to its unique style, commentary on WWII and the dangers of technology, and some legitimately funny moments. It’s also notable as the beginning of Mark Hamill‘sillustrious voice-acting career.
The 1980s was an interesting time for dark and risqué media. One of the best examples is Heavy Metal, an adaptation of the science fiction-fantasy magazine of the same name. With the framing device of a small green orb that claims to be the sum of all evil, the film shows multiple stories with plenty of violence, sex, and rock songs.
Each segment was made simultaneously by different studios, resulting in an interesting blend of animation styles. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t the best, and while the sexual scenes are a little shocking, the world of adult animation has come far. The voice acting still holds up, especially Jon Candy as the nerdy Den-turned-Adonis.
‘Felix the Cat: The Movie’ (1989)
Princess Oriana, the ruler of the land of Oriana, has been captured by her evil uncle, the Duke of Zill. As she is taken away, she sheds a magic tear, which activates an interdenominational machine that sends it to another world to look for a hero. The one it finds is Felix, a talking cat with a magic bag of tricks.
This film was a labor of love from Don Oriolo, whose father, Joe Oriolo, created the 1958 Felix the Cat TV series. Sadly, it’s poorly put together, with atrocious animation, sound editing that drowns out important dialogue, and very strange choices for humor in a kids’ film. It’s hard to imagine audiences rooting for Felix when one of the earliest scenes has him laughing at a skull.
‘Bébé’s Kids’ (1992)
Based on the stand-up comedy from Robin Harris, an animated version of Robin recounts his woes to a blind bartender. It starts off well: he meets a woman at a funeral, and she suggests Robin come with her and her son to an amusement park. On the day of the date, Robin is distraught to learn that the woman brought her friend’s three troublemaking kids, who proceed to wreck everything they touch.
Bébé’s Kids is the first animated film to feature a primarily Black cast, and many of the people who worked on it would make The Proud Family for Disney. Unfortunately, the movie couldn’t use that talent: it’s a confusing jumble of unlikeable characters, cartoonish hijinx, and dated stand-up. Even its tie-in NES game is labeled as one of the worst ever made.
‘Cool World’ (1992)
Bakshi’s final theatrical film stars Brad Pitt as a WWII soldier who finds himself transported into a world of living cartoons called Cool World. Years later, a cartoonist played by Gabriel Byrne is released from prison and pulled into Cool World as well. There, he falls for a cartoon named Holli Would, who wants to become human by any means necessary.
Despite looking like a cash grab of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bakshi came up with the idea on his own and pitched it as a comedy-horror film. Unfortunately, Paramount Pictures stepped in and toned it down for general audiences. The result is a mess with poorly integrated live-action, and hand-drawn animation, crazy animation, and rules made up on the fly.
‘Freddie as F.R.0.7’ (1992)
In medieval France, a young prince named Fredrick is transformed into a frog by his aunt, who killed his father, to kill him to claim his throne. He is saved by the Loch Ness Monster and grows into an immortal human-sized frog thanks to his magic powers. By the modern day, he becomes a secret agent tasked with helping the British reclaim stolen national monuments.
Director Jon Acevsk based the film on stories he would tell his son, and it shows. The story and animation quality both feel like something spawned from a child’s imagination, yet somehow also includes a song featuring dancing Nazis and Klansmen. At the least, it has a good cast, including Ben Kingsley and Brian Blessed.
‘The Magic Voyage’ (1992)
This German retelling of the story of Christopher Columbus takes a few liberties with history. Instead of wanting to find a quicker trade route to India, he sails west to prove that the world is round, thanks to a woodworm’s inspiration. This woodworm also wants to rescue his fairy girlfriend, who has been kidnaped by an evil living swarm.
The film was released to capitalize on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, but it’s mired in obscurity despite getting two American dubs. This is due to some cheap animation and those creative liberties, which feel like someone combined the plot of three different films into one. The dub by the Hemdale Film Corporation at least starred Dom DeLuise, who tries his best as the voice of Columbus.
‘Titanic: The Legend Goes On’ (2000)
As the RMS Titanic prepares for its maiden voyage, a number of characters prepare to board. These include a young woman and her evil step-family, a jewel thief and her bumbling henchman, and a detective dressed like Sherlock Holmes. Its non-human passengers include Mexican mice that are racist caricatures, a kleptomaniac magpie, and a rapping dog.
Titanic: The Legend Goes On has appeared on several lists of the worst film ever made for good reason. Along with ripping off Disney and Don Bluth for its characters, the fact that it tells a lighthearted version of such a real-world tragedy disrespects those who lost their lives. Amazingly, this isn’t even the first animated Titanic film to come from Italy: that is 1999s The Legend of the Titanic.
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