Ralph Bakshi on Surviving in Tough Times

When I first posted this video a little over a year ago, it flew like wildfire through the animation community. But I think it has something to say to all creative people.

I had the opportunity to interview the legendary Ralph Bakshi at the San Diego Comic Con. Ralph was in "pitch mode" talking a mile a minute about all the things he was working on at the time. I got the chance to get one question in, and Ralph swung like Babe Ruth and hit it out of the park. Every once in a while, I watch this video again to remind myself what it means to be an artist.

More on Ralph Bakshi at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive...
Ralph Bakshi at the Cartoon Hall of Fame
Bakshi on 2D vs 3D Animation
Bakshi Phone Doodles


  1. I’m trying to think of the most diplomatic way to put this. What I guess I want to say is that I was always interested in the projects that Ralph Bakshi was a part of and at the same time almost universally disappointed with all of them.

    Which is another way to say it’s not surprising to me that he is struggling. You can only go so long making things that, for lack of a better way to put it, don’t have a market. Or, maybe there is a market for what he was making but not a market for his final results.

    1. Ralph may not have made a film that pleased you, Anon. But his first three features, Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, blew the lid off of animation and dragged it out of the moribund state it was languishing in. Likewise, the Mighty Mouse TV series that Ralph made with John Kricfalusi totally changed the face of television animation and laid the groundwork for everything from Ren & Stimpy to the Simpsons and Batman: The Animated Series.

      Ralph’s films are loose and not nearly as polished as other animated films, but they almost always have ideas behind them. That’s more than you can say for a lot of animated features today that simply rehash tired old “talking dog” and “princess” stories from half a century ago.

      But Ralph’s importance is more than just as a filmmaker. He is first and foremost an artist. and he has acted as a catalyst for change that allowed him to accomplish more than just the films he happened to have made himself.

      I think the last line he speaks is “Stop crying.”

  2. I agree 100% with what Ralph is saying. But in the interests of unbiased reporting, according to Wikipedia, his “Coney Island” movie has stalled for lack of funding and according to the article has been cancelled.

    Like he said, it isn’t easy.

  3. That isn’t entirely correct, Steve. Ralph was financing Last Days of Coney Island himself. He decided that he’d rather be spending his time right now painting, so he shelved it. He’s in New Mexico happily painting right now.

  4. This clip is fantastic and inspiring. It’s the age-old time of striking out… doing something for yourself, something major, daring, unsafe. I’m 26, a college grad, and stuck. I’ve met the people who stayed with what they knew and didn’t risk anything. Their outcome was already determined for them, and they are almost unequivocally bitter about it. I’m deathly afraid of this, but I swear to you that I will make my own life in a way that I will not regret. That’s a hard thing to type.

  5. @Asifa & Anon: The man’s wise if not rich, and I can vouch for his advice. I put it a different way than him. I say that I am my dojo.

    I survived and thrived for a couple years as a freelance journalist and copywriter. I had to do every kind of writing. At the end of the first year every piece I sent out was praised. At the end of the second year I was scrappy enough to land a full-time job and a two book deal.

    I may never make enough money for a townhouse and a car with heated seats but I do what I love and I do it my way.

    And Ralph, if you’re reading this, I never whine a day. And man, the stories I can tell.

  6. Hey Steve – I’m glad that Ralph is enjoying himself. But the fact remains that the Coney Island project probably won’t happen. Such is life – and it’s fine as long as Ralph is happy.

  7. I remember when i was very young, I went over to my cousins house and her father was very “ill.” He had locked himself in his room. He was covering his eyes with a cool, wet cloth, lying in complete darkness. He said he had such a migraine and was seeing colors and said previous to his self exile could “feel all the light in the room on his face.” My mom had offered to give him a ride to hospital, but he was adamant that that wasn’t the answer. Eventually it was settling down to some Bakshi (and some other wild cartoons) that cured his ailment.. it wasn’t til years later he told me of his love affair with acid and many nights in his van on the beach.

    Actually, now that i think about it, and with Asifa posting.. my cousin used to watch a lot of wild psychedelic cartoons and I discovered Bakshi on my own a few years ago in search of some.. what should i be looking for, because Bakshi is amazing and wild, but some of the stuff i saw at his house was waaay out there, it was disturbing to me at the time.

    – Aaron

  8. @#1: Who was that other guy who never made a cent off of his art while he was alive? Van Gogh was it?
    I’m not saying Ralph Bakshi is the next Van Gogh or anything like that, but true artists are never really appreciated in their own time. Mass appeal is usually the realm of the mediocre, formula Disney films that fill seats. That is because true art looks forward. It doesn’t play it safe and do what everyone else is doing. So no, very often Mr. Bakshi’s work is not to everyone’s taste like Titanic are. But which will be remembered in a hundred years? Which will be influencing future generations of creative thinkers?

  9. His advice made me think of Makoto Shinkai ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makoto_Shinkai ). Shinkai produced the film Voices of a Distant Star single-handedly on a personal computer, and the talent he displayed in creating that film launched him into a respectable independent filmmaking career, later producing the (excellent and gorgeous) films The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters per Second.

    I think his story is an excellent example of what a filmmaker or animator can do with just a computer and their talent.

  10. Fritz the Cat may have been groundbreaking animation, but it was also virulently racist and sexist. The black characters were drawn as crows. The women were dogs. This was appalling even in the 70s.

  11. Ralph Bakshi may have some Don Quixote in him, which I suppose makes him a hero to some. But to sit idly by and listen to the man who brought us Lord of the Rings the animated movie criticize Disney’s nine old men is enough to make me wretch.

    The man is not untalented, but he’s not all that either.

  12. I’m not sure how you can’t be inspired to some degree by this. Some commenters here who are questioning whether the film was finished or not are missing the point, which I think is – Make it happen yourself.

  13. If all you know of Bakshi is his rotoscope films, you just don’t know Bakshi. Compare apples to apples… When Bakshi was making Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, Disney was making the Aristocats and Robin Hood. Tired stuff. Disney has been making “talking dog” and princess movies for over a half century. Bakshi’s early films were not only unlike any other animated film made before them, they were unlike any other film of any type. Disney turned animation into a genre. Ralph fought to keep it a medium.

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