In Praise of Ralph Bakshi, Animation Pioneer

One of animation’s most influential artists, Ralph Bakshi made his mark on pop culture by refusing to sacrifice his singular vision to popular tastes and trends.

Consider Bakshi’s 1978 adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, out Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray: Faulted by critics for its darkness and violence, the animated movie paved the way for Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film nearly 25 years later. From its pioneering use of rotoscoping to its determination to shove cuddly hobbits into the end times without worrying about the children’s demographic, Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings was a defiant box-office success.

Bakshi’s dark perspective, like Tolkien’s before him, came from witnessing a world lost in war’s aftermath, where today’s comforts and conveniences were unthinkable.

“I grew up in a different time,” Bakshi, 71, told by phone. “My mother’s family was killed by Hitler. Blacks weren’t able to vote. I grew up in a time where ideas were very important, and you had to fight for truth and justice. I don’t see that in today’s animation at all.”