Bakshi's feature film debut, the film had a troubled production history, as Crumb, who is politically left-wing, had disagreements with the filmmakers over the film's political content, which he saw as being critical of the political left.Produced on a budget of $700,000,the film was intended by Bakshi to broaden the animation market so that it would be seen as being a medium that could tell more dramatic or satirical storylines with larger scopes, dealing with more mature and diverse themes, as animation, which was initially intended largely for adults, was seen predominantly as a children's medium at that time period. Bakshi also wanted to establish an independent alternative to the films produced byWalt Disney Animation Studios, which dominated the animation market due to a lack of independent competition.
The intention of featuring profanity, sex and drug use, particularlycannabis, provoked criticism from more conservative members of the animation industry, who accused Bakshi of attempting to produce a pornographic animated film, as the concept of adult animation was not widely understood at the time. TheMotion Picture Association of Americagave the film an X rating, making it the first American animated film to receive the rating, which was then predominantly associated with morearthousefilms. The film was highly successful, grossing over $90 million worldwide, and also earned significant critical acclaim for its satire, social commentary and animation innovations, although it also attracted some negative reviews accusing it ofstereotypingand having an unfocused plot, and criticizing its depiction of profanity, sex and drug use in the context of an animated film. The film's use of satire and mature themes is seen as paving the way for future animated works for adults, includingThe SimpsonsandSouth Park.A sequel,The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat(1974), was produced without Crumb's or Bakshi's involvement.