By the time the film wrapped production, Cinemation had released Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song to considerable success, and the distributor hoped that Fritz the Cat would be even more profitable. Fritz the Cat received an X rating from the MPAA, the first animated film to receive this rating. Steve Krantz stated that the film lost playdates due to the rating, and 30 American newspapers rejected display ads for the film or refused to give it editorial publicity. The film's limited screenings led Cinemation to exploit the film's content in its promotion of the film, advertising the film as containing "90 minutes of violence, excitement, and SEX...he's X-rated and animated!" According to Ralph Bakshi, "We almost didn't deliver the picture, because of the exploitation of it."
Cinemation's exploitative advertising style and the film's rating led many to believe that Fritz the Cat was a pornographic film. When the film was introduced at a showing at the University of Southern California as animated pornography, Bakshi stated firmly, "Fritz the Cat is not pornographic." In May 1972, Variety reported that Krantz had appealed the X rating, saying "Animals having sex isn't pornography." The MPAA refused to hear the appeal. The misconceptions about the film's content were eventually cleared up when it received praise from Rolling Stone and The New York Times, and the film was accepted into the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. Bakshi later stated "Now they do as much on The Simpsons as I got an X rating for Fritz the Cat."
Before the film's release, American distributors attempted to cash in on the publicity garnered from the rating by rushing out dubbed versions of two other adult animations from Japan, both of which featured an X rating in their advertising material: Senya ichiya monogatari and Kureopatora, retitled One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and Cleopatra: Queen of Sex, respectively. However, neither film was actually submitted to the MPAA, and it is not likely that either feature would have received an X rating. The film Down and Dirty Duck was promoted with an X rating, but had not been submitted to the MPAA. The French/Belgian animated film Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle was initially released with an X rating in a subtitled version, but a dubbed version released in 1979 received an R rating.
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