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‘Fritz’ father is getting back to basics

Whatever happened to the man behind the original “Lord of the Rings” pic?

Ralph Bakshi has been painting.

But now there are signs that Bakshi is back, doing what he became known for ever since his “Fritz the Cat” wowed softcore cat fans in 1972.

Bakshi has teamed with “Ren & Stimpy” creator John Kricfalusi to create down and dirty animated features that will cost under $10 million.

First up is “Bobby’s Girl,” a script they hatched together.

Bakshi will make his comeback through Kricfalusi’s Spumco studio, which is reviving “Ren & Stimpy” for TNN. It’s an appropriate pairing, since Kricfalusi has been as rebellious on the small screen as Bakshi has been in features, and paid for it.

“Ren & Stimpy” became a sensation when it was launched, but he was dumped by Nickelodeon after 19 episodes because he refused advertiser requests to tone the skein down.

While a lawsuit played out in court, Kricfalusi pioneered internet animation with shows like “Weekend Pussy Hunt.” He made peace with his Nick bosses when they drafted him to revive his cartoon after Viacom bought TNN.

Bakshi has spent his time painting since “Cool World” flopped and left him weary of fighting studios bent on watering down the vision that made him a famous counterculture animator.

“I fought studios for 15 years and got tired,” says Bakshi. “My movies have continued to play after 30 years, and now I have John to fight for me.”

Bakshi rekindled a relationship with Kricfalusi that began when Bakshi hired him to direct episodes of his one TV cartoons, “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse,” which Kricfalusi said made “Ren & Stimpy” saleable.

“There was no market for creator-driven cartoons, only toy tie-ins or rehashes of old ones,” said Kricfalusi. “Ralph got CBS to let him do what he wanted, and ‘Mighty Mouse’ was so groundbreaking that it opened the door for ‘Ren & Stimpy’ and everything that followed, from ‘The Simpsons’ to ‘Roger Rabbit.'”

“Bobby’s Girl,” which they wrote during the “Mighty Mouse” days, will be the first feature that will be taken to market by exec producers Eric Gardner and Kevin Kolde. The aim is not to duplicate the family-friendly development slates at Disney or DreamWorks.

“It’s R-rated teen exploitation,” said Kricfalusi. “The animation you see today, whether it’s Disney, CGI or Adam Sandler, all looks the same. I think people are tired of it. I’ve always wanted to use the full power of the animated theatrical cartoon.” If I’ve got the chance to animate sexy girls, (they) ought to bounce.”

TROOPERS TROUPE TO ASPEN: Broken Lizard, the five-member troupe behind “Super Troopers,” have committed to a 20-minute skit at the Aspen Comedy Festival on Feb. 28. They’ll play a Hoosiers-like hoops team trying to rally at halftime despite the fact their coach dropped dead on the way to the locker room. It’ll show-case the kind of twisted team spirit that has put them on course to become the rare comedy troupe to succeed in films.

The quintet just finished its second film for Fox Searchlight, “Club Dread,” and has just signed with UTA.

Broken Lizard is comprised of Erik Stolhanske, Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Kevin Heffernan. They met at Colgate, and then honed their style in Gotham comedy clubs. They write and star in their films, which Chandrasakhar directs.

“Super Troopers” took the biz by surprise, as the $1.2 million comedy opened on 1800 screens, grossed $20 million and sold over 1 million DVDs.

Their success is hardly accidental. Chandrasekhar worked as an assistant to attorney John Sloss, who helped get the pic into Sundance where it was bought by Searchlight. The troupe writes at least 16 script drafts before assigning parts, and they stump for each film with a bus tour to college campuses.

“When we made our first film, ‘Puddle Cruiser,’ we rented a Winnebago and four-walled the film, answering questions and getting drunk with the students,” said Chandrasekhar. “Fox liked the idea and rented us the old Allman Brothers tour bus. We covered 40 schools over six weeks and did local press. We’ll do the same thing for ‘Club Dread’.” UTA and 3 Arts will soon shop the group’s third film.

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