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Western Animation / Heavy Traffic

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"Its animation—but it's not a cartoon. It's funny—but it's not a comedy—its Heavy. Heavy Traffic."

Ralph Bakshi cites Heavy Traffic as his favorite film in his career. This was originally to be Ralph's first film; however, it was "put on hold" because the producer believed that he couldn't sell this film due to Bakshi's inexperience as a film director; the success of Fritz the Cat, the first animated film to be rated X in the United States, saved the production of Heavy Traffic. In a sense, the film could be seen as an animated companion piece to Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.

The film was eventually rereleased on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory for its 40th anniversary.


This film provides examples of the following:

  • All Just A Day Dream: After Michael gets shot in the head at the climax, it turns out the films animated sequences were all in his head as the film switches to a real life Michael for the last several minutes. And given it happens after Michael loses a game of pinball (a recurring symbolism piece) and how closely his real life parallels that of the cartoon fantasy, and not to mention the films POV driven nature was constantly foreshadowed throughout the film (with the frequent mixing of animation and live action, and film literally starting with a real life Michael playing the pinball game) this twist actually comes off as very well thought out.
  • Animated Music Video: Although only in one segment, Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" is played while in the style of Underground Comics and the design sense is a homage to George Herriman.
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  • Art Shift: Only happens two times. The scenes that go into underground comic book form, and the live-action at the ending climax of the film.
  • Ax-Crazy / Mama Bear: Ida, Michael's Ashkenazi Jewish mother, who is really over zealous about keeping him out of the influence of Angie, his Italian Roman Catholic father, who is part of the mafia and frequently cheats on her. She and Angie actively fight to try and kill each other! She even tries—and fails—to stop Shorty from killing her son.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Carole
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Michael lives in New York, which is presented as being very run down, seedy and run by The Mafia. Ironically, Michael draws his inspiration directly from this environment.
  • Being Personal Isn't Professional: The reason why the Mafia refuses to honor Angie's request to off Michael, citing his reasons as being personal and not business related. Given how much Bakshi despises the Mafia, this is obviously meant to be a satire on the fickle "honor" system used by them.
  • Black Best Friend: Subverted; Carole is Michael's African-American girlfriend.
  • Black Comedy: It's an adult film, but there is a lot of brutal cartoon slapstick and humor sandwiched in.
  • Broken Bird: Ida, if her remembering of the past is a clue. Apparently, she was once happy and, once, loved her husband ("Oh, your father always loved me in this dress."). Obviously, Angie having mafia connections and cheating on her turned her very bitter.
  • Cool Car: The Godfather has one of these.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Snowflake, a very promiscuous transvestite.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Michael.
  • Death by Cameo: A caricature of Ralph gets killed off by Michael during a racket in the movie.
  • Deranged Animation: The whole film is a surreal fantasy loaded with metaphors and symbolism and a load of topical and biographical undertones. And besides the rugged and sometimes bizarre designs, the animation really does get pretty crazy, especially the scene where Michael gets shot, and its nightmarish aftermath.
  • Domestic Abuser: Michael's parents do NOT get along with each other; Ida actively tries to kill Angie, and he fights back in turn.
  • Dysfunction Junction: All of the characters have major personality flaws in some form or another.
  • Fan Disservice: There is a common Running Gag in the film involving older or repulsive women's breasts falling out of their shirts, which they promptly snap back in.
  • Fictional Pinball Game: Michael repeatedly plays a pinball game throughout the movie, in a metaphor for the randomness of existence.
  • Gainax Ending / Bittersweet Ending: The film ends with Michael getting shot in the head by Shorty, which leads to a nightmarish death sequence...and then the film switches to the real life Michael, who, after losing a game of pinball, storms off and then meets up with the real life Carole, dancing with her in the park after bickering with her. The end.
  • Gayngster: Snowflake and his brothers.
  • Generation Xerox: Michael ends up going down a path of crime not unlike his mafioso father, but he doesn't last long in it due to his dad ordering a hit on him for dating Carole.
  • George Jetson Job Security: It's clear that Carole, with her stubborn, no nonsense attitude, just can't hold a job. She quits her first job as a bartender right after bickering with her boss over not protecting Snowflake from being beaten up by patron, and gets fired from her second job shortly after starting it by flashing her gams at an old man (which gave him a heart attack). She and Michael eventually turn to forming a racket so they can make enough money to move out to California. And after the films ending switches to real life, we find out the real Carole has no luck holding a job either.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: There are no real heroes or villains in this story, and few if any of the characters are truly sympathetic—all of them are messed up in some form or another, be it physically or mentally, and have their own personal agendas to carry out.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Shorty hates Michael for Carole preferring a relationship with him over himself (as Carole clearly finds the former unpleasant to be around). This makes Shorty more than willing to carry out Angie's hit on Michael at the end.
  • Handicapped Badass: Shorty, a man who is a double amputee and probably paralyzed from the waist down, but is quite fast on his wooden cart and, given his profession as a bouncer, will kick your ass with his own bare hands.
  • Hypocritical Humor: According to Ida's rant to an unconscious Angie, the latter denied her a divorce because "Catholics don't get divorced", yet, earlier, we see him cheating on her, while she is never shown to be cheating on him.
  • I Have No Son!: Angie, Michael's racist father, tries to get the Mafia to put out a hit on Michael for "disgracing the family" by dating Carole, a black woman. The mafia refuses on the grounds that the hit is personal and not business related, but then Angie meets up with Carole's devoted bouncer Shorty, who is jealous of Carole dating Michael and is more than willing to deliver the hit, which he successfully carries through.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Ida, according to her recollections of the past and as (real life) photos show.
  • Irony: Angie, Michael's dad, is definitely against his son dating Carole, enough to try and order a hit on him for it. It turms out he was right to be suspicious of her, but for an entirely different reason than his racism when Carole drags Michael into running a crime racket together. And just when Michael starts going down a path of crime like his mafia dad before him, Shorty comes along to pull off the hit on the now corrupt Michael.
  • Jerkass: As mentioned above, most of the characters are very callous in personality.
  • Jewish Mother: Ida, though she's more doting than the usual examples.
  • Karmic Death: Shortly after starting a racket with Carole and willingly murdering a man for money, Michael gets shot in the head by his dad's new hitman. Shorty. Of course, it turns out it's literally all in his head.
  • Meaningful Name: The title of the film; the "Heavy" is the dilemmas of life, and the "Traffic" is the people who experience it.
    • Shorty for Carole's bouncer, a man who is functionally short, as he's a double amputee and possibly paralyzed and can only get around on flat wooden cart, which makes him look shorter in comparison.
  • Nighthawks Shot : The painting is homaged in a brief scene late in the film.
  • Offing the Offspring: Angie tries to do this twice in the film. First, he tries and fails to get the Mafia to put a hit on Michael, and the second time, he enlists the aid of Shorty to pull the hit, and he succeeds.
  • Panty Shot: Carole pulls one on purpose during a gig as a Taxi dancer, and to an old man, who literally has a heart attack from the sight, which predictably costs Carole her job.
  • Rage Quit: When the final part of the film switches to live action, Michael smashes apart a pinball machine that he lost at, and storms off.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Some of the scenes in this movie have animated characters over live-action backgrounds; a part has human girls in the backgrounds. However, most of the live action doesn't directly interact with, but compliments the animation.
  • Shout-Out: The loosely drawn comic art seen in parts of the film (notably the "Maybellene" segment) is an homage to the art style of pioneering cartoonists Otto Messmer and George Herriman.
    • After Carole briefly walks out on him, Michael jokingly remarks "Mick Jagger, I'm not."
    • Michael, when posing as Carole's manager, refers to her as "the fourth Andrews Sister", saying they kept her in the background because she was black.
    • The Godfather is obviously inspired by the film of the same name (and is meant to be a jab at its depiction of The Mafia).
  • Soundtrack Dissonance / Standard Snippet: Vivaldi's "Four Seasons: Spring" plays during the entire Godfather sequence.
  • Stealth Pun: In the films ending, Michael gets shot in the head by Shorty, and after the nightmarish death sequence, snaps back to reality in a pinball arcade. In other words, the whole film was "All in his head."
  • Streetwalker:Micheal and Carole meet up with a qaurtet of these, three of which suggest the taxi dancer job.
  • Stripperific: Carole is very skimpily dressed from the waist up.
  • Symbolism: The recurring pinball machine Michael plays is meant to be symbolic of fate and peoples place in the universe, per word of Ralph; that once you step outside, anything can happen, and the only influence you have over the universe is the flippers. Sometimes you make it big and get the high score, other times you have to put another quarter in.
  • Take That!: Ralph Bakshi really dislikes The Mafia, and the film The Godfather. Which is why the Mafia is really portrayed negatively in this and Coonskin.
  • The Worlds Oldest Profession: Carole poses as a prostitute in order to set up a businessman for Michael to kill, so they can both make off with his money.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Carole, with her uncompromising, hardheaded attitude towards her goals, eventually drives Michael along with her into a life of crime to making the money so they can both move to California, even resorting to murder for profit.
  • Underground Comics: Michael is an underground cartoonist. He even tries to get a job at a syndicate by pitching a story to its elderly CEO, but he literally dies upon hearing Michael's very bleak, satirical story idea.
  • Villain Protagonist: Michael becomes this near the end.
  • Your Head Asplode: Michael gets shot in the head by Shorty, and it is depicted in very gruesome detail, all filmed in slow motion. Then it turns out that's just an animated metaphor for Michael losing a game of pinball in real life—and given the films recursive symbolism, losing a game of real life in general.


Example of: