Welcome to the First installment of Bakshi month. Every week in the month of October, I will be reviewing four movies by animation legend Ralph Bakshi, and those movies are Wizards, Fire and Ice, American Pop, and Lord of the Rings. (I was going to do Fritz the Cat, but parts of it on YouTube are missing and, in all honesty, I’m kind of scared to watch Fritz the Cat.) So let’s start with the first movie in our line-up, Wizards.
Millions of years have passed after the Earth was virtually destroyed by nuclear holocaust. The few remaining survivors have either evolved into hideous mutants or magical beings like elves and fairies who have outlawed technology in favor of magic. After millennia of peace, the evil wizard Dark Wolf has discovered ancient technology, including some old World War II propaganda film, to begin his conquest of the world. The only one who can stop him is his brother, the good wizard Avatar, who, with the help of an elfin prince, a scantily clad fairy, and one of Dark Wolf’s reprogrammed robots, must travel to the land of Scorth to stop the dark wizard once and for all.
If there’s one thing that Ralph Bakshi films and fantasy movies have in common, it’s that you have to check your brain at the door if you have any hopes of enjoying them. That’s not to say it’s required for all fantasy films. Hell, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is among my all time favorites, pretty much got it all down to a tee. (Then again, they were based upon the book by which all fantasy media is measured.) But I’m getting ahead of myself here; this is Wizards we’re talking about! And Lord of the Rings this is not.
The animation is average and typical for the style of the 70’s. The character designs are bordering on the lines of cartoonish and gritty, since this was around the point where Bakshi was gravitating toward more realistic art styles. The backgrounds and settings are mostly water color based and are very inventive and eye-catching. The land of Scorthin in particular kind of reminds me of something you’d see on the cover of a Yes or Dream Theater album cover. The character designs on the other hand aren’t quite up to the caliber that we’ll see in Fire and Ice or American Pop, but still distinguishable and fitting for this movie. Avatar looks more like a cereal mascot than an all-powerful wizard, Dark Wolf actually reminds me of like a hybrid of a dark wizard and a zombie, Necron 99 kind of looks like Bender from Futurama (some say that Bender’s design was actually based on this), and Elinore, like most of the women in Bakshi’s movies, has to wear an incredibly skimpy outfit with her nipples poking out. If you haven’t seen a Bakshi movie, this is typical.
Since this movie was made on a pretty low budget, they did a decent job considering what they had to work with. Battlescenes in particular are quite costly in animation, so when faced with this dilemma, Bakshi fell back on one of his most used tricks: rotoscoping. Whenever there’s an epic battle (and by epic, I mean disjointed and haphazard) expect to see some neon colored World War II stock footage and a few missing key shots here and there. It’s a trick that Bakshi has used in most of his movies, and we’ll see a lot more of it when we get into American Pop and Lord of the Rings. Apparently, Fox hadn’t given him enough money for production, so this results in not just the superimposed stock footage, but in some of the big battles being unfinished.
A lot of people who saw this complained that the characters were all idiots, but I think they’re more of a mixed bag. Avatar himself comes across as lazy and lackluster, but he’s kind of like a beatnik wizard who’s mostly just tired of having to deal with his brother for so long and just wants a break from it all. I mean, come on, he said that there have been no wars in 10 million years. These people must be bored shitless! Plus, added with his age, long period of inactivity and lack of ambition, many have dismissed him as a has-been whose best years are behind him. True, his nonchalant attitude about saving the world only adds emphasis to his accusations, but throughout the movie, especially toward the third act, he shows that everything he does has a purpose even though the payoff may seem delayed, but he always seems to have another trick up his sleeve.
Necron 99/Peace is another interesting character and he ends up getting the most development out of anyone in the movie. When we first meet him, he’s Dark Wolf’s most trusted servant, a fiercely loyal killing machine programmed to assassinate anyone who abides to the laws of magic. Once Avatar and the gang get a hold of him and reprogram him, he starts to gravitate toward the side of good, but is still under Dark Wolf’s influence, leaving him conflicted throughout the movie, and thus making him a very sympathetic character.
Weehawk, the elf prince of Montagar, is kind of a badass despite being small and having the worst voice actor in the cast. (Although to his credit, he’s one hell of a screamer.) But sometimes he comes across as a douchebag despite having his reasons.
And Elinore just stands there and looks hot. That’s about it.
This is by and large another one of Bakshi’s movies that tries to have a “message” tied to it similar to Cool World, but the execution is really rough and inconsistent. The theme of nature vs. technology is nothing new nowadays, but was rarely touched upon in a time before shows and movies were waving it around as a distraction for its pretension. (I’m looking at you Battlestar Galactica.) It begins as an anti-war movie but gets constantly distracted and bombards the viewer with side quests that ultimately lead to nowhere and don’t make any sense, another problem that I also had with Cool World.
However, I have to hand it to Bakshi for making up for his lack of resources with a lot of heart and a lot of love in rampant abundance. The most successful portions of this film are the side-vignettes showcasing the ridiculous villains. The scenes in “Skortch” are wonderfully gloomy and campy, complemented quite well by Andrew Belling’s excellent (though at times quite dated) score. A lot of the vignettes are quite funny, though the success and amount of humor follows with the rest of the film’s elements as being quite inconsistent.
So what it all comes down to is that while Wizards wasn’t perfect, it was a step in the right direction and a good foreshadowing for things to come. This was the turning point for Bakshi where he was leaning away from the crude vulgarity of his early work and was finally starting to come into his own. It’s the halfway point between these two eras and elements of both are plentiful, but don’t really juxtapose as well as they could have. Yes it’s distracting at times and it can interfere with the plot, but this was a learning experience for Bakshi that he needed before he could finally get to the good stuff.
I give Wizards 6/10.