Director: Ralph Bakshi
Cast: Jesse Welles, Bob Holt, Richard Romanus
Review by Brian M. Sammons
I loved this weird, animated movie from the mind of the man that would give us the first Lord Of The Rings movie, not to mention the first X Rated cartoon, Fritz The Cat (both of which were also animated). It was a movie about magic vs. technology and was mid-’70s trippy in a mildly psychedelic way. It dealt with themes of war and sex and was so unlike all the Disney stuff I was being spoon fed at the time that it blew my mind. No, it wasn’t gratuitous like Anime often is. It didn’t have to be. It was mature without being obscene and gave its audience a lot of credit by assuming that they could handle such things. That’s something that sadly seems lacking these days. I mean, when did PG (as this movie was rated) become synonymous with tame, toothless, tasteless, toddler fair? Less we forget, but Jaws was rated PG and that had blood, bad language, death, terror and *gasp* nudity! Oh dear lord, think of the children! But I digress, and I’m about to go into a rant, so let’s get back to the magic that is Wizards.
The film sure doesn’t begin as a kid friendly cartoon, with terrorists setting off a nuke that starts a nuclear war that all but destroys the world. The destruction was so vast that only a handful of humanity survive the million-year-long nuclear winter. The rest of mankind becomes grotesque mutants of all hideous shapes and sizes. But in time, hope rises out of the ashes in the form of elves, fairies, dwarves, and other magical creatures that have returned after a long slumber. Into this wonderfully weird world of sword and sorcery fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, two brothers are born with great power that are diametrically opposed to each other. There’s Avatar, the kindly, good, child and poor Blackwolf, with his skeletal arms, red eyes, and heart full of evil. These brothers are the titular wizards and their struggle is at the heart of this movie.
While Avatar embraces the peaceful ways of magic, Blackwolf goes to the wastelands, rallies the mutants to his cause, and starts digging in the rubble for lost bits of technology to bolster his army. There the evil wizard finds guns, tanks, and plans, but his most powerful weapon is film. Yes a film; a collection of Nazi propaganda movies, war footage, and speeches by Hitler. Blackwolf projects these movies in the sky over battlefields to fill his hate-filled mutants with bloodlust, and to strike fear into his peace loving enemies who have never witnessed such things.
Pretty heavy stuff for a cartoon, huh? Well add to that humor that will probably sail over the heads of most kids, and often cutting comments on war, man’s reliance on technology, racism, and even religion. Tie it all together with unique character design and more styles of animation than you can shake a bony arm at. There’s still illustrations carried by effective narration, traditional hand-drawn animation, highly detailed black ink backgrounds, rotoscoped (animation traced over live-action scenes) battles, and even regular old black and white footage from the aforementioned Nazi films. Disney, or anyone else for that matter, would never dare to mix all these different styles together. While I would not want all animated movies to follow this path, it was a nice change of pace from the usual.
The new Blu-ray from Twentieth Century Fox is as pretty a package befitting such a visually unique film. It comes in a small, hardcover booklet-case with 24 pages of info, history, and full color illustrations and concept art. As for the on-disc extras, there’s a commentary track with Ralph Bakshi that’s pretty good along with a 34 minute interview with the same man that goes in depth about his background in animation and why he came up with Wizards. Trailers, TV spots, still galleries round out the admittedly short list of special features. Sure there could have been more, but for a thirty-five year old film that has been largely forgotten by today’s audience, I was impressed that it had as many extras as it did.
Wizards is a trippy, surreal, fantastic fantasy if there ever was one. While rated PG and suitable for most kids, it’s not dumbed down for them. Children will like the silly cartoon characters and adults will like the surprisingly mature sci-fi and fantasy tale. For a great example of “they just don’t make ’em like that anymore” and why that’s a very sad thing, give Wizards a watch. I’m betting you’ll dig it.