Jim Connell as The President
Steve Gravers as Blackwolf
Angelo Grisanti as Frog
Mark Hamill as Sean
Peter Hobbs as General
Bob Holt as Avatar
David Proval as Peace
Richard Romanus as Weehawk
Tina Romanus as Prostitute
Barbara Sloane as Fairy
Christopher Tayback as Peewhitlle
Susan Tyrrell as Narrator
Jesse Welles as Elinore
Hyman Wien as The Priest
Commentary by director Ralph Bakshi
“Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation” featurette
Running Time: 80 Minutes
This film originally hit theaters in 1977 two weeks before Star Wars.
Two million years after nuclear war devastated the earth, humans and mutants now rule the land. But they are joined by magical creatures that have emerged from hiding elves, fairies, goblins, and wraiths. Two brothers now rule over separate factions on the planet. The kindly Avatar is the sorcerer-ruler over Montagar, a land dominated by magic. The evil, power-hungry Blackwolf rules Scortch, a land filled with evil creatures and the last remaining pieces of technology. After finding old footage of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, Blackwolf is inspired to pattern his goblin armies after the mad dictator. Using ancient war machines and dark magic, he invades the magical realms under the banner of the swastika.
After having captured a robot assassin from Blackwolf, Avatar comes up with a plan to stop his evil twin brother. The old sorcerer, a fairy, an elf, and the reprogrammed robot, now named ‘Peace’, go on a quest into the deepest realms of Scortch to stop the forces of evil and technology and restore magic and peace to the land.
Wizards is rated PG.
I had never seen Wizards before, but I had seen the movie artwork on video store shelves many moons ago. Something about the lone rider on the beast with a gun attracted me, but I never rented the film. Now, after having seen it, I can understand why I had never heard of it before. Despite an intriguing concept, Wizards is an utter failure on every front.
This film is essentially what a geek wearing elf ears at a sci-fi / fantasy convention would come up with if you asked him to make a movie. (Being a geek that attends conventions, I know what I’m talking about.) It is a frantic, hodge-podge mix of The Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, and political and religious statements by writer / producer / director Ralph Bakshi. (Ironically, Bakshi would go on to make the Lord of the Rings animated film the following year.) The idea of having goblins driving WWII era tanks into battle might seem like a cool idea in theory, but it simply doesn’t work at all here. One moment you have a dark, gritty, violent sci-fi moment, the next you have cute fairies and elves that look like they have stumbled out of a Thumbelina cartoon. Another example of this is the robot ‘Peace’ character. He starts out seeming like Boba Fett’s long lost brother as he hunts down elves. However, he soon turns into a bumbling idiot with a voice like Adam from Northern Exposure. Throw in elves with Brooklyn accents, fantasy mumbo-jumbo, and an incoherent plot and you have two great genres that don’t taste great together.
This film is also not for kids. Despite the animation and look being very attractive to the younger crowd, it is not appropriate for them. Ralph Bakshi is well known for doing “adult” animation, and that’s what he’s done here though he apparently intended it for kids. While adult animation is a cool idea, it’s probably better left to anime. Bakshi isn’t able to put something together that’s entertaining for children or adults. For example, the scantily clad fairy constantly displays nipples through what little clothes she wears. This is definitely done for the teen sex starved convention-goers previously mentioned, not for a 5 year old who like fairies like Tinkerbell. However, as adult at that is, there are lame cartoon jokes, cute characters, and other things that I can’t possibly see being aimed at anyone other than children. It’s this schizophrenic mess that makes it unentertaining for adults and children alike.
The animation is just as an eclectic mix as everything else in the film. It ranges from still drawings to live action to rotoscoped footage to traditional hand drawn animation. (The rotoscoped footage was reportedly ripped off of Zulu, Patton, El Cid, and Battle Of The Bulge.) I don’t mind variety in animation. In fact, I enjoy it. But here it doesn’t work. The animation looks like old, bad Filmation animation from old TV shows. The footage of elves battling rotoscoped Nazis and tanks doesn’t look good. Combine this with bad sound effects, bad music, and a weak plot and it’s a really bad experience.
Finally, I’m not quite sure what political message Bakshi was trying to get across, but he wasn’t successful. The movie is definitely anti-war and anti-technology, but the battles in the film are particularly gory and the whole conflict ends up being resolved by Avatar, the proponent of magic, using gun to blow away Blackwolf. It seems contrary to everything the movie was trying to make a point about. Then there’s a scene where a Nazi monster is feasting upon the corpse of a pig. The pig is then rotated and you see a Jewish Star of David on the pig. While I think Bakshi was trying to make some sort of political statement with that, I imagine Jews would find it offensive. It’s the same later on in the movie when he mocks other religions.
Watching Wizards was tough not only because it was so bad, but because it was so close to being good so often. Every time things started getting cool in the film, it went weird again. Every time it was building up to some potentially great moment, it fell flat. And while my kids were very interested in coming in and seeing this movie, I had to turn them away when things turned ‘adult’. Overall, it just didn’t work at all.
There are a couple of extras included on this DVD. Here are the highlights:
“Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation” featurette This video features Ralph Bakshi talking about his life, how he got into animation, and his thinking behind Wizards. He repeatedly says how he intended it to be a children’s film (which seems laughable after seeing it) and says his stuff is as good as anything that Disney put out (which I would dispute). Though I didn’t like his film, he is an interesting character to listen to. With a voice that sounds like a cartoon character, he tells interesting stories about his lead animators, how he worked at Terrytoons, and how his film was originally titled “War Wizards” but was retitled to “Wizards” because of another little Fox film named “Star Wars”. Bakshi has other things to say about George Lucas and Mark Hamill which I, as a Star Wars fan, found interesting.
Commentary by director Ralph Bakshi Bakshi provides the commentary for the film. He reiterates a lot of what he says in the previous feature, but he gets more into detail about the animation and artwork in the film. He also provides a couple of anecdotes about his Lord of the Rings film, Mark Hamill, and other things. If you’re into the film or interested in animation, he’s probably worth listening to.
The Bottom Line:
Wizards has a VERY limited audience and chances are you’re not part of it. I would only recommend it to animation fans and hardcore fantasy fans. Everyone else should just steer clear of it.