Review for Wizards
Clear your throat, get your husky voice-over voice primed and prepare for the ride of your life: 'There will come a time on the planet earth when science and technology will be long forgotten, when humanity will rise from the ashes of nuclear holocaust, when wizards will rule the world!'
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, nineteen-seventy-seven was a seminal year for fantasy. There were rogues, lightsabers and starships but there were also fairies, elves and dwarfs. It was the year that the 'legendary animator' Ralph Bakshi released Wizards - 'the ultimate futuristic fantasy epic', two weeks before George Lucas opened Star Wars. Wizards was an instant hit - catapulting animation into a new dimension. In all its gigantic globalising glory, it was the deathstar, which eclipsed the success of this imaginative low-budget film. Thanks to the DVD distributor Eureka Entertainment, we can rediscover this splendid post-apocalyptic battle between two warring wizards.
Avatar and Blackwolf are immortal enemies. Avatar the good rules the peaceful kingdom of Montagar while his evil brother Blackwolf rules the chaotic kingdom of Scortch. It is here that Blackwolf discovers relics of the past: the ancient secrets of Nazi propaganda, the destructive power of technology and the harsh realities of war. Avatar, princess Elinore, Peace and Weehawk must stop Blackwolf and his mutant army before they enslave the magical land of Montagar. It is a fight between fairies and sorcerers, elves and demons, magic and technology…
Ralph Bakshi was on fire during the 1970s and early 1980s. His animation was not your usual Saturday morning farce. His cartoons were political subversions - in your face animations that criticised the crumbling state of society. It started in 1972 with the first X-rated cartoon, Fritz the Cat. It was a time of counter cultural creativity and nobody could stop him. Setting up his own independent production company Bakshi moved between urbane stories of life: Heavy Traffic (1973), Coonskin (1975), American Pop (1981), and Hey Good Lookin' (1982), to tales of fantasy: Wizards, Lord of the Rings (1978) and Fire and Ice (1983). Like all successful and subversive storytellers Bakshi's passion for animation faltered when the winds began to change. Due to the increase of conveyer-belt trash and Disney-style productivity, animation died its death. It no longer challenged the rigid notions of what it meant to put pictures together to create movement. The mix of live action and cell animation finally put the nail into Bakshi's multi-coloured coffin. After a nine-year hiatus, Cool World (1992) with Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger was a mangled, studio-butchered mess. Bakshi has been in self-imposed exile ever since.
At the height of his crazy career as a cartoonist, Bakshi was the Alan Moore of animation. He did things animators would never attempt or even imagine. There is a perfect illustration of this in Wizards when Blackwolf turns an innocent Bambi-like creature into a distorted dragon-like monster. Bakshi subverted the Disney-toned medium by reinventing it with a razor-sharp and revolutionary edge. He took animation to a new radical level with Wizards. By blending adult themes with child-like sensibilities, Bakshi dealt out bleak nightmares with a shrewd smile.
There is a brutal honesty to Wizards. It does not shy away from the carnage and frenzy of conflict and it asks its PG audience to confront complicated issues like Nazism and propaganda. The stock footage of Nazi soldiers juxtaposed against animated characters shocked by what they see creates a mesmerising and chilling effect. Fantasy is an interesting way to reflect our way of life - Wizards does this in a post-apocalyptic milieu. It is a great fable of morality. As Bakshi says, 'when there is too much technology, we lose magic'.
Special Features: we get a commentary by Bakshi, a music and effects track, a 34-minute featurette, two trailers, a TV spot and a stills gallery.
Trivia: Susan Tyrell who provided the voice-over narration also did the voice-over for George Romero's Document of the Dead.
Verdict: The mesmerising mix of cell animation, live action footage and painted background is a perfect blend. Much like Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, the exaggerated colour design and psychedelic palette is kaleidoscopic. It is not devoid of characterisation like the majority of CGI - the rough animation may be primitive by today's standards but it oozes soul. This wacky, existential and avant-garde cartoon also has a harrowing and heartfelt core.
'It doesn't matter how slick it is, if it has heart' (Ralph Bakshi)