Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Wizards by Ralph BakshiRalph Bakshi’s Wizards isn’t a good movie, but it’s one that captured my interest a long time ago, when I saw the poster at my best friend’s house, on his older brother’s wall. The crimson-clad robot assassin, Necron 99 — later renamed “Peace” — on his two-legged steed was enough to cement the movie in my mind for years.

I didn’t see it for years though. I knew it wasn’t a family film; it was the kind of animated film college kids saw. The poster certainly had a sinister edge.

When I finally did see the film, it had a world devastated by nuclear war, demonic-looking mutants, Nazi propaganda-film footage, machine-guns mowing down elves — and a not-particularly attractive fairy/elf princess in a really skimpy outfit, with her nipples prominently poking through, at all times, from all angles. Even as a teenage guy I found that tasteless.

The style mixes incongruent elements: beautiful still images, clearly very drawn, on a “natural” beige background; “good” animation; “bad” almost Dr. Seussian animation; old Nazi propaganda footage; and some really, really crude rotoscoping, where Bakshi took old footage from El Cid, Zulu, and various WWII collections, cranked up the contrast (like a bad Xerox), and maybe painted horns or glowing eyes on the characters.

Add a painfully facile story, where the happy, technology-free elves defend themselves against the mutant wizard who’s discovered Nazi propaganda, and, well, it’s not that great a movie. Here’s how Alan E. Rapp, on Amazon, described it:

Middle Earth fairies, elves, and magic emerge from the “good lands,” while dimwitted mutants with poor comic timing emerge from the nuclear wastes. In the ultimate confrontation between good and evil, a hippie-ish wizard named Avatar defends his utopia against the technological and neo-Nazi revival of his bad-seed twin, Blackwolf. With volleys of jokes that couldn’t hit a barn door, elves with Brooklyn accents, and the dubious climax that sees the kindly old wizard using one of the hated machines of war to triumph over evil, Wizards is one of fantasy animation’s least successful examples.

But I bought the DVD anyway. It was $9.99.

And the fascinating part is the interview with Bakshi, where he explains that, after some of his controversial works (Fritz the Cat, Coonskin), he wanted to do a family film, an “honest” family film, unlike Disney’s corporate creations.

Wizards was that family film.

Further, he admits that he resorted to rotoscoping when he ran out of money — but he was very happy with the results, and he was very happy with the mix of styles that went into the movie. He even complained a bit about Disney films, with their monotonous single style per film.

Anyway, Wizards came out in 1977 and opened well for an animated film, making most of its money back in the first week or two. Then Star Wars opened. Wizards got pulled from most screens to make way for the biggest film sensation of the century.

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