It’s easy to admire Ralph Bakshi. He was one of the few animators working in the 1970’s and 80’s free from Walt Disney, free to make R-rated cartoons, and films that weren’t as kid-centric – he was a pioneer that had few followers (at least in America). But often his films – like his version of Fritz the Cat – have moments of interest, but are often cheap and not that good or funny. 1977’s Wizards was his attempt to do commercial work. It was a PG fantasy film for 20th Century Fox (as it came out in February, it is possible it was done to cash in on the success of Star Wars, but the timing is a little awkward) meant to be his entry into the mainstream world. It worked; it led to his version of Lord of the Rings. But with the Blu-ray release of Wizards for its 35th Anniversary, it’s a slap-shod fantasy fable with moments of interest, but is ultimately weak. Our review of the Blu-ray follows after the jump.
After a number of nuclear wars, the world has been ravaged, and magic has returned to humanity. Many are still poisoned by the toxic waste, but there’s a division between the healthy people and the evil mutants. Born into this world are twins: Avatar (voiced by Bob Holt) and Blackwolf (Steve Gravers) who eventually fight for control of the world. Blackthorn has collected relics of the previous generations, and uses Nazi propaganda to finally motivate his troops into battle.
He also sends scouts to kill Avatar, headed up by Peace (David Proval). An elf named Weehawk (Richard Romanus) tries to stop Peace, but he finds Avatar, only for the powerful wizard to reprogram Peace into a scout for his side. Going with Weehawk, Peace, and fairy queen Elinore (Jesse Welles), the four plan to confront Blackwolf. As battles rage, the four make their way to Blackwolf’s stronghold, with a number of adventures along the way.
The blueprint is there for a good fantasy film, and this was more-warm up for Lord of the Rings than rip-off of Star Wars. The film mixes genres – with weaponry also a part of the swords and sorcery – but Bakshi’s vision is so cheap that it’s hard to find much to love. How cheap? There are a number of sequences presented in still form, and this seems to make up a good chunk of the running time. I’m less bothered by his rotoscoped action sequences, but the animation is scrappy throughout, and that would be more appealing if the story weren’t so generic. What’s great about fantasy worlds is often the world-building, and though there are some interesting character designs, so much of the animation is threadbare, with barren backgrounds. There is an attempt to weave many things from the 20th Century into the film, but laying heavily on Nazi imagery to give the violence punch defeats so much.
And then there’s Elinore, who spends all but two scenes in a Barbarella outfit with prominent nipples. Such a weird movie that seems partly for children. William Goss described Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole as “the most bitchin’ piece of ’70s van art that you’ve never seen” and this feels like the van art you might have seen – it feels like the first shot across the bow of Van art cinema (which a friend groaningly nicknamed “aVANnt garde”), to which films like Sucker Punch and The Immortals seem to belong. All films feature things that seem to be cool, things that should be awesome, but are sadly uncool in the end.
20th Century Fox presents the film in widescreen (1.85:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio. The presentation is excellent, though there are marks and scuffs that are more than likely part of the source material. But as it’s animation, it doesn’t feel scrubbed unnecessarily. The film comes with a commentary by Bakshi and he walks through the making of the movie, and his thoughts on the film. It’s a good track. It’s complimented by “Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation” (34 min.) which has Bakshi talking about his career, how he found his way into the work, and then focuses on this film. There’s also two trailers, a TV spot, a still gallery and bonus trailers.