Following the death of their beloved mother, two wizard brothers – the good Avatar (Bob Holt) and the evil Blackwolf (Steve Gravers) – are pitched into a final battle for supremacy, on a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by the nuclear armageddon.
In an interview in the disc extras accompanying the new DVD release of animator Ralph Bakshi’s 1977 animated classic Wizards, the cult director states that in his animation he wanted to get away from the restrictive approach of Disney, where everything is just a bit too perfect. Well, having watched this bizarre, unhinged and trippy excursion into the realms of cartoon fantasy, the viewer will doubtless conclude that he achieved his aim.
Everything about Wizards – from a farfetched and often disturbing storyline, to its less than clean cut approach to the animated art – is the complete antithesis of what people had come to expect up until that time, from mainstream animation. Apart from the occasional offering, frequently from some of the smaller or independent studios, the production of animated feature films was generally the sole domain of Disney. With their clean cut, moralistic tales, they had ensured that a constant stream of wholesome fun had been available for decades of family friendly viewing. Bakshi on the other hand wanted to provide kids with something different, a little darker. Though his tale of the battle between good and bad magic ends in a suitably righteous manner, the film contains some aspects with distinctly adult overtones – scantily clad fairies and ladies of the night to name but two.
With Wizards the devil is in the detail, of what is indeed a rich and varied, visual feast. Though it may not be as sharp around the edges as other animated films, its abstract approach to the futuristic landscapes across which a myriad of wonderful grotesqueries pass, is frequently formless enough not to detract from the action or said characters. Equally though, when towards the climax, the storyline descends within the shadowy environs of the evil Blackwolf’s lair, the unmistakably intricate work of British fantasy artist Ian Miller makes the fortress city of the wicked sorcerer come alive with forbidding menace. However many images, which may initially appear throwaway, will, if noticed, undoubtedly haunt the viewer: the moon on a dark night briefly transforming into a jagged smiled skull as a cloud scuds past, or the Jewish abhorrence of pork none to subtly referenced with a Star of David etched into a dead pig’s carcass prepared for a meal for one of Blackwolf’s minions.
Many of the Jewish references arise from the film’s use of the Nazis and their well known associated imagery, which form the basis of much of the film’s evil. Where Avatar uses nature and good magic to bring lasting harmony to the peaceful kingdom of Montagar and its elfin and fairy citizens, his evil brother Blackwolf rules the land of Scortch and the goblins and wraiths who inhabit it by the power of Nazi propaganda and relics recovered from World War II, bringing fear and dread to both them and the good people of Montagar during a final climatic showdown. These terrors from the Third Reich are introduced in imagery which shows Bakshi’s versatility and originality, using real wartime footage manipulated by animation to bring a chilling realism to the action unfolding on the screen.
Admired by such diverse talents as Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas and Vanilla Ice, Bakshi’s magical, yet disturbing, masterpiece, is so full of fleeting nuances that new and ominous images are thrown up with multiple viewings, insuring its vibrancy and originality for years to come.
Fabulous Films’ DVD release of Wizards comes with a host of extras, including feature length audio commentary by Bakshi himself, as well as an exclusive interview with the legendary director.
Cleaver Patterson (@Cleaver68 / @ScreenAndGone)