Chainsaw Cheerleader Reviews: Wizards (1977)

Directed by: Ralph Bakshi

Written by: Ralph Bakshi

Narrated by: Susan Tyrrell

Cast: Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, James Connell, Steve Gravers, Mark Hamill

Genre: animation, sci-fi adventure, fantasy

Fairy Child: Where’s Daddy? What’s he doing?
Fairy: He is guarding our home, son.
Fairy: There has been a war, and this land is lost.
Fairy Child: Why can’t we fight and win, Mommy?
Fairy: Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love.

Ralph Bakshi, a politically adult oriented animator of such films as Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin, was given the challenge to create a family film that did not attract controversy. Bakshi, wanting to prove that he could create a family film that had the same tone of his adult oriented animations, accepted the challenge. From this decision, Bakshi would go on to animate his first animated fantasy film and now cult classic, Wizards.

Wizards takes place two million years into the future after the Earth was annihilated by nuclear war. As the  radiation settles and allows life to prosper once again, elves, fairies, and dwarves return to the Earth. After the last of the humans has died or mutated into monsters, the true ancestors of man begin a 3,000 year celebration of peace. It is during this celebration that the queen of the fairies falls under a trance and gives birth to twin wizards, Avatar (Bob Holt) and Blackwolf (Steve Gravers). While Avatar is peaceful, his brother Blackwolf plots world domination. After being banished to live with the former humans, now mutants, Blackwolf tries but ultimately fails to capture fairy territory. Realizing that the mutants  lack passion, Blackwolf excavates ancient military sites looking for the proper incentive. Soon, Blackwolf unearths the most powerful weapon of all, propaganda. After restoring ancient technology, a 35mm projector, Blackwolf  inspires the mutants with reels of Nazi propaganda footage. With the rediscovery of Adolf Hitler, Avatar must fight his way to the castle of his brother and defeat him. An over sexualized fairy queen, a rage-filled elf, and a robot that rebels against his creator, Blackwolf, aid Avatar in his quest.

While, Wizards is considered a psychedelic figurative comment on the moral objectivity of technology and the destructive force that is propaganda, it is also a reflection on our past that may be considered slightly more innocent then when compared to the use of nuclear weapons. In the film, technology is seen as a force of evil but also as a needed good. The evil comes in the form of propaganda and various tools of war (guns, tanks, aircraft). On the other hand, Avatar must use technology in order to save not only himself but the world. Bakshi agreed with this but also stated that Wizards was about the creation of the state of Israel, the Holocaust, and the Jews looking for a homeland while fascism seemed very present in the climate of 1977.

If compared to the computer animation of today, Wizards would fail miserably. Two factors that contributed to this is the severe lack of funding and a polished creation has never been Bakshi’s style. Often the artwork of Wizards ranges from powerful to poor. Along with the help of illustrator Ian Miller (Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering, and other role playing games) and comic book artist Mike Ploog (Ghost Rider, Heavy Metal, Kull the Destroyer), Bakshi was able to save the film through the use of his own money and rotoscoping. It is due to this film and the animated Lord of the Rings series that rotoscoping has become a trademark of Bakshi. Perfecting the art of tracing over live-action film movement, Bakshi painted the footage of advancing Nazi armies. This style sets a striking contrast to the child’s cartoon style animation of the fairy folk and their kin. Relying heavily on recycled cels and stills, Wizards has used this disadvantage to help define the most visually striking aspect of the film, the war scenes. The combination of different styles of animation and stock footage from World War II,  makes the war scenes appear frantic or chaotic. By doing this, the art helps emphasize the toll of war.

Wizards had a budget of $1.2 million. Newer films such as Toy Story 3 cost $200 million and How to Train Your Dragon cost $165 million. While the budget differences are remarkable and yes, one must account for inflation and the platform in which the films were created, it is questionable whether or not this major funding will push these two films into cult status. Wizards is not a cult classic because of its low budget or the fact that a lack of funding did impact the film. It is a classic because its mashing of different art styles, its timeless storyline, and that it can be enjoyed by both the adult and the child. At its very core, Wizards is a testament to every artiest, writer, and director that creativity does not come with a price tag. Bakshi is an excellent example of the will overcoming the means.  He did indeed cut corners but did so in a manner that did not affect the movie. One example of this is in order to save money and supplies, Bakshi drew the horses in the film with two feet instead of four. Since the film has a psychedelic feel, this animation short cut seems plausible. Throughout the entire film, Bakshi enforced cost saving measures but proved that it is not always the budget that makes the film.

The 1970’s was defined by the anti-war movement and from this came psychedelic cultural tones that not only shaped a generation but the art they created. It is because of this that Wizards is liberated from previous definitions of what should be expected from art and the cartoon. While not a masterpiece, it is still incredibly visually appealing. Suffering at time from weak voice work and apparent drawing mistakes, Wizards is a neatly packaged film that easily combines science fiction and fantasy. Even though the film focuses on social commentary, it also delivers an nice array of slapstick and violence.

The concept of fairies and elves fighting the wrath of Adolf Hitler may seem ludicrous but war in itself is ludicrous. Wizards is a reminder as to why we should learn about history, so that we may learn from it.

Wizards receives a 8 out of 10


3 Responses to “Chainsaw Cheerleader Reviews: Wizards (1977)”

  1. I like art like this compared to computerized over polished stuff we see today. I like the old Lord of the Rings cartoons as well. $1.2 million still seems like alot of money to me!

    • chainsawcheerleader Says:

      Of course $1.2 million seems like a lot of money to us. We’re all poor. Thats chump change for Hollywood.

  2. I’ve been wanting to see this since I was a kid. I don’t know how many times I’d pick the box up at the video store and then end up getting something else. I always liked Bakshi’s style, especially in Lord of the Rings. This actually sounds more complex than I expected. Maybe I’ll finally watch this on Netflix.

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