Wizards is a dark animated fantasy in the far-flung future involving the epic struggle of two wizards. Made by animator Ralph Bakshi (of Mighty Mouse and Fritz the Cat fame), the movie was released in 1977. It soon became staple of midnight movies showings. In fact, I first saw it at a midnight movie showing.
Millions of years after an atomic war has wiped out most of the human population, the world is repopulated with elves, fairies, mutants and demons. The elves and fairies live in the light, radiation-free places; the mutants and demons live in the dark, radiation infested places. Two wizards are born into this world: polar opposites, one wizard, Avatar, is good and pure, the other, Blackwolf, is dark and malevolent. Blackwolf sends his armies of demons and mutants to take over what is left of the world, but the elves and fairies always defeat him. Blackwolf then discovers technology and ancient Nazi propaganda films to spur his demon/mutant armies to victory. Avatar realizes what’s at stake and sets out with an elf warrior, a reprogrammed assassin and the queen of the fairies to stop Blackwolf.
The film is interesting for its use of rotoscoping, an animation technique where live action is shot and is used for the basis of the animation to render realistic motion. Since Wizards was made in the mid 1970s, Bakshi used the traditional animation technique of the time: each frame of film (or “cell”) was hand-drawn, then hand-painted, finally being photographed by a motion picture camera, one frame at a time. Today, most animation is digitally rendered using computers; cell animation as an art has been mostly lost.
The film is certainly flawed: over use of narration at the beginning to set the stage. The voice acting is only so-so. There is a tendency to reuse footage. Some of the animation looks kind of cheesy. The film also contains some holdover ideas from hippie culture: violence is always bad, love is all you need to fight evil, etc. The music is kind of cheesy. But these are all artifacts of the time period in which it was made.
Despite being animated, this is not a film for children. It has disturbing, violent images: cute, Disney-esque characters are slaughtered in a hail of bullets. Elves are slaughtered on the battlefield by hideous, malformed mutants and demons. It makes use of Nazi propaganda films, which always send chills up my spine when watching them.
Wizards works well on an emotional level as it is classic good-versus-evil tale. The protagonist, Avatar while good, is definitely flawed: he’s old and tired, crotchety, and not sure he wants to save the world. He is even unsure as the whether the world is worth saving. Blackwolf is an interesting character: while evil, he seems to want what is best for his armies of mutants and demons. He wants to escape the dark which they are all forced to live in and take over the areas of light where the elves and fairies live.
Wizards works despite its flaws. It is an emotionally satisfying exploration into the nature of good versus evil. The final showdown between Avatar and Blackwolf packs an emotional wallop and a clever twist.
Click on the following link to place a hold:
Worth a look if you like edgy, dark futuristic animated fantasy or if you like the idea of a Saturday morning cartoon gone very wrong.
Skip it if hyper-violent imagery gets to you or you think that all animated films should emulate Disney cartoons.