Today I watched Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977)
Some two million years after a nuclear holocaust, the irradiated world has been overrun by mutants. But while the mutants inhabit the irradiated wastes, a small territory of untainted land gives rise to elves, faeries, and other fantasy beings. The queen of the faeries gives birth to two children, both wizards but diametrically opposed in alignment, the good one is named Avatar and the evil, Blackwolf. When the queen finally passes away, Blackwolf attempts to seize power but is defeated by his goodly brother and Blackwolf is banished. Blackwolf comes to rule the mutants of Scorch and gathers to him a great army of goblins and goons. Blackwolf’s armies are initially unsuccessful though as he fails to give his warriors a reason to fight. One day Blackwolf discovers a film projector and reels of Nazi propaganda, giving him the inspiration for a new campaign. This sets off a great war between the magic loving elves and Blackwolf’s technologically endowed military and it is up to Avatar to find a way to end the bloodshed.
Wizards is an excellent showcase of Bakshi’s collage like style, both in visuals and in narrative structure. The designs in this film come from numerous styles and are animated with an equally diverse number of techniques, from rotoscoped WWII footage of Nazi soldiers to traditionally animated cartoon elves. The soundtrack bounces between classic American jazz and experimental electronic effects to match the diversity of imagery. The plot contains many momentary asides and little episodes that break up the main plot with comedic sketches like the famous ‘They Killed Fritz!’ scene. It all comes together like a pastiche of pre-created imagery and themes, a collage in film form and one of the most effective examples of that style.
Thematically the film deals with many aspects of the modern world, from warfare and propaganda to the dangers of technology and rapid modernization. It’s design, most notably the music and the prevalence of New York accents marks these themes out as explicitly and pointedly American in tone. While the beginning seems rather one sided in terms of the grand argument it portrays, the ending casts a marvelous air of ambiguity over everything. It pretends to be black and white, until revealing it was all grey.
Wizards is a fantastic piece of film, a fantasy collage of imagery drawn straight from the American zeitgeist. That aforementioned collage is indeed drawn from other works, warriors from films like Zulu and Alexander Nevsky, and this ties Bakshi to the early American remix culture. The film’s designs are unmistakable and iconic, strange yet oddly familiar. Wizards is a grand achievement in American animation and there is not much else out there like it. It’s magnificent and creative visuals alone should be reason enough to see it. 5/5