03 January, 2010


One of the things I got for Christmas was a DVD of the Ralph Bakshi animated film Wizards. This is a film that I distinctly remember watching when I was quite young, yet I remembered very little of it in detail before re-watching it. And now having done so, I'm very impressed with how good it [still] is.

I also watched the interview with Ralph Bakshi that is included in the special features on the DVD, and is very illuminating. He is obviously very proud of this project. I appreciated his jabs at Disney, and I enjoyed hearing about his approach to creating an animated film, which I absolutely respect.

It's hard to say whether Wizards is a film for kids or adults, because it's basically a standard fairy tale, but with some decidedly adult elements. The way Bakshi describes it, he wanted to create "cartoons" for the family, but (as opposed to the Disney method) he didn't want to sugar up the subject matter and patronize children by kiddifying everything. He was also concerned about being able to make animation to his tastes without being forced into the paradigm of what a "cartoon movie" should be.

The setup for Wizards is pretty dark to begin with. Despite being a fantasy story, it takes place far into the future rather than the past. Thousands of years after the world has been devastated by nuclear holocaust, the last remnants of humanity are mutated beyond recognition, and, with the burying of technology, magic is revived and the fairies/elves/dwarves/etc. return to the land (well, the good parts of the land).

Two brothers are born, one good and one evil, who each become powerful wizards, and are destined to battle one another for the fate of the world. All of this back story is narrated wonderfully by Susan Tyrrell, whose voice just fits the mood perfectly.

And for what is supposedly intended to be a "family" movie, this one pulls no punches. The violence and sexual innuendo is presented shamelessly. And need we even speak of the Nazis? Yes, Nazis. It's one thing to make the monstrous and demonic army of the evil wizard a symbolic reference to the Nazis of WWII, but to actually come right out and have that evil wizard use recovered Nazi propaganda, featuring Hitler himself, to motivate his troops and demoralize his enemies? That's badass.

And the animation style. See "rotoscoping". You might think that the usage of stock footage of Nazi propaganda in an animated film just wouldn't work. But not only does it work here, it's perfect! In the interview, Ralph Bakshi talks about how he had no specific desire to give the film a consistent (read: boring) animation style. And the style changes throughout the film, but again, it works. Visually, this film feels like a treat, not because the animation is finely polished, but because it's just so wild and out there. Rather than sensing the undeniable budget constraints, I instead get the impression that the film is liberated to freely explore outside the limits of traditional one-track animation.

And above all, it's a product of the seventies. I won't even go into the serious issues that are brought up by this film, not least of all the magic vs. technology debate, as that would require a more detailed analysis of the story. But the bottom line is, as a person who's not often impressed by American animated features, much less those that have a reputation (if not total) for being a kids' title, Wizards unhesitatingly gets my nod of approval.

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