Wizards (1975) – By Duane L. Martin

Animator Ralph Bakshi, in 1975, pitched an idea for a sci-fi / fantasy animated film to Fox. Fox at this point hadn’t produced any animated films, and gave Bakshi the green light for the project. Bakshi, stunned at the acceptance of his idea, took his wife on vacation to the Grand Tetons, and spent the entire week writing the film. When he got back home, he presented what he had written to Fox, and once again, they gave him the green light to put it into production.

During the production of the film, he had to put up $50,000 of his own money to get the production finished after a union wage increase put them over budget. He approached the studio for the money and was told to come up with the money on his own. George Lucas, who was making Star Wars at the time at the same studio, ran into the same problem and was told the same thing, only his shortfall was far greater. So at George Lucas’ suggestion, Bakshi did what Lucas did. He came up with the money on his own, but negotiated a bigger back end percentage to make up for it. Finally, the film was completed, but unfortunately it was released about the same time as Star Wars, and was edged out of many theaters who showed the hugely popular Star Wars on multiple screens. It didn’t do bad though. It cost about a million to make and ended up grossing about nine million, and in the process, became a cult classic.

Bakshi is largely known for films like Fritz the Cat, the first animated film to receive an X rating, and The Lord of the Rings (animated version), which is famous for using the rotoscope method of animation. This film also uses the rotoscope method for the forces of facism and evil, but it uses a modified version of the process.

This particular film is a post apocalyptic sci-fi / fantasy film that takes place in the far distant future. Five terrorists had set off the first blast that started a global nuclear war. Humanity was nearly destroyed in the aftermath. It took nearly two million years for the clouds to start clearing, allowing in some sunlight. By then, only a handful of humans had survived, and the rest of humanity had mutated into hideous creatures and lived in radioactive lands that never allowed them to become human again. In the good lands, life returned in the form of fairies, elves and dwarves, the true ancestors of man.

In the good lands of Montagar, a celebration was taking place, celebrating 3,000 years of peace. During the celebration, good Queen Delia retired to her home and gave birth to a pair of magical twins that were polarized like magnets. One was very beautiful and attractive. This one was called Avatar. The other, called Blackwolf, was repulsive and impossible to get near.

Years passed, and Delia’s health began to slip. Her sons had grown, though only Avatar ever came to be with her, often delighting her with wonderful visions. Blackwolf never visited her, instead prefering to spend his time torturing small animals by turning them into strange creatures. Eventually, Delia passed from this world, and Blackwolf saw his chance to take over as ruler of Montagar. A great battle erupted between the brothers, with Avatar eventually prevailing because of the love and strong emotion he carried in his soul. Something which his evil brother did not possess. Blackwolf was driven away to the badlands, where he discovered ancient war weapons and old film footage of Adolph Hiter, which inspired him to form an army of mutants and demons in an effort to conquer Montagar. Now it’s up to Avatar and his small group of heroes to save their land from destruction, but can they stop Blackwolf’s evil plans before its too late?

Wizards is a movie I already owned on DVD, because I’m a fan of Bakshi’s work. Honestly, my first exposure to the work of Ralph Bakshi came in the brilliant work he did in Cool World. This led me to seek out his other films, and while not all of them are favorites of mine story-wise, I do love his style of art and animation. I’ve had mixed feelings about Wizards over the years. When I first saw it, I wasn’t a huge fan of the story. I was more of a fantasy purist at the time. But after seeing it several more times over the years, the story has grown on me, and it’s actually become one of my favorite Bakshi films. I think many films that achieve cult status sort of go through the same process. It opens to a decent but not awesome response from audiences, and then over the years people get more and more into it, sharing it with their friends and family until it becomes so widely known, or known of, that it achieves a sort of a cult status. I’m not sure how many animated films have achieved that status. I know one for sure is Heavy Metal. While its sequel, Heavy Metal 2000 was a decided flop, Heavy Metal carries a special place in the hearts of animation fans everywhere. I mention Heavy Metal, because Wizards, both in look and story, is VERY Heavy Metal-esque, and in a shortened version, could have just as easily have been included as a segment of that film. If you haven’t seen one or the other, definitely check out whichever of the two you haven’t seen, because if you’re a fan of either, you’ll like the other. If you haven’t seen either film but are a fan of more adult oriented animation, then definitely make it a point to see them both!

This 35th anniversary blu-ray release of the film comes in a package that’s actually a hardcover booklet with information about the film from Ralph Bakshi and various pieces of artwork. The disc itself is slid into a nice little holder in the back of the book. All in all, it’s a wonderful package, and very creative. The book itself has 24 pages, and the disc comes with the following special features:

Commentary by director Ralph Bakshi.
A featurette called Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation
A still gallery.
A TV spot and the theatrical trailers for the film.

The transfer looks spectacular and is a delight to watch. While it would have been nice to have some more special features on such a quality anniversary release of the film, that’s really about the only thing I could nit-pick about it. This is a wonderful release from Fox, and if you’re a fan of this style of film and animation, it’s one you’ll definitely want to add to your collection. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea if you’re a fantasy or sci-fi purist, it’s still worth checking out, because it might just change your mind.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of this film for yourself, you can get it from Amazon here, or from any of the other usual outlets. The film is available on blu-ray and DVD in other releases, but this 35th Anniversary edition is really something special. This is the one to have.