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The best American animated feature of the ’70s?

Wizards movie poster

Wizards 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray Digipack Edition hits stores

– by Shawn Conner

With the announcement of a 35th anniversary Blu-Ray release of Wizards, we thought we’d take another look at this 1977 animated feature from Ralph Bakshi.

Wizards had the misfortune to be released just two weeks before Star Wars, Bakshi says in an interview that comes with the 2004 DVD edition. When overwhelming demand for the George Lucas movie required more screens, theatres were quick to drop whatever else was playing, including Wizards.

Wizards movie poster

For this reason, perhaps, Wizards isn’t as well known as it should be. Far from being dated, the feature holds up surprisingly well. Bakshi, who prior to Wizards was known for gritty, urban animation like Fritz the Cat (which cartoonist R. Crumb, creator of the underground comix character, purports to hate) and Heavy Traffic, says in the same interview that he wanted to prove he could do a family-friendly fantasy.

Which is kind of funny to hear, considering the protuberant nipples of one of Wizards’ main characters, the faerie Elinore, and that the movie screams “stoner” in nearly every scene. Maybe “family-friendly” meant something different back then; more likely this is Bakshi’s idea of it.

The faerie Elinore in Wizards movie 1977

The faerie Elinore in Wizards.

Wizards may be a stoner movie, but it’s a great one. Bakshi slips between slapstick and farce into scenes of disturbing power, especially during the epic clash between the peace-loving, magic-believing elves of Montagar and the evil, technology-powered denizens of Scortch. Shot with a technique called rotoscoping, these sequences mix stock footage, often of old movie battle scenes in silhouette or Nazi propaganda films, with animated backgrounds for a delirious, fearsome (and psychedelic) effect.

Peace, the killer robot in Wizards movie image

Peace, the killer robot in Wizards.

The story takes several unexpected twists and turns leading up to the climactic showdown between the good wizard, Avatar, and his brother, Blackwolf. The characters, including Avatar, Elinore and Peace, the killer robot they reprogram to help them in their quest to overthrow Blackwolf, are strong and given more personality than you would expect from a sword-and-sorcery cartoon.

Wizards movie art by Mike Ploog

Wizards movie art by Mike Ploog.

Even though he wrote, produced and directed Wizards, and the animation is very much in his style, Bakshi was smart enough to know when to bring in other artists. For interstitial art set in Montagar, Marvel Comics penciller Mike Ploog contributed idyllic, sepia-toned fantasy art; for the backgrounds in Scortch, the post-apocalyptic landscape overseen by Blackwolf, British science fiction artist Ian Miller created a cold, blue-tinged world full of drooping, intricate industrial machinery.

Wizards movie art by Ian Miller.

Wizards movie art by Ian Miller.

In 35 years, no one will be watching the $250m John Carter – but I’d wager the $1.2m Wizards will still be entertaining new generations.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of Wizards presents the film in its 1.85:1 original aspect ratio with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The Digibook packaging includes 24 pages of artwork and a message from Bakshi.

Wizards 35th anniversary package.

Wizards 35th anniversary package.

One response to “The best American animated feature of the ’70s?

  1. Pingback: Wizards is out today… « Bring Out the Gimp

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