Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards – Movie Review

Wizards begins with a prologue about a global nuclear war that destroys the world. It wasn’t until two million years that the sun reappeared, and by that time only a handful of humans still survived, with the rest of humanity transformed into mutants. But humanity soon reappeared as Fae: fairies, elves, dwarves, and for a time, humanity was once again at peace.

But three thousand years later, a queen of the fairies gives birth to a pair of twin boy wizards, one a kind good loving boy named Avatar, the other named Blackwolf who spends his youth torturing small animals in the forest. Three thousand more years later, Blackwolf gathers an army, much of which was came from the forces of hell. But his army is made up of incompetent stooges, as most cartoon enemies tend to be, so Blackwolf needed to find a way to motivate them.

After the prologue, our story begins with Blackwolf sending out assassins to kill his brother, Avatar. But when the assassination attempt on his brother is foiled, though not without casualty, this kicks off a journey of Avatar and his companions to find Blackwolf and avenge the death of Elinore’s father.

Sure, it seems like your standard post-apocalyptic fantasy fare, except this time instead of the forces of Law fighting against Chaos, it’s about Magic versus Technology. Blackwolf had spent much of his time salvaging ancient relics from before the war. And one of these artifacts was a film projector and some World War II archives from Nazi Germany, which Blackwolf uses as a morale booster for his troops.

The WWII archival footage aids them in fighting against the elves, one of the more violent sequences in the movie which, all throughout, an actual speech by Adolf Hitler plays in the background. The metaphor here is anything but subtle, with one of the mutants eating a dead pig with the Star of David tattooed on its rear end. Blackwolf’s throne is even on top of the image of a swastika. But unlike most Anti-Nazi propaganda pieces, this movie is so over the top that it kinda backfires.

Obviously, as a blatant propaganda piece, the movie doesn’t give any rational, intelligent arguments as to why the Nazi ideology is bad. Instead the movie uses emotional manipulation to trigger viewers into feeling bad upon finding any of the tenants or icons associated with the Nazis (except the socialism part of National Socialism, for some reason.) But not only that, it also unintentionally demonstrates one of the qualities of Adolf Hitler’s rule: his charismatic skill as a public speaker. Before Blackwolf found the old films, his army was rather incompetent, and the films were the only thing that was able to motivate them into actually winning battles.

While the film utterly fails as Anti-Fascist propaganda, it succeeds at being entertaining with flying colors. Practically every character is interesting and compelling in some way, with Bob Hope doing a pleasant job as Avatar. And the plot moves at a rather brisk pace that allows for plenty of interesting lore without losing any of the excitement. 

The movie is very clearly from a time before our modern day political correctness took over the world of entertainment, back when they got away with more in a PG rated film than they ever could under the new PG-13 rating today. Bloody violence occurs throughout, with elves and mutant Nazis getting massacred left and right during the battle scenes. And damn near every female character in this wears barely any clothing, even nameless background characters who never speak a line of dialog. There are battles between gun toting Nazis and sword wielding elves, without any care for hard genre categories from the filmmakers. They just don’t make Fantasy movies like this one anymore, with its lack of any moral ambiguity and its tonal style that’s very different from imitators of Game of Thrones or The Avengers.

One of the things I like about movies by Ralph Bakshi, especially this one in particular, is the way it still remembers that it is a cartoon first and foremost. Sure, Ralph Bakshi is clearly trying to elevate the medium of animation to greater heights, to varying levels of success throughout his career with this being one of the better examples, but he never forgets the strengths of animation. The violent slapstick humor fits perfectly in this story about elves and magic wizards, providing brief moments of levity to lighten an otherwise fast paced plot.

But part of the movie’s style of animation also shows a clear budget limitation, with entire sections of the movie showing panning shots over still images. Most of the flashbacks don’t show any animation at all, though the drawings that the camera pans over are rather nicely drawn. But toward the end of the film, it was clear that they were running out of money and had to use still animation frames and filters over live action footage to finish the thing.

The ending itself is somewhat lackluster compared to the rest of the story. The trick Avatar uses to defeat his brother was literally pulled out of his sleeve, without any sort of foreshadowing. And his relationship with Elinore really doesn’t have any sort of build up or chemistry at all throughout the film.

But despite it’s flaws, I do recommend watching Wizards. It has qualities that most of the current crop of Fantasy films coming out today lack, a tone and style that we just don’t see anymore.

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1 Comment

  1. Ralph Bakshi was a black sheep in the animation industry. During the time of his film release, neither of them so very many tickets. His work was thoroughly trounced by the biggest competition to any animated film maker, disney.

    It’s hard to state that films got away with more stuff when political correctness was a issue then. (See CoonSkin).

    It hasn’t been until recently the man is gaining any notoriety, but he wasn’t mainstream then and he isn’t mainstream now.

    On to the subject of “propoganda”, calling this film a propoganda piece devalues it as manipulative which is the same argument you’ll see in critics like Anita Sarkeesian. It’s a work developed by the creators personal political ideologies nothing more.

    Also Ralph Bakshi is jewish. Of course he would portray nazis as thoroughly dehumanized.

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