I was happy to have a chance to check out the Wizards anniversary Blu-ray release. I was curious to see how much I remembered of the Ralph Bakshi film. I saw it in a midnight showing in the early 90s, but the film was first released by 20th Century Fox in 1977.
Noted comic creator Mike Ploog gets an “illustrated histories” credit (in that funny fake-computer typeface that was prevalent during the late 70s, meant to symbolize the film’s theme of the struggles between “technology and magic”) for his work drawing the prologue, narrated by Susan Tyrrell. (She was in both Rockula and Cry-Baby, as well as a lot of other stuff.)
The main story is a classic quest. Twin wizard brothers are polar opposites in a far-future post-apocalyptic wasteland that resembles a typical fantasyland. The funny, dumpy, bearded one (who sounds like Peter Falk but who is actually Bob Holt) has a fairy girl helper wearing what appears to be two see-through handkerchiefs (they carefully draw her nipples in) and a diaper-looking G-string (yet the movie is somehow rated PG). He represents magic, as embodied by a kingdom of elves and winged creatures. (The setup resembles that in Cheech Wizard.) The evil brother is using technology for propaganda, as well as an army of risen dead and demons, and he’s sent a cartoony red stormtrooper after the good wizard. They turn the agent (who gets the name Peace) and with the aid of an elf warrior, the four (wizard, fairy, elf, robot) set off for the bad guy’s lands to defeat him.
Many colorful effects and unusual visuals back up the fantasy story. (You can see how this would serve as an effective try-out for The Lord of the Rings.) It’s a suggestive movie, the kind some might have watched with the aid of enhancements. The part that intrigues me most is how the bad wizard has a “dream machine that inspires armies with ancient war images” that turns out to be a projector running footage of Hitler and the Germans. (For some reason, the 70s was a time to explore Hitler in popular culture, with The Producers, All This and World War II, The Boys From Brazil, and They Saved Hitler’s Brain, among others.)
I much better now appreciated all the different artistic effects, especially knowing how long ago this was made. The single-tone illustrations against a psychedelic film animation loop were striking and reminiscent of the era. The “going to battle” footage (rotoscoped from live-action film) is striking in how it’s been manipulated. (I’m not talking about the later sequence, where various monsters march off to the strains of a disco backing track, bouncing up and down as though strutting to the beat.) That’s the reason to see it, the visuals, since the story and characters are flat, familiar, and simplistic. The last surprise to today’s viewer is how few names, relatively, appear in the credits. It’s kind of amazing when compared to today’s computer-animated films with their pages of squads.
The anniversary edition is a very nice package, from the opening credit page of the book through the concluding poster art illustration. An introductory message from Bakshi thanks fans for their support of the movie over the years. The hardcover booklet covers some high points of the movie’s concept accompanied by design art and sketches. It also talks about how the release interacted with that of Star Wars, the same year from the same studio.
The special features carry over from the previous Blu-ray release. “Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation” is a 34-minute documentary on the creator with his participation. He discusses the origin of Wizards as his attempt to do a family film as well as the history of his career. The special is mostly him talking to the camera or voicing over footage or historical photos. There are two theatrical trailers and a TV spot used to advertise the movie as well as 12 different still galleries covering the characters and related material. (The studio provided a review copy.)