Monday, July 3, 2017

WIZARDS (1977) - **1/2

Rated PG
Running time: 80 min.
Release date: February 9, 1977

During the 1970s, animator Ralph Bakshi had provided some of the more controversial animated films such as the first X-rated animated feature, Fritz the Cat as well as the film Coonskin, which incurred scrutiny over some of its race-related content. With Wizards, Bakshi attempts to delve into the fantasy realm, giving us a post-apocalyptic future where beings such as elves and fairies co-exist and the remaining humans have gradually transformed into mutants. It is a story of good vs evil, magic vs technology, and Bakshi certainly has provided plenty of impressive visuals within the story. Unfortunately, it's the story itself that prevents Wizards from becoming the great film it strives to be.

In the future, the world has been devastated by a nuclear war and it has taken millions of years for the radioactive clouds to clear. The humans that have survived have mutated into something less than human, while dwarves, elves and fairies (supposedly, the true "ancestors" of man) have inherited the remains. The story really resembles something out of Tolkien lore and one cannot help but draw a comparison to Lord of the Rings here. We get a backstory about Delia, queen of the fairies, giving birth to future wizards Avatar and Blackwolf. Of course, the brothers are polar opposites and when their mother dies, they wage a battle over who gets to rule the land. Blackwolf, follower of technology, loses and is banished to the wastelands. Avatar, follower of magic, assumes the position of leadership and there is peace in that part of the world. In the land called Scortch, Blackwolf has amassed an army of mutants, lizard-like beings, and servants of Hell while collecting all broken technology and building himself an armory that produces war toys such as tanks and planes. He has also found a projector and discovered old Nazi propaganda films and uses them to motivate his soldiers. Avatar and his team decide that they must destroy this projector in order to shift the tide of war back in their favor. This part of the plot is fine and easy to follow, but the narrative in other parts gets bogged down with instances of shifts in the tone. An assassin named Necron 99 is carrying out orders to kill when he is assimilated by Avatar and renamed Peace. A fairy named Ellinore, the love interest of Avatar, shifts allegiances suddenly and we're only provided a cursory explanation of why it happened. There are various other factions of fairies and elves that we meet along the way and it gets difficult to determine why certain events occur. That's because the narrative is choppy, filled with dialogue that gets confusing and seems out of context at times. There are a few times when the story takes an aside that is unrelated to the plot, attempting to infuse humor, but this just falls flat. All in all, the concept of the story is interesting but the execution just isn't there throughout.

Ralph Bakshi's direction and creative animation outshine the story greatly. The backgrounds and designs created by British illustrator Ian Miller and comic book artist Mike Ploog look great and provide the appropriate backdrop for the story. Bakshi uses rotoscoping in some of his battle scenes and it works here, providing a serious and frightful tone when that tone is needed. These images appear alongside some live-action cuts of war scenes taken from films such as Patton and Alexander Nevsky. This is a good use of such scenes to fit in with the allegory that Bakshi is attempting to get across. This is a very good-looking animated film with a unique style brought forth by Bakshi.

Bob Holt provides the voice of Avatar, the good wizard. Avatar looks like a lawn gnome but sounds like Peter Falk, giving Avatar the personality of a grizzled veteran. Avatar's love interest, Ellinore, is voiced by Jesse Welles, sounding a little bit like Betty Boop. Richard Romanus voices Weehawk, an elf warrior and Avatar's right-hand man. Romanus' voice work does a great service to the Weehawk character, sounding every bit like a strong and noble character. The villain, Blackwolf, is voiced by Steve Gravers, providing a deep and sinister tone to the character. Overall, the voice work is well done.

"Oh, just one more thing..."

Wizards is a very sound film technically, with Bakshi's style and the various artists working under him providing a unique and interesting backdrop. However, Bakshi's narrative here left me a little confused and sometimes bored with the story. Wizards provides plenty of eye-candy for fans of animation and it can be recommended on that level alone. The artistry and technique involved with the style is only one aspect. You still need a narrative that can bring it all together, and that's where Wizards loses its luster.

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