03 May 2006

Disappearing Ink XI - Wizards

The Roman Numerals above represent a new age in Disappearing Ink... Monthly Themes. This Month, I am going to kick things off with a "Swords and Sandals" theme. In other words, each of these May movies should have a little magic and some swordplay. Up first, a little known film from the 70's - Wizards.

Wizards comes from the mind of Ralph Bakshi, who somehow managed to create an X-rated cartoon - Fritz the Cat (if you are interested). I guess the next logical career choice was to go into family films, for that is what Wizards is intended to be -- though it is questionable how many parents would enjoy a nice evening with their children viewing Nazi propaganda and the slaughtering of elves with machine guns. I am getting ahead of myself. Wizards graced the theatre houses in 1977, and was originally titled Wizard Wars. The distributor, 20th Century Fox, concerned about overdosing audiences on wars with Star Wars coming out later in the year, had the title shortened to simply Wizards. Fox's Wizards earned $9 million in the box office compared to $29 million earned by the Disney's larger budgeted The Rescuers in the same year, which I must assume made Wizards a moderate success. Other non X -Rated films later created by Bakshi include the animated and sequelless Lord of the Rings Part I, a film to be reviewed in a couple of weeks Fire & Ice, and a seemingly Roger Rabbit ripoff Cool World.

Wizards features a war between two... er um, wizards. The evil Blackheart has been banished to the land Scortch, a land of mutants and technology. His brother Avatar lives in a land of fairies, elves and magic. The setting of the film is millions of years in Earth's future after most of humanity has been wiped out. Blackheart begins to excavate old German war technology (tanks, planes, and machine guns) to use in a battle with the good folk who through a harmony with nature and an abandonment of technology, have harnessed the powers of magic. Blackheart is kept fairly well in check until he finds a secret weapon, a projector which shows Nazi propaganda films in the sky during battle to terrify his enemies and inspire his loathsome troops. Avatar goes on a quest with his buxom fairy friend Eleanor, and an elf buddy Weehawk, guided by a terminator robot he has reprogrammed to lead him ironically named Peace. In the end, Avatar relies on "a trick his mom taught him." To say more would spoil the fun. =)

The movies is ok, though Avatar's quest is a meandering tale of side stories including a run in with a Mark Hamill voiced Sprite (1977 was a good year for Mark). Supposedly, Bakshi ran out of money to animate the battle scenes, so he relied on rotoscoping old WWII stock film footage. Basically, it looks like black and white films have been penciled over leaving realistic outlines of soldiers and war instruments, without too many details. Its quite an interesting technique, especially when coupled with the sub-Saturday morning cartoon level animation of the rest of the film. But I will say one thing, it really makes you realize the 'toon' elves are in for it, when realistic looking machine gunners start marching towards them.

Its hard to claim this is family friendly when Hitler himself shows up, leading a violent and bloody mowing down of cartoony creatures. This is really a love it or hate it move. While I appreciate the artistic style and I liked the designs of the wizards and Peace, I did not love the story or the overall animation quality. Balancing art and story elements, and considering that this film is, if anything, unique, Wizards earns a C.

Check out my past reviews:
Metropolis
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Anastasia
Princess Mononoke
The Black Cauldron
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Grave of the Fireflies
The Iron Giant
Kaena: The Prophecy

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