Saturday, 10 October 2009


Ralph Bakshi once called Wizards his attempt to make a kids movie, which just goes to show how marvelously screwed up he is as an artist. Wizards has fairies, pixies and elves, sure. It also has scathingly unsubtle religious satire, nihilism by the bucket load, and a huge side order of Nazi's.

Often it's like watching two films at once, where a bunch of subversive stinking hippies has broken into the editing suite at Disney and inserted their own footage, seemingly at random.
It also has many connections to the comic world, not just in it's underground stylings, but also the fact that Mike Ploog contributed huge amounts to it, as well as the great trouble it takes to rip off both Wally Wood AND Vaughn Bode.

In a post-apocalyptic future, humanity is long dead, leaving space for the forgotten people of fairyland to return and live in harmony over what's left of the world. Except for the fact that the radioactive mutants are still around too.
Ten million years after the holocaust, twin wizards are born. As they grow up, Avatar (the good twin) and Blackwulf (the evil one) fight for control of what's left of the world ( in a series of Ploog illo's, rather than full animation) Eventually, Avatar wins and Blackwulf is banished to the blasted land of Scortch, to rule over the mutants, while the good lands of Montagar are benignly looked after by Avatar.
So this is a fairy tale, of sorts, but one turned right on it's head. Nothing quite happens the way it should in this 'kids film'.
The main antagonists introduced, we cut to 1000 years later, as Blackwulf sends robotic assassins out into the neighboring countries, to kill anyone still practicing magic. Blackwulf. see, firmly believes in the power of technology, particularly pre-holocaust technology, which he has his demonic minions scouring the ruins for. Avatar's side of the world, meanwhile, full of the aforementioned pixies, elves & fairies, has outlawed any kind of science or machinery, and apparently lives in blissful harmony with the natural world.
Wizards is actually full of talk about the perils of The Machine, as in one scene where a village of fairies is being wiped out, (a village that looks suspiciously like a jewish ghetto). A fairie mother explains to her soon to be killed son why they can't fight back, as the tanks roll in: They have weapons and technology. We just have love.

Following one of Blackwulf's hitmen, the blatantly Bode-esque Necron 99, we meet up with Avatar again, by this time a cigar smoking dirty old man vaguely reminiscent of Frank Thorne. Avatar has sent his barbarian elf buddy Weehawk (who's basically Wally Wood's Odkin from The Wizard King crossed with Hogun The Grim) out into the wilds to see what Blackwulf's up to.

Unfortunately, Weehawk runs into Necron 99, and fails to make it back to Montagar in time to stop the murderous droid kill the president of the good lands, leaving Weehawk, Avatar & his Mae West-esque fairy babe Elinore in a bit of a post-apocalyptic pickle.

Meanwhile, Blackwulf has been trying to find something that can motivate his fairly useless goblin army to go to war for what's left of the planet. And, at last, all that scrabbling around in the ruins has borne fruit. Having killed all the leaders of the good lands, Blackwulf is finally ready to mount an invasion, and now he's got the very thing that'll get the mutant population of Scortch all fired up and ready to kill. To wit, an ancient movie projector with footage of the Nuremberg rallies!

Remember, this is a kids film.

Back home, Avatar has reprogrammed Necron 99, rechristened him with the wildly optimistic name of Peace, and much against his better judgement, is off leading a quest with Weehawk & Elinore to locate Blackwulf's dreaded 'Dream Machine' and destroy it.

As you can probably tell, Wizards is a wildly inconsistent film, with quite a few flaws (particularly the reverse rotoscoping Bakshi uses for the final battle, which sadly doesn't work at all), but it's that very inconsistency that makes it so much fun. It veers from beautiful, childlike fairy tale-ness to insane, ultra grown up black satire, often in the same scene. And though Bakshi freely steals from pretty much the entire history of comic book fantasy, at least he admits it. (At one point, Avatar swears an oath to the effect of: By Morrow, Krinkel & Frazetta!)
And although the constant use of Ploog's static, though stunning, illustrations betray the low budget, it's still full of more ideas than any animation with ten times the money. Like all of Bakshi's films, there's a real darkness to Wizards, that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable watching it, but y'know, sometimes it's good to see something that doesn't want to be your friend. Plus there's the audaciously brilliant ending, as Blackwulf & Avatar finally face off, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I won't spoil it if you've never seen it, but rest assured, your jaw will drop.
Oh, and there's everybody's favourite scene right here:

They've killed Fritz! They've killed Fritz!! Those lousy stinkin' yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity filled vermin! They've killed Fritz!!!
The whole thing's on Youtube if you want to see it...


  1. Fritz! Speak to me Fritz! C'mon buddy!
    It's like the 'Who's on First?' routine. It just gets stuck in your head.

  2. Ha! This brings back memories: first time I saw it was when I was about 11/12 yrs old, in the theater, with a few friends from school (and the, in retrospect, very cool-headed mom of one of them, who was probably shocked by the content of this "kid's" film - I should mention we were all going to a Catholic school at the time). We all loudly declared afterward how cool it was, although all of us were probably more than a little disturbed by the whole thing - I know I was. And yes, I think everyone's favorite part was those lousy stinkin' fairies who killed Fritz. And also the end, which I won't spoil either.
    Next viewing was a video rental in college - didn't like it as much, but that's because all of us, probably due to excessive beer consumption, were obsessing over the spotty production values you mentioned. And again the Nazi imagery was disturbing. Still, looking back, I have to say it was a fascinating, if bizarre, project. If I had the time to kill, I would watch it again on youtube.
    By the way, when I saw it in the theatre as a kid, it was playing as a double feature with that so-bad-its-almost-good version of Zelazny's "Damnation Alley" with George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent. How cool is that?

  3. Clearly Bakshi was reading WITZEND where both Odkin and Cobalt 60 first appeared. I'm surprised he just didn't call the picture WITZEND instead of WIZARDS.

    I rememeber enjoying Ploog's paintings the most.

  4. I know Bakshi almost did a Cheech Wizard movie but the project was scrapped when Bode died. In college, I had Harvey Kurtzman and he told me about how Bakshi failed to get the rights to do an Annie Fanny movie. A year later, 'Cool World' came out. Coincidence?

  5. I remember "Wizards" pretty well; I asked my older brother to take me to see it when I was 12. Kinda disturbed me a bit, but I liked it. Before it came on the screen, there was a Pink Panther short shown, and a trailer for a new sci-fi movie by the name of "Star Wars"....

  6. This was my favorite movie as a kid, now renting it as a kid is questionable, but hey... Later I learned Mark Bode is PO'd at the movie, considering it a rip off of his late father's work - AND- more or less guaranteeing it'll never see big screen animation... "Well I love this character and yeah we can get away with dirty cartoons these days thanks to that Japan stuff with schoolgirls and tentacles...but ever heard of Wizards? People would think it derivative of... Hey. Easy there, fella, put that chair down...!"