Ralph Bakshi certainly took the polar opposite approach to animation than the Walt Disney company was taking. Disney’s films were lush, impeccably animated, but in Bakshi’s view false and phony. When he set out to make his first animated family film, he wanted it grounded in real world realities of life and death, sexuality, and truth and lies. Wizards certainly stays true to Bakshi’s principles. It has all of the things he felt films should offer to young and old. But his storytelling is rather mundane; despite the blood and boobs, his narrative is sometimes derivative and predictable.
Wizards: 35th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 81 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 1.0 English, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Review Date: March 13, 2012
After a global apocalypse and a couple of million years of recovery, the Earth has been regained by elves, fairies, and wizards. Unfortunately, they’re divided into two factions each led by wizarding brothers: Avatar (Bob Holt) controls the peace-loving bloc while Blackwolf (Steve Gravers) leads the mutant rebels. Happening upon remnants of previous Earth wars like tanks and artillery along with a movie projector with Nazi propaganda films, Blackwolf rouses the rebels into waging war against the peace-loving fairy world while Avatar, Princess Elinore (Jesse Welles), elf warrior Weehawk (Richard Romanus), and a robot assassin reprogrammed for good and renamed Peace (David Proval) make the trek to Blackwolf’s land Scortch in an attempt to stop his attack.
Made for a million dollars (a pittance compared to the budgets of Disney’s films of the era), Wizards takes all kinds of animation shortcuts, most of which work to its advantage giving it the look and feel of no other animated title. Often Bakshi utilizes stock footage for live action backgrounds, and there is a great deal of rotoscoping of real war footage done to represent the battle scenes which he couldn’t afford to fully animate. The actual Nazi propaganda reels are, of course, disturbing, and become even more so as Bakshi’s animated mutants watch it and become as mesmerized by it as Germans at the time appeared to be. And some of the illustrated backgrounds in chiaroscuro have a kind of German expressionistic flavor that also aids greatly in establishing the film’s murky, menacing tone. Bakshi’s story of war and peace is nothing new, and main characters aren’t given enough development to get audiences strongly invested in their fates (one really wants to know much more of the personalities of Elinore and Weehawk). There’s certainly a lot of urban ambience built into his story and in casting his character voices. Lots of these elves and fairies seem to hail from Brooklyn and have a wisecracking, sardonic air that’s unlike mythical creatures in any other film, live action or animated. The climactic battle doesn’t go lightly on the blood and guts either, true again to Bakshi’s eternal quest for realism. But satirical stabs at religion and other established mores are rather hit-and-miss.
Oscar nominee Susan Tyrrell (unbilled) does the narration; it’s a relatively dry and scratchy but reasonably effective way of moving the story along, and it’s helpful since the film must resort on occasion to drawn panels for various scenes rather than utilizing full animation which the budget couldn’t allow. Strongest of the character voices is Richard Romanus as Weehawk. Frisky and determined, his voice acting only wants us to know more about this idiosyncratic character. Steve Gravers gives villain Blackwolf all of the calculated sneers and growls one would expect from a martinet ready to inflict his control on the known world. Bob Holt’s Avatar is full of folksy wisdom, but it’s hard to make a case for these two voices to be related, much less brothers. Far down the cast list is Mark Hamill playing one of the minor elves Sean who makes an early exit.
The 1.85:1 transfer is faithful to the film’s theatrical exhibition and is presented here in 1080p using the AVC codec. Color saturation levels are brash and heavily saturated, sometimes just to the point of blooming. The sharpness levels are excellent and blacks are truly black. Unfortunately, there is still a fair amount of dust specks that can be seen, and some of the live action footage used in backgrounds have scratches which are clearly visible. There are no banding problems with the transfer, but there appear to be occasional though relatively minor problems with false contouring. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The film has been outfitted with a very effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix which gives great spread to the film’s unusual synthesized score by Andrew Belling and which takes great advantage of the .1 track to present system-threatening levels of deep bass. The sound effects are pretty much confined to the film’s front soundstage, and dialogue is easily discernible in the mix’s center channel. A Dolby Digital 1.0 English track is also available representing its theatrical presentation and is clear and clean.
The audio commentary is contributed by writer-producer-director Ralph Bakshi. He’s full of stories about the production, but almost everything gets repeated in the making-of documentary and in the digibook text pages, and there are silences throughout.
All of the video features are in 480i.
“Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation” is a 34 ¼-minute interview with the director in which he recounts his wanting to make a family film after Fritz the Cat, tells his life story and how he came to be an animator at Terrytoons, offers his opinions on styles of animation, and introduces us to some of his key staff personnel.
There are two theatrical trailers which can be viewed separately or together and one TV spot.
A stills gallery is divided into twelve sections including sketches of various main and supporting characters, action sketches and environment backgrounds, and a series of lobby cards.
The disc comes in Digibook packaging which offers twenty-four pages of text, drawings, and stills from the movie.
3/5 (not an average)
Wizards is one of the most unusual looking and sounding animated films ever made. Though the narrative of good versus evil is overly familiar, the unusual urbanity of the voice acting and use of atypical animated techniques suggesting an almost guerilla approach to animated filmmaking give the film a uniqueness that shouldn’t be missed.