[box cover]


In the spring of 1977, Fox had two science-fiction/fantasy films set for release. Before Star Wars would cause a generation of young boys to grow into aging geeks, Ralph Bakshi's War Wizards would hit theaters. Out of fear of confusing audiences, George Lucas asked Bakshi to drop the word War from the title, and merely two weeks after it began showing, the film would be dropped from theaters entirely as Fox dedicated all of its energies to Lucas's epic. To make matters worse, Disney had re-released Fantasia on the same weekend as Wizards. The result, of course, is that only on home video will many people have their first chance to see the film. Bakshi, who would go on to use many of the techniques created for Wizards in his Lord of the Rings adaptation, had been creating films that skewed towards an adult audience, and he wanted to create a tale for children. The film takes place millions of years after Earth is decimated in a nuclear holocaust, triggered (oddly enough) by a terrorist attack on New York City. Fairies, goblins, and mutants rise from the ashes, and for a long time the world is at peace, while technology is abolished. Sadly, that peace would end when the queen of the fairies gave birth to two sons, Avatar and Blackwolf. The two are polar opposites, Avatar dedicated to light and Blackwolf to darkness. A war would rage for thousands of years, with Blackwolf's armies being turned back at every conflict. To turn the tide, Blackwolf begins digging up technology of the past age — rifles, mostly — until he comes upon a weapon that will guarantee victory. Stock footage from Nazi Germany, and a projector to play it, transforms Blackwolf's nation of Scortch into a new Third Reich, and the propaganda stirs his armies into a frenzy, as well as terrifying the elves with visions of tanks and planes. Avatar, the fairy-in-training Elinore, the elf warrior Weehawk, and former assassin Peace must sneak into Scortch, defeat Blackwolf, and destroy his propaganda machine. In comparison with other animated features of the late '70s, Wizards' low budget is fairly evident. The animation doesn't hold up very well, and most scenes could do with an increase in tweening (adding additional frames to create the illusion of movement). It deserves mention that the additional budget Lord of the Rings received shows that the techniques used in Wizards could deliver excellent results. The back-story and several interludes are done with stills drawn by Mike Ploog, which stand out as the best work in the piece. Ian Miller's paintings of the land of Scortch and Johnny Veder's watercolor background paintings round out the artwork and add depth that's missing elsewhere, most notably in the roto-scoped footage of tanks, goblins on horseback, and battle scenes, which have been painted per-cell in black and at times cloud out the screen. Susan Tyrrell's uncredited narration is the best of the voice-work, while Mark Hamill's cameo as an ill-fated fairy is an interesting addition. Bakshi, in the commentary and interview short on the disc, continually refers to Wizards as a children's film, and there's enough nudity and violence to discredit that notion. The themes and subtext are still relevant, and in spite of several obvious Tolkein influences, Wizards manages to be fairly entertaining and is a fond look back at the era of cel-animated filmmaking. Fox presents Wizards in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) — the colors are slightly faded but look decent for a 30-year-old cel-animated feature. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has a few ticks in it, but is otherwise solid. Bakshi provides a commentary track, as well as a 30-minute interview in which he discusses his career and the process of making Wizards a reality. Also included are still galleries for each character and three trailers. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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