Forty years after its release, I’ve just watched Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1976) again. I bought it on DVD a dozen years ago, so that’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen it. Today I watched the 35th Anniversity Blu Ray edition.
Man, has it aged! (Same thing I thought when I watched it in 2004.) I was a child in the late-'60s/early-'70s when there were hippies all over the place, so I remember the Zeitgeist. It all seems pretty goofy now. But the film shows things that I remember with some fondness. There was a style of art that was popular in the '70s; pen-and-ink drawings with ‘way too much’ detail. Sort of like woodcuts, if you know what I mean, crowded with structures, forests, and so on. (Example.) This is the style Bakshi used for the backgrounds. They remind me of when, in the late-'70s and early-'80s, I read Lord Of The Rings and other fantasy novels, going to Renaissance Faires, and being young. And the characters Wizards was influenced by Vaughn Bode’s Junkwaffel comics. Avatar was very similar to Bode’s Cheech Wizard. (Of course, Avatar actually had a full body.) I didn’t get into underground comics until a decade after many of them were published, but I’ve always liked Junkwaffel.
The animation is crude. Warner Brothers cartoons, this ain’t. But those of us who grew up when there were Saturday Morning Cartoons have seen worse. (Remember, it wasn’t all Bugs Bunny back then!) I first saw rotoscoping in Bakshi’s Lord Of The Ringe (1978). According to Bakshi, ‘I thought that if we dropped all the detail, it would look very artistic, and very beautiful, and I felt, why bother animating all of this? I’m looking for a way to get realism into my film and get real emotion.’ When I first saw it in Bakshi’s later film, I liked it. In Wizards… not so much. I know he had budgetary constraints, but it just appeared as a lack of effort on his part. Then again, I kind of remember thinking it was OK when I first saw the film 30 years ago. But today it just looks like so much ‘padding’ to get the film to feature-length.
If I had known about underground comics when I was in junior high school (when the film came out), and if I had seen Wizards on its initial release, it may have had a profound effect. Today’s audiences probably don’t know about the Ian Miller backgrounds or the Vaughn Bode characters. That, plus the heavy-handed message and the goofy hippiness, probably would not appeal to them. But Holy Chrome, I liked some of the dialogue. ‘Fritz! They killed Fritz!’ and ‘Master loves Larry! Master feeds Larry!’. And I loved the final showdown between Avatar and Blackwolf.
Is Wizards worth watching if you’ve never seen it? That depends on what you like. It’s dated and flawed. But for those of us who grew up during that time, and who are familiar with the styles… Well, you’ll probably feel as I do: It was fun at the time, but man do I feel old now!