After spending the first half of his career animating randy alley cats and questionably caricaturized bunnies, Brooklyn based animator Ralph Bakshi took a turn for the fantastic with Wizards, a twisted Tolkien riff about a pair of wizards heading towards a potentially apocalyptic final battle, one harnessing the pure power of magic, the other the twisted steel of industry. To gear up for this weekend’s midnight showing of Wizards, we went back and scratched down a few thoughts on Bakshi’s insane little world.
1) There are some obvious parallels between Wizards and Lord of the Rings beyond the pair of warring wizards. There’s the demonization of the industrial war machine, the blighted homeland of evil, the heroes’ journey into the heart of darkness, the shortcut through a forbidden abyss, the untrustworthy guide, the Kingdoms of elves and fairies who just can’t seem to get along. Okay, so there are a lot of parallels.
2) Ralph Bakshi movies are terrifying. I don’t know what it is about them. I don’t know if it’s his cutesy characters getting mangled by monsters, Richard Romanus’s jarring, loud battle cries or what. There’s just a skeezy element to his work that I can’t quite put my finger on and it never ceases to make me uncomfortable
3) Wizards was Bakshi’s attempt to show that he was capable of making a so-called “family picture,” rather than raunchy films aimed at the dusty corners of cultdom. Still, Bakshi’s fingerprints are all over this thing, among the dopey henchmen and wise-cracking heroes are scenes of brutality, genocide and, let’s not forget, Elinore the fairy’s sexually charged wardrobe. Girl looks like an American Apparel model. If I had seen this movie as a kid, I wouldn’t have been able to watch another cartoon for the rest of my life.
4) THEY’VE KILLED FRITZ
5) As an animator, Bakshi doesn’t really have a match. His images are iconic and his designs are unique, but, boy howdy, he is not a terribly good story teller.
6) Though he’s largely known for his use of rotoscoping (a technique where an animator takes live action footage and then paints over it), Bakshi only rotoscoped portions of the film’s climactic battle because Fox refused him the additonal money to animate it traditionally.
7) In a movie chock full of memorable set pieces, the jagged, industrial hellscape of Scortch is utterly unforgettable. Scratched to life with sharp pen-lines by British artist Ian Miller, Scortch’s half drawn feel gives the kingdom a forbidden, other-worldly vibe that would have likely been lost with a more robust budget.
8) Speaking of budget constraints, Wizards was animated for a scant 1.2 million dollars—an amount that, as Bakshi recently put it, would fund about a minute and a half of a Pixar feature.
9) While the rotoscped footage used during the film’s climax is a bit janky (my beef being that it’s inconsistent with the rest of the film and is obviously footage culled from stock libraries and a random assortment of war movies), the scene is legitimately horrifying–a chaotic, jarring glimpse of hell on the battlefield.
10) Patience. We must first observe sundown and pray.