In a post apocalyptic future that appears as a blend of World War II Europe and J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, a pint-size wizard named Avatar must save the world from a band of fascist mutants controlled by his evil twin brother, Blackwolf, who likes to confuse enemy armies by projecting films of Adolf Hitler speeches during attacks.
Directed by: Ralph Bakshi
. Starring: Bob Holt
, Jesse Welles
, Richard Romanus
, David Proval
, Jim Connell
, Steve Gravers
, Barbara Sloane
, Angelo Grisanti
, Hyman Wien
, Christopher Tayback
, Mark Hamill
, Peter Hobbs
, Tina Romanus
. Music by: Andrew Belling
It's been said by many animation experts that Ralph Bakshi may not be a top-notch animator, but he is still a force to be reckoned with in the world of animation. This 1977 animated film is proof of that in abundance.
Bakshi started out as a streetwise Jewish kid in Brooklyn. Many cartoonists have come from similar backgrounds, but I think Bakshi was one of the first to unapologetically draw upon (no pun intended) the insights and attitudes that such an upbringing tends to instill in a person. His neighborhood, Brownsville, was very crude and vulgar when he was growing up - and WIZARDS does nothing to disguise that fact. In a way, that is what makes the movie ingenious, if not exactly great. Like Tim Burton, Bakshi is a filmmaker who insists on making HIS movies HIS way, relevance to the subject matter be damned. And WIZARDS is just the sort of hot mess you get when you give free rein to a guy who is half auteur and half a--hole. (And believe me, I do not intend that final word as an insult; it's simply the truth, and it's stated with a candidness of which I can only imagine Bakshi himself would approve.)
The "modern" (i.e., post-1984) viewer would not be likely to proclaim WIZARDS to be "a fun time at the movies," or however one might put it. But that's to be expected, because WIZARDS is a product of its time - and that fact, far from being a weakness, bestows upon the movie a great deal of value. It is a mid-20th-century film by a mid-20th-century man.
The deliberately primitive animation is not the only element that dates the movie, because its overall tone is likewise a thing of the past. This is a story that could only have been told - or, at least, told in quite this way - in the pre-glasnost Cold War era. It is one of very few cartoon movies to display a truly "punk" sensibility, even though there is no actual punk rock on the soundtrack. What I mean is that Bakshi is ostensibly telling a fantasy story quite similar to THE LORD OF THE RINGS - a work he would tackle for real one year later - but without regard for the respect one would think the trappings and tropes of such a story would deserve. This is not Peter Jackson's brand of high fantasy no matter which way you slice it. While it is indeed an epic fantasy tale, it is shot through with cynicism, nihilistic humor, and much lowbrow content including some softcore pornography.
WIZARDS comes across as a drug-addled film student's grotesque parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's sagas, even to the point that the characters themselves are grotesques. The hero is a crotchety old man (9,000 years old, to be exact) who reminds the viewer not of a noble wizard but of a crass tough guy from film noir. The heroine is a bimbo in strip-club underwear; her father is literally a clown. The pointy-eared elven warrior would be totally out of place in Rivendell, since his voice is not unlike that of one of those bland he-man protagonists of the B-movies of the 1950s. The villain - the hero's long-estranged brother - seems more like an Orwellian social manipulator than a warlock. And the villain's army of thugs would not succeed in terrifying most people, since most of their number appear to be moronic or even retarded. Rounding out the cast are a farcical gallery of fairies, hookers, Nazi caricatures, and mutated ogre-things. The film's soundtrack is a hodgepodge of orchestral, jazz, psychedelic, and "futuristic" synthesizer tunes, contributing to the surreal atmosphere.
And yet, despite everything I have mentioned above, the film is not supposed to be a comedy. Or maybe it is. Who can tell?
Only Ralph Bakshi knows.
Again, it's my guess that most people would not enjoy this film. But I think it's worth seeing anyway, if only because it sowed the seeds of the viciously subversive humor with which we are so familiar nowadays thanks to "The Simpsons" and "South Park." Offensive content is most special when it's viewed in a context that allows one to perceive its maximum potential for offensiveness. In other words, the older stuff is often better because you can all the more vividly imagine it shocking people.
And anyone who watches WIZARDS expecting a traditional sword-and-sorcery saga is definitely in for a shock!
Review by marcusman48 from the Internet Movie Database.