Ah Bakshi, the man they couldn’t tame.
I’ve reviewed two of Ralph Bakshi’s movies now, and even though my feelings on them were, oh let’s just go with “mixed” I have to say I have been looking forward to this one quite a bit. Why? Well, partially it’s because the animation reviews tend to be more fun to write, and also because, even if I don’t think they’re necessarily good films, they’re always a hell of a trip and fascinating to watch and talk about. Look, the guy walked into mainstream animation and just started throwing petrol bombs and I’ve always said I’ll take fascinatingly bad over dully competent any day.
And yet, the more I read up on Wizards (Papa Bear Bakshi’s third feature) the more anxious I got. Wizards is Ralph Bakshi’s most popular movie, and the one that, by Bakshi’s own admission, no one gave him shit over and genuinely seemed to like. This is the movie that even the squares seem to dig.
Could that work? Could Ralph Bakshi actually make a standard, mainstream animated film? Or would his movie lose that inherent grungy Bak-shit insane quality that’s really the only thing that makes his output interesting? What happens when Ralph Bakshi shaves and puts on some damn pants? Let’s take a look.
Hey, you know what gets fantasy movie fans all hot and bothered? Narration. And boy do we have narration. Now, fair’s fair. Narration perfectly justified when you only have a feature running time to establish an entirely new fantasy world to the audience. But as we’ll see, this movie takes advantage of my good nature and leniency and abuses them most abominably.
An opening four and a half minutes devoted to narration? That’s steep, but I’ll allow it. But then to keep breaking the movie up at regular intervals to explain (over still images) what’s happening in the movie that we are supposed to be watching? Up with that I will not put. Our narrator is Susan Tyrrel who delivers her lines in a half-interested, sleepy drawl that sounds like she’s high but then she’s an actress in the seventies so it’s probably because she was high. She was worried that doing voice work would harm her career so she asked Bakshi to take her name off the credits. Personally, I wish Bakshi had taken her name off the credits and her performance off the film but we’ve got what we’ve got.
So, Earth has been blown up by nuclear terrorism and three million years have passed. The surviving humans have mutated…
…and in the meantime, fairies, Dwarves and Elves have returned to the Earth from…wherever they were hiding out. The narrator drowsily informs us that one night the Queen of the Elves fell into a trance and wandered off and when her subjects found her she had two twin babies. The first was a beautiful little cherub named Avatar, and the second was a grotesque mutant who the Elves named Blackwolf because he’s clearly going to be bad news so why even bother, right?
The two brothers grew to be incredibly powerful, with Avatar doting on his mother while Blackwolf never visited her and spent his time torturing animals with his magic. The Queen dies, Blackwolf tries to take over, Avatar’s all “hell naw”, they fight, Blackwolf loses and leaves to create a world where “mutants can rule”. Yeah. He wants to create a world where the hideously disfigured remnants of the human race can actually be in charge of their own damn planet. That monster. So, the narration finished, we actually begin what is known in film school as “that actual damn movie”.
Three thousand years have passed and Blackwolf has set himself up in your standard issue villainous citadel in the irradiated wasteland of Scortch. Blackwolf send three of his minions, including a red robot named Necron 99, on a mission to assassinate the rulers of the dwarves, fairies and elves. They pull off the hits but while riding his dick faced mutant ostrich Necron crosses paths with an elf berserker named Weehawk.
Goddamn that is cheap. And look, I know this thing was made for only 1 Million dollars but at the same time…God there is just so much sloppiness here. Like, you see those things they’re riding? They’re two legged because that makes them easier to animate. Okay, good. That is a clever, interesting way of overcoming you budget restrictions. But when they have the creatures chasing through the forest they still use the sound effect of horses clopping despite the fact that they don’t have hooves. Am I being picky? Maybe, but the fact that I’m noticing little stuff like that is a bad sign in and of itself, no? Anyway, Necron shoots Weehawk’s partner (or possibly his twin brother considering that they’re the same fricking dude) and Weehawk knocks Necron off a cliff and they go plummeting into the waters below.
Okay, so I will be tearing strips off this movie pretty much all through so let’s get one thing out of the way; the backgrounds are STUPENDOUS.
Look at this.
That’s some motherfucking craft right there, that’s what that is. Have another.
Yes. All the yes.
This was all done by artist Ian Miller and it is by far my favourite part of the whole film. Wizards has a cult following which means that when this review goes up I’m probably going to wake up hog-tied and about to sacrificed at the end of a midnight showing of Fritz the Cat so let me just repeat that I LOVE the backgrounds. The backgrounds are alright by me. I would happy if one of them married my daughter. They are the shit.
The problem is the…everything else. Like, take a look at this:
The dude on the left is Avatar, our hero, and the cheapest tattoo on the studio wall is Elinore, our heroine. Are they as bad as they look? No, actually. Worse. This is them shown to their best advantage because the animation in this thing is a fucking insult to the craft but let’s focus on those character designs because what the fuck, right? Is this a comedy, you might be asking? No! No it’s not! It’s a serious fantasy film about science and magic and fascism! This is clearly Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings before some fool actually let him make Lord of the Rings. So what is up with these designs? These look, respectively, like the mascot of Lidl’s third worst Rice Krispies knock-off and your sister’s terrible mistake from her holiday to Ibiza. They are totally unsuited for the kind of story Bakshi wants to tell. And it’s not just the design. Avatar is played by Bob Holt as an old Jewish grandfather that never stopped making me think of Peter Falk in the Princess Bride which normally would be a good thing but when you’re a terrible fantasy movie, reminding me of the best fantasy movie is just rubbing salt in the wound. Oh but Elinore. Elinore, Elinore. Look, I’ve seen Fritz the Cat and I’m not expecting enlightened gender politics but JESUS. HER NIPPLES ARE LITERALLY VISIBLE IN EVERY SINGLE SCENE. SHE DOES NOT HAVE A SINGLE FACIAL EXPRESSION THAT COULD NOT BE TRANSCRIBED AS “DO ME DADDY”. SHE ENDS UP BECOMING THE GIRLFRIEND OF THE MUCH, MUCH, MUCH OLDER BEARDED GUY WITH THE NEW YORK ACCENT AND OH MY GOD BAKSHI ANIMATED HIS WANK FANTASY GROSS GROSS GROSS.
By coincidence, Bakshi recently posted some early concept art for Elinore that would have been…well, it would have been an improvement, at least.
Anyway, in Avatar’s tower he’s talking with Elinore’s father the President…
If her father’s a President she can’t be a princess that’s not how it fuck it. FUCK IT! I’M DONE!
Anyway, the President wants to arm the fairy kingdoms in preparation for war and Avatar reminds him that science and technology have been outlawed for millions of years which has made things “pretty peaceful”.
The President demands to know everything that Avatar knows so Avatar tells him how Backwolf’s armies have always failed in the past because of a lack of motivation, but that Blackwolf has found some ancient power that Avatar fears will turn the tide.
Suddenly, Necron bursts through the window and shoots the President. Avatar blasts Necron, and Weehawk bursts in and is all “Guys! This weird red robot is trying to kill the pres…aw shit, never mind.”
In Blackwolf’s citadel of Scortch 1, the evil wizard is informed that all three presidents have git got and so he puts his evil plan into action.
So when I first saw that shot I was rolling my eyes so hard I almost induced vertigo but I have to be fair here. Bakshi is not using the swastika as some kind of thuddingly obvious symbolism to imply that Blackwolf is like a Nazi. It’s not symbolism at all. Blackwolf isn’t like a Nazi, he literally is one. As in, he’s discovered some old footage of Hitler, decided that he likes the cut of his jib and wants to continue on his work. Which, I gotta say, is certainly interesting.
Blackwolf summons all his followers to him and promises to share with them, “the ancient secret of war”. Okay, slight problem. According to Avatar, the free peoples have been fighting Blackwolf’s forces on and off for thousands of years. Secondly, fucking look at these guys.
Anyway, Blackwolf uses a projector to screen actual Nazi propaganda footage which gets his army of demons, mutants and marauders all het up and ready for wickedness. And because of the use of this footage the figures appearing in it are technically cast members.
So Blackwolf’s army marches on the Elf kingdom where a load of identically drawn elves are waiting in trenches to hold them off.
So in this movie Bakshi uses a trick that he’d later use in The Lord of the Rings, saving on having to animate crowds by taking footage of battle scenes from other movies and posterising them. I will admit, these scenes are some of my favourite in the whole movie as they look trippy as anything. But it creates a big problem. Remember how in the LOTR I said that Bakshi’s use of rotoscoping, posterisation and tradition animation created a movie with a wildly inconsistent visual style? Wizards makes LOTR look as consistent as death and taxes. Here are some of Blackwolf’s troops.
And here are some of the elves.
Okay, those two things cannot exist in the same world. They just can’t. They come from completely different realities. Also, if Blackwolf’s troops represent technology, why are some of his soldiers riding horses? Yeah, I know it’s because there’s horses in the original footage but…actually hang on, I thought horses didn’t exist in this world and that’s why everyone’s riding dick faced ostrich creatures? THE WRONG PEOPLE ARE RIDING THE WRONG THINGS!
The battles starts and Blackwulf projects the Nazi footage onto…something…and this traumatises the elves so much that they drop their weapons and slaughtered to a man.
Oooookay. Here’s my problem with this. These elves? They showed up for war. They have spears in their hands and I don’t think they were for picking up litter. These elves were ready to throw down, man. They were ready to slaughter those demons. So how can they be so innocent and peaceful that some old black and white footage of warfare triggers them, but not have any problem with taking part in actual war?
Meanwhile, Necron has been re-named “Peace’ by Avatar and Blackwolf’s control on him has been broken. He agrees to lead Avatar, Weehawk and Elinore on a quest to Scortch to destroy the
one ring evil projector and they set off.
They cross through the land of the mountain fairies and credit where credit is due, this movie is one of the few to give an accurate portrayal of fairies because these fairies are DICKS. The fairies prank our heroes until Avatar finally has enough and unleashes a storm which causes the leader of the knights of Stardust, Sean (really?) to apologise on behalf of his people. Oh and Sean is voiced by some nobody called Mark Hamill.
Suddenly, Weehawk realises that Peace is missing and suddenly Sean is shot and killed and the fairies go ape-shit and the fairies kidnap Elinore (I think, the editing in this scene is shockingly bad) and Avatar and Weehawk run off to save her. Weehawk gets seperated from Avatar and is attacked by a monster but then rescued by Peace. Meanwhile, Elinore is brought before the king of the fairies to stand trial. The fairies blame Elinore for Sean’s death and try to execute her but she responds by shooting pink energy out of her vagina.
Oh you think i’m joking? Do you, now?
Avatar arrives and convinces the king to let them go and they disappear and re-appear in the frozen mountains where they meet up with Peace and Weehawk. They then come across a war band led by an elf named Abu, who’ve been camping in the desert waiting to launch an attack on Scortch. When Avatar sees that Abue’s troops are using guns that they stole from Blackwolf’s forces he loses it and punches Abu. Abu sarcastically announces to his troops that Avatar is going to destroy his brother with “a woman child, one elf and a moron robut”. And yes, he actually pronounces it “robut”.
Blackwolf tries to take control of Peace but Avatar fights him off. Then, a tank pulls up and as Peace is firing at it, Elinore stabs him in the back and jumps inside the tank. Avatar is heart-broken by Elinore’s apparent betrayal and he and Weehawk join Abu’s assault on Blackwolf’s citadel and oh my gosh these backgrounds. They make me feel like a frickin’ Capulet.
While the elves engage in a final, epic, last stand battle against recycled footage from Zulu, Weehawk and Avatar sneak into the citadel. They split up and Weehawk finds Elinore weeping in a dungeon, calls her a slut, punches her in the face and almost stabs her (Jesus Christ, Bakshi). But Elinore tearfully explains that Blackwolf had taken control of her mind and they hug it out and everything’s fine now, i guess. Meanwhile, Avatar and Blackwolf finally come face to face. Blackwolf gives the traditional villain monologue and tells Avatar to surrender. Instead, Avatar offers to show Blackwolf a magic trick that their mother showed him, saying “I’m glad you changed your last name, you son of a bitch.”
And then Avatar takes out a gun and shoots Blackwolf dead.
No sarcasm, that is legitimately brilliant. It completely upends your expectations, it shows that Avatar has finally realised that technology is neither good nor evil but is simply a morally neutral tool. It defies convention. That’s awesome.
With Blackwolf dead, his citadel crumbles and the monsters run and our heroes head back home. Elinore tells Weehawk that he will now be king of Montagar (wait, wait, I thought Montagar was a Presidential Republic?) and announces that she and Avatar are getting married.
If you pitched me a movie about an alliance of fantasy creatures battling a resurgent Nazism in post-Apocalyptic Earth I’d say “I’m not a movie executive, why are you pitching me a film?” But I might also tell you that that’s a really strong concept and I could definitely see a good movie being made from it. So, as always with Bakshi, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here to discuss and plenty of striking visuals. The problem is…
Okay, you know what? After three movies I have to call it:
Bakshi is just a terrible film-maker.
The tone is totally inappropriate, the comedy is the worst kind of leaden schtick, the character designs are childish and lazy when they’re not offensively sexist, the voice acting is abysmal, the plot is a boneless lump of misshapen, pointless incident.
And the animation is the mother. Effing. Pits.
The characters lurch around without a hint of grace and I made a game of trying to find a scene where someone’s lip movements actually synched up to what they were saying.
It only had a million dollar budget? BS. You can either draw or you can’t.
Fritz has all of Wizards’ problems and more, but it had seething, radical politics that made it compelling to watch. The Lord of the Rings has the benefit of being based on one of the great 20th century novels. But Wizards is just Bakshi trying to make a film.
And he sucks at it.
Some stunning backgrounds, to be sure, and striking use of posterised live action footage. But when it comes to the actual, y’know, animation? Awful, bordering on incompetent.
Okay sure, we’ve got the awfully voiced misogynist elf, the awfully voiced robot who looks like a grim and gritty reboot of the Noid, the pervy old wizard and his much younger girlfriend who looks like a particularly shitty tattoo you’d find on the buttock of a Florida bar skank passed out in a pool of her own vomit. But don’t forget, we’ve also got…oh.
Future wizard Hitler.
Supporting Character: 3/20
When history’s greatest monster is still not the worst part of your cast, you’ve got a problem. Three points for putting food in the mouth of a young, pre Star Wars Mark Hamill.
“Wow! A huge fantasy battle! You know what this means?”
“Aw yeah, baby. Time for some porno music.”
FINAL SCORE: 22%
NEXT UPDATE: 02 August 2018
NEXT TIME: Oh I am waaaaaaaaay too white for this…