I remember when I was a kid, I saw my neighbors’ dark grey tabby get run over by a car speeding through our neighborhood. I believe it was one of the first times, if not the first time, I’d see an animal that I knew personally killed.
Days after the accident, I found myself in my room using crayons to draw the dead cat, his body smashed into the hot pavement like gum on the bottom of a shoe. I remember being embarrassed and worried that my parents would walk in and see my drawings.
One day, my dad did walk in and see a few of my pieces lying on the floor. However, instead of being mad he just looked at them and asked me if I was okay. I told him what I had seen, he gave me a hug and left my room.
It wasn’t until college, that I learned young kids often reenact things that they have trouble understanding. One way in which they reenact things is through illustrations. This idea of illustrations being used by kids as a method to reenact things that are hard to understand always stuck with me. This must be what adults who make animated films think about when they are writing and creating their films.
The goal of a good animated children film is not only to entertain but help kids understanding the sometimes complex things in life.
This is exactly what writer-director Ralph Bakshi was attempting to do with Wizards, his first foray into children animation. Unfortunately, his dark yet beautifully animated film is too heavy-handed and leaves young viewers either too scared or disoriented to get his passionate messages.
Set in a Tolkien-esque post apocalyptic future brought upon by nuclear war, a battle wages between a small but noble wizard named Avatar and his evil twin brother, Blackwolf. Blackwolf banished by Avatar, after trying to obtain the throne left by their dead mother, now rules a radiated piece of territory called Scortch. In Scortch, Blackwold uses restored ancient technology and Nazi propaganda films to lead a group of mutants on a conquest of the world. Avatar must travel through different magical and deadly realms to stop his evil brother’s plan of world domination. Avatar wont have to do it alone, joining Avatar on his quest is the over-sexualized fairy princess Elinore, Peace (formerly Necron 99), an evil robot who has lost the will for war, and the aggressive elvish spy Weehawk. Will Avatar and his group of fighters be able to stop his brother before he exacts his revenge or will a traitor in the ranks spoil the heroes chance at victory.
The plot of Wizards is not nearly as interesting or powerful as the animation. There are many interesting if heavy-handed scenes where director Ralph Bakshi explains the key messages in the film.
In this scene, evil wizard Blackwolf uses a restored projector to play old Nazi propaganda for his mutant troops. The mutant troops inspired by the propaganda films, later take on the notorious Nazi symbol as their own.
Two of Blackwolf soldiers, Max and Fritz, search for some priest because they need to know what to do with some POWs. Fritz asks Max, “Why are we doing this.” Max responds “ Idk.. I guess because you need God on your side stupid.” The two priest turn out to be imbeciles who continually pray all day and subject themselves to self-flagellation.
The final showdown between wizard brothers doesn’t end with a magical set piece, it ends Indiana Jones style.
The full movie is on Youtube and worth a watch.
Wizards was writer-director Ralph Bakshi first attempt at making an animated children’s film and due to the small budget allowed Ralph a level of creative control he had never experienced. It is evident, in Wizards, that Ralph’s artistic ambition clashed with his storytelling ability. Leaving a film that is often beautiful to watch but hard to follow. This movie was more of Ralph’s attempt to make sense of the complex things in his life than those of the children watching the movie.
Wizards is a dark, trippy and visually arresting animated kids film that covers serious topics with a heavy hand, resulting in a film that is a little too dark for kids but not coherent enough for adults.
“You can escape purgatory, but you can’t escape Hell.” - Priest in My Left Foot
This has been day 5 of 30 VHS In 30 DAYS. My journey to the center of VHS Hell. Special thanks to I Luv Video in Austin, The World’s Largest Video Store, for being my spiritual and literal guide through VHS purgatory.