unCulturedheader13By Zak Rye. Between low-brow and no-brow, this is unCultured, where we shamelessly promote and defend some of the “worst” films ever made. This week, we look back on Ralph Bakshi’s satirical 1977 animated opus, Wizards.

Screenshot 2015-05-21 at 4.45.07 PMBetween classics like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story, or even the wonderfully bizarre Peanut Butter Solution, most of us had that one movie we watched obsessively as kids. Revisiting these films as adults almost always produces one or two small revelations, usually regarding how deep, weird, and often inappropriate these childhood favorites actually were. None the aforementioned films, however, can hold the slightest flame to the brilliantly off-color, severely heavy themes of Wizards. I recalled the animated film as a cute, funny, slightly violent fairytale of sorts, but my memory of it was proven to be alarmingly inaccurate.

Set in a post apocalyptic world divided by light and dark, Wizards unfolds with potent symbolism. Described as “the true ancestors of earth,”elves, fairies, and gnomes have inhabited half the globe under the careful watch of the wizard, Avatar. On the opposing end, radioactive mutants under the control of Avatar’s estranged brother, Black Wolf, threaten to destroy the purer half of the world. Bakshi’s social criticism never approaches anything near subtle. In his fantastic interpretation of the war between magic and technology, it is stated early on that, “nature is the only true technology.”  In his attempts to conquer his brother’s people, Black Wolf employs the use of Nazi imagery and propaganda film to inspire his technologically fixated army, leaving the viewer with a nagging doubt as to what Bakshi is attempting to suggest.

Well-steeped in the 1970s microcosm of underground comics, Bakshi wet his animation feet with such dorm room darlings as Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. While Wizards is a semi-wholesome departure from his X-Rated freshman and sophomore releases, there is an obvious thread of perversion and rebellion sewn directly through the center of this piece. There’s the occasional swear word. There’s guns and blood. I did mention Nazi symbolism, right? Oh, at any point of the film, the ratio of female characters on screen to observable nipples is exactly 1:2.

wizards-1977-large-pictureUndoubtedly, the star of this film is Bakshi’s animation and Ian Miller’s illustration. Though it was forced upon him by the studio in order to stay within budget, his experiments in mixing live action, rotoscoping, and traditional animation are simply breathtaking and there is rarely a moment that isn’t visually stunning throughout the film. His work in Wizards borrows heavily from artists ranging from H.R. Giger to Cheech Wizard creator Vaughn Bodē, though it somehow weighs out in perfect balance. It was, in fact, Bakshi’s trial testing of mixing media during the production of Wizards that brought us the highly stylized Lord of the Rings, American Pop, and (the woefully underrated) Cool World.

Though Wizards was indeed intended to be more of a family-friendly film, at least compared to Fritz the Cat, there are many layers of social commentary that most kids would have a hard time grasping (I certainly did). Bakshi adds heaps of tiny clues to further shove his point down your throat. He uses swastikas and corporate logos in tandem with the fact that many of the film’s mystical battles are based on historically contentious locations (Avatar’s land of Montagar is shown to be in the same location as Germany, for example). Despite its dense subject matter, Wizards does unfold like traditional fairy tale of sorts. The lessons and morals Bakshi wished to convey are undeniably important and easy to grasp. There are words of wisdom laced throughout the film that echo our own struggle between the importance of nature versus technology. It’s certainly more relevant now than it was in 1977.

Wizards_35_Anniversary_04Five more things about Wizards that were too interesting to not rip directly off IMDb:

5) Though Wizards and Star Wars were released in the same year, George Lucas recommended to Bakshi that Mark Hamill voice the character of Sean. Hamill also auditioned for the part of Weehawk.

4) Much of the Rotoscoped images of the massively intimidating shadow warriors were taken directly from battle scenes in the films Alexander Nevsky, El Cid, Zulu, Battle of the Bulge, and Patton. This was mostly done in effort to save money, but created a dynamic effect rarely seen before in theatrical animation.

3) In addition to his excessive use of Nazi imagery, Bakshi also draws in multiple corporate logos into his scenes, including CBS, Pepsi, Rolls Royce, and the Oscars.

2) Beyond  being directly influenced, some might say totally ripped off, by Vaughn Bodē’s Cheech Wizard, Avatar is voiced by actor Bob Holt, doing a Peter Falk impression by request of Bakshi.

1) Because nerd points go a long way at DoomRocket, the seemingly destined-to-be-deleted “they killed Fritz” scene between Black Wolf’s minions is actually a tribute to Robert Crumb killing off Fritz the Cat. (Bakshi and Crumb had a falling out after the release of the Fritz the Cat film.) Bakshi voices the character who kills Fritz… so think about that.