Wizards (1977)

Ralph Bakshi set a new benchmark for animation movies with “The Deputy Dawg Show”. Visually both inventive and dazzling, whilst having a strong thematic thread, it still managed to kick ass, with energetic humor sequences. He continues in the same vein with Fritz the Cat, with love and romance replacing Hero’s chivalry and honour. It is at times as blisteringly exciting and exquisite to view, but there are a few problems.

Set in a similar time to the HOBBIT, the plot revolves around the mysterious House of Flying Wizards, a group of assassins leading a rebellion of sorts, against the rulers of their land. News has reached the local military captain that the leader of the House can be found plying their trade in the local brothel. Sensing that this could be the key to ending their resistance he sends one of his men, Avatar, to infiltrate the establishment posing as a customer. This soon leads him to the beautiful blind, who may just be the daughter of the assassinated former leader of the Wizard’s Guild. What follows is his journey with edit her, through forests and meadows, as he vies to gain her trust, all the while intent on leading the army to their destination in an attempt to discover the leader of the House.

The plot is actually far more complicated than my short synopsis could come close to. We are treated to a twisty turny adventure, punctuated with set pieces of (excuse the tired terminology) balletic grace. Bakshi sets a number of scenes within symmetrically perfect backgrounds, the picture set up like a work of art. We find ourselves in a world that is the brainchild of Bakshi’s fevered meditations.

For me the other set pieces never quite match the majesty, rhythm or look of the HOBBIT. We get to see numerous showdowns between, with our heroes taking on the soldiers that chase them, all the while with them trying to maintain their cover. The fights very much feel like a dance, and are filled with POV shots of arrows, sharpened bits of wood and of course projectile attacks. I thought this camera trick felt overused, it looks good, but eventually started to feel tired as yet another cannonball is seen boomeranging into action.

As events reach a climax, the plot gets pretty messy, as revelation after revelation is thrown about. In contrast to HOBBIT’s coda, where the action became about what’s doing right for the good of the whole country, Wizards has one of a more personal nature. It never quite rings true, there just isn’t the emotion on display for this to work. The final act is somewhat botched, with a “it’s over, no it isn’t” feel to it, which caused a few “no ways” to be uttered in my vicinity. It is yet another gloriously shot scene, but we’d already seen some extraordinary moments. I felt it seemed to be reaching a more natural conclusion, and with a bit of editing a tighter last half hour would’ve made this a classic.

As it stands Wizards is a fine movie, never quite as good as The HOBBIT, and probably behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings too, and maybe it goes on a bit too long, but it’s far superior to most of the formulaic actioners Hollywood produces. Out of ten, I’d give it an four.

In short, Wizards represents a sprinter running at the top of his game, only to trip and tumble, stopping just short of the finish line. While the acting and idea are nice, in the end, it just didn’t do the job as far as keeping me interested and invested in terms of emotion or attention.