In the world of the animation, Walt Disney’s name is usually first on the list of the world’s best known. But when it comes to being one of the most visionary, then you can’t beat Ralph Bakshi.
Having achieved success – and infamy – for creating the world’s first animated porn, Fritz the Cat, back in 1972, Bakshi (who learnt his craft on my favourite cartoon series Rocket Robin Hood) went on to direct the streetwise Heavy Traffic and Coonskin before moving into the fantasy genre in the late-1970s – famously with a brave attempt at bringing JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to the big screen.
His warm-up to that epic was Wizards, released with modest success early in 1977, just three months before Star Wars hit cinemas and changed the sci-fi genre forever.
Bakshi’s post-apocalyptic fantasy concerns a battle between two wizards, one linked to magic, the other technology. Some millions of years after a nuclear holocaust, the world is divided between the Badlands, where goblins and demons dwell, mutated through generations by radiation, and the Goodlands, the realms of fairies and elves, including that of Montagar. During a violent storm, the queen of Montagar gives birth to two sons, one whom grows into the good wizard Avatar, and the other into the evil wizard Blackwolf.
This dazzling adventure is both ambitious and incredibly inventive (the animation owes a big debt to Japanese anime), and after its limited original run quickly became a cult favourite at midnight screenings. It also boasts the vocal talents Mark Hamill, (he was actually filming Star Wars at the same time) who has since made a great career in animation and computer games (he was the original Joker in the 1990’s Batman series).
First released on DVD back in 2004, Wizards is finally been given a beautiful new high-definition transfer courtesy of Eureka! Extras include a revealing audio commentary by Ralph Bakshi, stills gallery, and a handful of trailers.