WIZARDSOriginal Medium: Theatrical animation
Released by: 20th Century-Fox
First Appeared: 1977
Creator: Ralph Bakshi
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Science fiction became a separate genre, with proven mass-market appeal, in the early-to-middle part of the last century. Ever since then, there have been stories treating magic and science as alternate sets of principles on which reality may be based. In the early days, writers' points of view tended to regard the technology-filled "science" worlds as more modern and therefore "better" than the magic-based ones. But a later generation regarded de-humanizing,
polluting technology as a mixed blessing at best, and a bucolic, magic-based world as an attractive alternative. Wizards, which was released on February 9, 1977, was addressed to that generation.
In a far future, long post-holocaust world of fairies, elves, dwarves, etc., two brothers, one wielding revivals of ancient technology and the other a practitioner of the mystic arts, competed for world domination. The magic user, Avatar, represented Montagar, a kingdom of goodness and light. Relatively human-looking, too. The other one, Blackwolf, lived in the ugly, unpleasant land of Skortch. Also, he was a mutant, and not the kind of benign mutant you find in X-Men, either. It wasn't hard to figure out who was the good guy and who was the bad guy, not that those were the only traits viewers could use in deciding who to root for.
The brothers' story was told as a complex sequence of events involving a robot assassin (Necron 99, later called Peace), a beautiful royal daughter (Elinore), a spy (Weehawk) and other storytelling functionaries. In the end, it was a technological artifact that decided the issue, a twist that challenged the preconceived notions of many viewers.
Wizards was the creation of director Ralph Bakshi, whose early animation training came from Terrytoons and Famous Studios and whose previous features included Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin. Its original title was War Wizards, but George Lucas opined that two fantasy films, released in the same year by 20th Century-Fox, with the word "war" in their titles, might interfere with each other's publicity, and his own Star Wars was also on the 1977 schedule. For this reason, the name of the animation film was changed.
Avatar's voice was provided by Bob Holt, whose prior credits include Grape Ape and Hoot Kloot. Blackwolf was Steve Gravers, whose other credits are all in face acting. Elinore was Jesse Welles, another who has done mostly face acting, but who also had a role in Bakshi's later Hey Good Lookin'. Weehawk was Richard Romanus, also heard in Heavy Metal. Other voices included Mark Hamill (The Joker), Susan Tyrrell (several voices in Extreme Ghostbusters, Cow & Chicken and elsewhere) and Peter Hobbs (another face actor who lacks voice credits).
Instead of full animation, a major battle scene was made by rotoscoping stock footage. Not all viewers agree that this gave it an air of both realism and artistic detachment. But the move was made not for creative reasons, but due to budgetary constraints. Another imperfection is that the movie has often been compared with Vaughn Bodé's Cheech Wizard, implying a certain amount of artistic "borrowing".
Despite what many see as flaws, the movie was well-received critically, and has been a cult classic since its early days. It was released on DVD in 2004.