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Feature Film

“Wizards” coming to Blu-ray

As blu-ray catches on with consumers, more and more vintage animation is getting a hi-def make-over. Disney has been releasing its features, one by one, in this format for years. Warners has just begun releasing classic Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry shorts on blu-ray.

20th Century-Fox has now jumped into its vault and has remastered Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards for blu-ray release on March 13th. I remember loving this flick when I first saw it back in the seventies. It inspired Wendy Pini’s cult comics masterpiece Elfquest, and was the catalyst for several animated fantasy features that followed in the next few years (Heavy Metal, Rock & Rule, not to mention Bakshi’s own Lord of The Rings). I always remember Wizards as Mark Hamill’s other 20th Century-Fox fantasy film from 1977 (you-know-what was the other one).

The Wizards blu-ray is being tied to the film’s 35th Anniversary, and being released in “Digi-book” format which packages the disc inside a commemorative 24-page book. The book features an introduction from Ralph and is illustrated with much rare artwork from his personal collection. The film comes with audio commentary by Ralph, a documentary Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation, theatrical trailers and TV spots and 300 still photos.

So what do you think? Has time been kind to Wizards? How does it hold up in your opinion?

  • It’s already out on blu-ray in the UK. It’s still very good news!

    What I really want is “Coonskin”! Is it still being released? Amazon is saying something about a June 5 release (DVD only though: !)

    • John Schwengler

      No sure where you are, but I got a copy of it on DVD through my local comic store – it came out on December 14th (although Diamond usually gets it later than retailers, so it may have already been out). The order reference code is OCT112070.

      I can’t speak to the transfer quality (I haven’t watched it yet)

      • John Schwengler

        Oops, forgot to mention – you won’t find it as Coonskin, but rather Ralph Bakshi’s Street Fight.

    • I bought, last year, a Coonskin DVD, through Amazon US. It’s ok and complete, but probably was copied from a Betacam video or something like that.
      I also bought Hey Good Looking, but is sold as Coonskin 2 (!!!)

  • Bakshi deserves it, but I hope that in the XXI millennium we will finally get mature enough to live in a society that understands Coonskin, his best film.

    • Not to mention American Pop, pure genius and twenty years in advance in its time and Cool World, that is not as revolutionary as it could be, because the producers changed Ralph original script.

  • Wizards is a classic. It influenced so much art (underground) in the 1970’s. I think it introduced a lot of the old school NYC subway graffiti artists to Vaughn Bode. (Even though he didn’t work on it) Anyone living in NYC in the 70’s and 80’s would remember occasionally seeing characters from Wizards (especially the Peace character) spray-painted on subway cars.

    Far as I’m concerned “Wizards” is culturally significant.

    (BTW Someone please back Ralph Bakshi financially to do one more movie. He’s had his say in the 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s. I’d kill to see what he’d unleash if were to produce a feature today.

  • Wizards is, was and always shall be unwatchably discombobulated. But since it’s little more than an animatic featuring some very atmospheric artwork, I might just get that book and look at it, while imagining what it would have been like if someone made some sort of coherent animated movie out of it all…

  • cbat628

    That’s pretty cool! I saw Wizards years ago on youtube (I couldn’t find a VHS/DVD of it). From what I remember it was a little “out there” in terms of story, but that was part of its appeal. Plus I really like the design of the robot. I might I have to take a look at this Blu-ray.

    By the way, I tried finding out what this other Mark Hamill movie was. I have no earthly clue what Jerry’s talking about.

    • Rick R.

      Y’know, I think Jerry might’ve meant Corvette Summer with Annie Potts, but that didn’t get released till 1978.

      • cbat628

        See, I was thinking the same thing until I saw the release date! The only other movie I remember him being in around that time was The City with Robert Forster, and that was on TV.

        Granted, Mark Hamill is a pretty prolific actor.

  • Joe

    This was one of my favorite midnight movies back in the 70’s. The story concept is really great and Susan Tyrrell’s voice narration was perfect. The musical score dates the film and the Saturday morning cartoon animation quality and designs can take away from the serious plot.

    The rotoscoping added a darker tone that I appreciated. The contrast between cartoon and roto at times felt like you were watching two different movies. It looks like Bakshi did as much as he could with the budget he was given.

    I’m sure all the film artifacts will be stripped away for Blu-ray. This will be strange for me since every showing I viewed had mass amounts of them. Maybe they can have a “midnight movie” version on the disc.

    • That’s exactly what the UK (region-free, no 50 Hz content and been out here for years) Eureka Ent. Blu-ray Disc, indeed most of Eureka’s BDs, is, so there will always be that option. But no book with that, so now I’ve the excuse of waiting to see how this Fox one does for regions and whether they use the same or a similarly no-fiddle transfer or opt to Disneyfy it.

      Having both options, both region-free, for anyone who cares one way or the other might not be a bad thing.

  • Has always been one of my favorites from Bakshi… The whole look and sound of the film is so steeped in the 70’s,
    I think it may also hold some nostalgia for 30-somethins’ like me. :)

    Always remember wishing though that the entire movie could be animated like that great sequence of Avatar and Elinore up in the tower, when Peace climbs up to take care of business… To me, you can see Irv Spence all over those drawings. (Anybody know which sequences Mr. Spence had a hand in, specifically?)

    Wish Ralph had the budget to do it all like THAT, in any event!

    Still though, always really dug this film. Will definitely buy the blu-ray when it releases. Looks great!

  • David

    On the Laserdisc you can see the smudge marks on the glass planes… I hope they didn’t fix it, it was kind of cool.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I have to laugh that I still own an LD copy of this film too (I think it’s fun watching it in full-frame glory).

  • I loved it when I saw it as a teenager. Nowadays, I can still enjoy watching it, but I can see its flaws a little better. The rotoscoping often looks pretty cool, but can sometimes come across as visually jarring. I’m not sure the backgrounds always meshed well with the characters.

    Still a really fun film, though, and my criticisms of it are admittedly subjective.

  • This is very likely a minority opinion, but I’ve long felt Ralph Bakshi to be enormously overrated. And since this, alone, could be construed as an incendiary comment, I will extrapolate:

    I believe Bakshi to be overrated, but at the same time, I also believe he’s one of the most significant animation directors of the 20th century. He’s just not a very GOOD one.

    I think that a lot of Bakshi’s praise comes from what he’s legitimately done well with his movies, which is capturing the spirit of a time and place. It would be hard to find more raw and guileless animated depictions of the late 1960’s and 1970s than that which appears in “Heavy Traffic” and “Coonskin,” even though both lack pretty heavily in story and technical ability.

    More to the point, there was really no viable competitor in the whole ‘capturing the spirit of the decade in the animated medium’ department. If aliens were to land in a small town, talk to its people and then depart, most attention thereafter would fall on the person who best documented the event. That’s Bakshi and the 1970’s — he was the guy who remembered to bring his camera.

    As for “Wizards” itself, it’s actually aged pretty well — mostly because Bakshi’s direction was so unique and, frankly, unpalatable to the mass market that there was no real evolution FROM that point, and thus no technically-sophisticated modern versions to compare it to. The obvious cost-cutting measures he employed were seen as cost-cutting measures back then; the cheesy live-action footage was cheesy then, as well.

    Story-wise, well, as stated, Bakshi was good at capturing the spirit of the 1970’s. For better or worse, that went for his fantasy work as well, and if one is going to complain about the floaty hippie philosophy that defines “Wizards,” one shouldn’t be watching the movie in the first place. Suffice it to say that the movie was so timely that it manages to be somewhat timeless — it will never be anything other that a product of a very specific era and mindset. Either you’re on board with it or you’re not; the question of aging is pretty nigh meaningless.

    • I guess a director doesn’t need to be good to make entertaining films. His films are most of the time a complete mess and goes in weird directions, but that’s part of the appeal (Of what I’ve seen, not sure I should watch his Lord of the Rings or his rotoscope-heavy stuff, I’m sure they’re atrocious like everyone says). Overall I agree with what you’re saying, yet I genuinely enjoy most of what I’ve seen.
      Reading the comments here, it seems that either you don’t like him or seen his stuff before adulthood. I’m neither, so maybe I’M the minority!

  • Scarabim

    Speaking of Elfquest, supposedly Warner Bros. has optioned it for a feature film. Anybody have any news on that?

  • Clint H.

    Bakshi is one of my idols, and I love all of his films. But if I were to pick my least-favorite, this one would be it. Visual-wise, it’s great, though it can look ugly at times. But when it comes to story, it has it flaws. It seems to concentrate on the villians more than the main characters, and the relationship between Elinore and Avatar is rather strange. But despite it’s flaws, the film is certainly ambitious. Despite the budget Bakshi was given, it was made up for the great character designs, and intriguing story. It’s great to see a Bakshi film on Blu-ray, and I hope to see more of his titles on the format very soon.

  • I was not used to the unapologetic mix of stylised live-action and animation and the backgrounds were recognisable from several great Tolkein Illustrators from the seventies which I was aware of before seeing the film. Two shots I recognised as being an illustration of Barad-dur by Ian Miller crudely wiggled into life by painting over the static drawing of an orc.
    It’s dreaful. I’m so sorry to say it, but people admire ‘get-it-done’ personalities too much. It may have been influential and I’d definitely recommend watching it to a student, but perhaps as a dire warning of what happens when you cut corners as a matter of course.
    (Was born in 1987, sorry.)

  • The most entertaining thing about the film are the tales of legal action concerning characters based too closely on the work of Vaughn Bode.

  • B.Bonny

    The only thing original in this movie was the zaftig fairy. As was pointed out above, however, it had the good taste to steal from the best (Bode, Tolkien, Eisenstein) so the movie acted like an introduction to culture of real significance.

  • makinita

    I sure loves me some Wizards before now and ever nuff said sirs !!

  • Wolf Lahti

    I found Wizards derivative, dull, and poorly conceived. The pacing was abominable, and you were unable to care what happened to any of the characters because they were all lifeless clichés. Only one scene in the entire debacle had any emotional resonance, and that lasted about 2 seconds.

    I was in my early twenties when I saw it and was perennially in the state of mind to unabashedly love every cartoon I stumbled over–but Wizards, even to my uncritical eye, simply stank.

  • I saw it when it first came out and have no desire to see it again. I remember it being incredibly uneven and disjointed. I’m happy to see that the trailer does justice to my memory of the film.

  • evan dorkin

    Owning a copy of Wizards would have thrilled me twenty or so yrs ago. I loved this as a kid when it came out (dragged my 11-yr old sister to watch it with me/fall asleep), had the movie poster on my wall, collected stills from it, drew the characters in my notebooks. But seeing it later…geez, it’s really a mess, even shoddy at times. As are most of Bakshi’s films (imo), and I say this as a die-hard Bakshi fan/animation geekanerd back in the day, I saw everything he did in the 70’s/80’s either when it came out, at midnight screenings or revival houses in NYC (except Fire and Ice, I was done at that point) and collected everything I could find/afford about his movies, (bought stills from Jerry Ohlinger’s at Star Trek cons, Spencer Gifts used to sell movie stills in the King’s Plaza Mall, hoodwinked my father into getting me a Funnyworld subscription). Bakshi was pretty much all there was if you were looking beyond Disney back then (Int’l Animation show with Jean Marsh on PBS…Nelvana tv specials…ummm…), but as others have pointed out, that doesn’t mean his films are necessarily all that good. Ugly rotoscoping, choppy story/storytelling, corner-cutting sinks Wizards, it’s half-baked throughout, and as also noted, it rips off Vaughn Bode’s Cheech Wizard, Cobalt 60 et al. It’s got some interesting bits, but when static shots (drawn by Mike Ploog?) and Susan Tyrell’s voiceovers are some of the strongest segments of an animated film, that doesn’t bode well (pun intended). Pretty much every Bakshi film has something cheesy or just plain terrible that weighs it down, inc. Heavy Traffic, Coonskin. I forget the name of the unfinished film Bakshi eventually completed with rotoscoped dancers/actors (iirc) – Hey, Good Lookin’? Just murdered the film. I think Bakshi had solid overall ideas and aspirations (except when blatantly glommed from other creators), but his reach exceeded his budget, execution and maybe talent, to pull it all together. And he has a tendency to toss vulgar oddball stuff into a movie out of nowhere. He can produce great scenes and images but the movies are jumbled, awkward messes. He’s a firebrand and an important figure in many ways, but I find him more of a character/hustler/schlockmeister than a great filmmaker. Just my two cents.

  • Ignatz, Coconino County Menace

    Whoa!!! Dagnabit, I don’t own a Blu-Ray player! I guess this warrants buying one. LOL WIZARDS is one of Bakshi’s best films in his output or filmography, in my opinion.

    I own the original DVD release that has the Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation documentary bonus feature. Bakshi offers great insights and anecdotes about making the movie. The battle sequences, using the negative prints of classic war movies, were awesome considering his budget restrictions. Bakshi is a living legend and the paragon of DIY animators!

    I must own this. Thanks for the news.

  • Tim Hodge

    The best thing about this film was the poster.

    According to IMDB, ‘Wizards’ had about the same production budget as ‘The Rescuers’, which came out the same year. You can’t really compare story or even style since the films are such different genres, but you can compare production value because they are the same medium.

    Bakshi has some high points in his film that are great. But the long stretches waiting for these moments is tedious. With his budget, Bakshi should have written a less epic storyline with fewer crowd scenes.

  • Right, cannot BELIEVE I forgot about the whole
    Vaughn Bode thing!

    Does anybody know the story behind that? Some of the designs in the film were sooooooooo Bode!

    Has Bakshi ever spoken to that?… Would love to know more about that, as Bode is not credited for the film, is he?

    I also seem to remember hearing that Bode and Bakshi were friends?… very interesting!

    • The Gee

      I am surprised that in his post Jerry mentions the flick inspiring the Pinis’ “Elfquest” but not that it was inspired by Bode. That’s just as crucial, as info goes.

      As it goes, I’ve read things about The Situation but that’s it. I don’t even recall which particular interviews with Bakshi give his side of the story but I thought he gave his side of the story.

      That said, if the interview, or an account of the situation, is online….I dunno.

    • Ryoku75

      I remember reading somewhere that Bakshi and Bode did know one another, and they were talking about making a film until Vaughn saw what had happened with Crumbs strip when it became a film.

      I’m not sure what really happened though, I do know that the animation in Wizards remind me of some of the trippier episodes of the 1960’s Spider-Man cartoon.

  • Tom Minton

    According to Woolie Reitherman, at a September 1977 USC animation conference I attended, “The Rescuers” cost between seven and eight million dollars. According to Ralph Bakshi, with whom I worked for years, the budget for “Wizards” was 1.1 million. Where IMDB got its figures, who knows.

    • Tim Hodge

      Yes, looking at the films, this seems more accurate, especially since Rescuers was four or five years (or more) in production.

  • Agreed. The best thing about Wizards is the poster. That aside, I also liked the illustrated storyboard Leica-Reel technique used in the opening. As for the rest…

  • This is the sort of Blu-ray treatment Tom and Jerry should have gotten.

  • Gorgilla

    All I remember about seeing Wizards in the theater is seeing a trailer for what looked to be a broad science fiction spoof called Star Wars.

    • The Gee

      Oh yeah, Star Wars.

      Personally, I always thought that film was a poor imitation of “Starfish Fistfights”.

      I mean seriously, the Death Star was a just rip off of the death scene at OK Coral Reef, the climax of SF. And don’t get me started on how the epic radioactive sword fish fight scene was co-opted by Lucas.

      Oh yeah. Wizards. ummm…it is nice that people are excited about its video release.

  • The Mike Ploog artwork (and a LOT of Van Bode’ influence in there as well) was what I loved about this movie!

  • This was always my favorite Bakshi movie, which is kind of funny because it’s always one of the few Bakshi movies I can actually stand to watch. Some of my comic book fan friends snarl at this movie because they consider it a Vaughn Bode rip-off. Me, I praise it because for once Bakshi stole from all the right sources! And manages to mangle them together into a film that stands up on its own. The prog-rock-ish soundtrack deserves some special mention. And that narration voice is one of the most unique things I’ve ever heard at the movies.

  • mannyp1337

    One day I had this VHS anime fever, so I’s go to half.com and search for movies in the vhs anime section. I get this really badass american dub of a studio gibli film and then I pick out WIZARDS in hope of blindly finding something in the least bit entertaining. Needless to say I found neither, it was miscategorized as “anime” and was extremely boring! I really do not understand why I am reading all these positive words about such a boring film with terrible meshes of ugly cheap vices put together with silly stock footage and terrible direction. I fall asleep watching this film every time I try watching in hope that the fairies in this film magically make it somewhat entertaining. So I look up this director “Bakshi” and see that he made the American Pop movie, which I rented a few years back in my teenage psychedelic 60s faze of my life and that channeled even more boring, slow moving, bad directing memories. So by what John K tells me, the 70s in animation sucked and by what I’m reading here, Bakshi was just a part of the 70s, but then again, Bakshi gave John K his lil big break, so I dont know whether to respect this terrible animation film director or just disregard his as terribly boring.

  • Bob Harper

    Man, I can’t wait for this. Bakshi films were my escape from 1970’s Disney flicks. Bakshi films were things my dad and I could find common ground. His movies always made me think, whether they fall in the realm of perfection is irrelevant to me. He tried making animation for an adult audience and had a voice. Considering he made 7 films in a 10 year span from Fritz the Cat to Hey Good looking, I’d sat he gave it a good fight, too bad the only American to try and continue this exploration has been Bill Plympton Hopefully soon I can follow in those footsteps and offer and alternative in animated features than family friendly flicks.

    • The Gee

      I still have some qualms. But, I do respect people appreciating Bakshi. Like you, Bob, and other people who like his films and by the people who were fortunate enough to work with him.

      As I get older, it is tough to dismiss the body of work he did based on not liking one aspect. That’s not fair. I’ve never thought that kind of dismissal is fair. But, it is human nature. We as a people believe in power of last straws. And, I’ll be darned if I haven’t been guilty of uttering Nevermore, or, enough!

      But, the guy’s made not only a lot of *different* features, he’s done a heck of lot of work in over 45-50 (?) years. That’s nothing to shake a stick at.

      I will still have qualms about that aspect though.

      (BTW, Bob, if you aren’t and you can, make something short and sweet and share it.)

      • Bob Haper

        I don’t mind people not liking Bakshi. The reasons are based on aesthetic and taste, which is what’s cool about it. We all have our own sensibilities and Bakshi was the guy who said “[email protected]# IT! This is how it’s going down.”

        I admire the filmmaker more than his films, but his films are at least an honest attempt at something original, especially during a time of stagnation. And there’s a lot of good stuff in them, even as a whole they don’t hold up for everyone.

        And thanks Gee, I’m working on plenty of stuff I’ll be sharing soon.

  • Gray64

    I must say, I’m glad for every Bakshi film I’ve seen, but I can’t say I’ve got much desire to see any of them again (with the exceptions of Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice, though those are probably the least “Bakshi” of the Bakshi films, and my affection for them stems from having seen them during a time when there were very few fantasy films to be had). They were frequently ugly, but then they were also frequently dealing with ugly subject matter. I know Hey Good Lookin’, along with a lot of Will Eisner’s Dropsie Avenue stuff, made me want to keep a good hundred miles between myself and New York City. Like Norman Von Scott said above (to paraphrase), I’m not sure if Bakshi’s a great animator or filmmaker, but he’s definately an important one.

  • Eric

    To critique this movie today is ridiculous. Of course as a film it’s a mess but that’s the appeal of Bakshi. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. Even his name is a shocker, growing up I always thought he was Japanese. Who would have thought he was some Jewish guy from New York. Bakshi is an animation underdog, still not receiving the praise he deserves. His movies evoke a feeling out of you that the world is not as Disney pretty as you might like it to be. He dared to take a childish medium and bring it to adults. Even Wizards his most kiddie oriented film had many a perverse subject matter that you wouldn’t even find in live action films. One of my first (dare I say) chubbies came from the insanely hot for a cartoon character Elinore. Are his movies tough to watch? Yes. Could he use better editing techniques? Yes. Is there anything else out there like Bakshi? No! Disney built an empire on telling people to close their eyes to the real world. Bakshi says hey this world is real and has texture and it aint always pretty or easy to sit through. I got to see him speak at ComicCon a few years back and he seemed to be a very disappointed uneasy guy, which is fine by me cause there are more of those types in the world than there are heroes.

  • tgentry

    I can’t stomach more than five minutes or so of Ralph Bakshi animation. I never understand the love it gets, it’s grating, nerve-wracking, inconsistent, and unwatchable. Throw in some ugly characters and tired Heavy Metal tropes… yeach. I’ll leave it to you guys.

  • what_in_the_cel

    I always wondered if this film would seem less dated if it had a full orchestral soundtrack as opposed to the funk that Bakshi loved in his films so much. I think his animated line was always something I respected. Most animators have a muted style, but just like Glen Keane you can see Bakshi in his pencil lines and like it or not he defined an era of animation with that style.

  • David Breneman

    I remember seeing this film first run. There was a lot of talk in the press about how much of it was rotoscoped (these were positive comments) and the animation in many areas was very fluid because of that — but in other places it was just TV-grade cell animation of the era. Until I saw the trailer here I’d forgotten how much was just posterized live action film. Maybe the first “motion capture” film! :-) But in the end the film didn’t captivate my friends nor me. This was at the nadir of feature animation and it just seemed to confirm our belief that it was becoming a lost art. Even pot couldn’t save it. I think we actually walked out of “The Hobbit” which came out at about the same time.

  • Jack Ruttan

    Too bad Vaughn Bode didn’t get on board when Bakshi asked him early on. Maybe his name might have attracted more funding, so it could have been done properly, even paying the animators well and doing R&D for better sequences. But then again, maybe not.

  • DonaldC

    “Has time been kind to Wizards?”
    Oh my God no.

    Still. It’s worth a watch at least once.

  • Brian Kidd

    I’ll never understand the hatred for Bakshi. Yes, his films are messy and anarchic. Still, Bakshi’s films were unique and stylish. Each to his own, but I’ll take his films any day over the sanitized crap we get much of the time today.

  • Royce

    It’s coming out on Blu-Ray? Any chance they’ll be able to put it back?

    Wizards is an incoherent mess of a film with a front-loader’s worth of exposition in the beginning and Ralph’s usual lousy rotoscoping through much of the rest of it.

    But compared to Fire and Ice it’s great!

  • Tom Stazer

    Thank goodness some see the naked emperor. Bakshis films are poor on every level. . The gorgeous backgrounds are the only feature I can stand. Ive seen them all trying to find why they are so beloved, but they are just awful. This is not coming from some uneducated stance. A fan of animation for 4 decades with a love of talented work from Prince Achmed to Cobbler and the Theif. I will never see value in Bakshis incoherent, cheap garbage.