Bakshi: ‘Wizards’ Ahead of Its Time
Reflecting on his 1977 animated film Wizards, Ralph Bakshi said its message may be even more relevant today than when it first was released.
The film tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth millions of years into the future, and a power struggle between two brothers: the kindly Avatar, representing the forces of magic and love, and Blackwolf, representing technology and fear.
The primary message Bakshi wanted to convey, he said, was “that technology used wrong will corrupt the world and probably end the world.”
Bakshi, the animation legend behind 1972’s Fritz the Cat and the animated The Lord of the Rings film from 1978, spoke to a small crowd following a special screening of Wizards at WonderCon March 17 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. The film was recently remastered and released as a 35th anniversary Blu-ray March 13 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
“They’ve done a spectacular job on the Blu-ray,” Bakshi said. “I think Fox has done as much national publicity on this Blu-ray release they would do for a new film.”
Bakshi said such a widespread marketing effort wouldn’t have even been considered in 1977, when studios were less interested in animated features, let alone science-fiction.
“I got all my films made by not telling the studios exactly what I was making,” Bakshi said. “I made every film sound really funny to them. And the budget was so low they didn’t pay any attention to what I was doing.”
Wizards eventually grossed $9 million off a budget of $1.2 million, but Bakshi said it may have done a lot better if not for some bad luck involving another Fox film.
“Star Wars opened three months after Wizards,” Bakshi said. “We were doing exceptionally great business on Wizards, and when Star Wars opened, they didn’t have enough theaters to show both movies. The studio really didn’t think either movie would be successful.”
Bakshi said his legacy has been kept alive through alternative means of distribution.
“It’s 35 years later, and all my films are still playing, which astonishes me,” Bakshi said. “All my films are on YouTube. I’m still here because of the Internet and young college kids.”
Wizards blended hand-drawn animation with nightmarish imagery of hellish armies rendered through rotoscoping, a process of animating over live-action film.
Bakshi said that rotoscoping is a common practice in animation, though Wizards employed new techniques in achieving its effects.
“Now everyone is rotoscoping,” Bakshi said. “It’s just called CGI and motion-capture.”
Now 73, Bakshi said he hopes to make Wizards 2, though many studios aren’t willing to work with him because of his maverick attitude.
“I told Fox I want them to make the film,” Bakshi said. “But I own all the rights. They’ve reverted back to me.”
If he’s able to make it, Bakshi said Wizards 2 would pick up where the first film left off, and that with the technology versus magic motifs would remain. He said he would make the film using 2D animation, but the technology sequences brought to life via rotoscope in the original film would be rendered in CGI.
“That’s the metaphor,” Bakshi said.