The animation wizardry of Ralph Bakshi

I’ve always loved animation, and I grew up obsessed with the animated film Wizards on cable. It was a sci-fi / fantasy film by legendary cartoon provocateur Ralph Bakshi, who previously had made the X-rated Fritz the Cat, and Heavy Traffic, and he also made the long, lost gem American Pop, which finally came out on video and DVD in 1998. (It was held up for over a decade because of the music rights).

Wizards came out in 1977, and reportedly did good business in theaters until the ultimately sci-fi crossover flick, Star Wars, came out of nowhere, and 20th Century Fox had to take Wizards off screens to make more room for Lucas’s space opera. (Funny enough, Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, actually provides one of the voices in Wizards.)

Now Wizards is in the news again, because it’s being redone for Blu-Ray, and Bakshi will be appearing at the L.A. County Museum of Art and Wondercon as the film hits its 35th anniversary.


Bakshi told NBCPhiladelphia that he’s “very shocked” the movie’s still remembered after all this time.

“I’m honored. I’m very stunned. It’s a surprise to me. Everyone says the same thing in slightly different ways, but like, ‘I was a kid when I saw Wizards and the thing that amazed me was that it had ideas in it. The film had ideas that I could think about.'”


Bakshi also said he feels vindicated that his film has stood the test of time, because he left Hollywood at the beginning of the ’90’s. 

“Before the explosion came on the Internet and everything and the DVDs, I left kind of broke and tired. So it made me feel like an artist, which is all I ever was anyhow. It made me feel like it was worth it… From a guy who felt that he had lost, I felt that I have won now and I feel like an artist and that’s all I ever wanted to be: an artist.”


Years ago, I interviewed Bakshi, and here’s what he told me about Wizards then:


“I love science fiction, I grew up in the fifties, you had to love science fiction to grow up in the fifties. Science fiction and fantasy is part of any cartoonist’s life, it’s not alien to them and I wanted to do a fantasy. I myself got kind of tired of the mean street films. In other words, I wasn’t going to keep doing mean street films, I wanted to do something else. Why would I want to keep making the same picture over and over again? It was nothing more than that. That’s another reason why animation works on so many levels.


“Wizards was very heartfelt. I’m not exactly in love with technology and I was very nervous about the right wing making a comeback. I was also discussing the Holocaust being a Jew. There were scenes of boxcars filled with elves. It was also about the state of Israel being reborn. It represented a lot of different feelings I had about World War II, technology is to be feared if you’re not careful, right wing fascism. 

“That was the same sort of discussions I was having on my city films, I just put it in a fantasy context because it would be easier to take. Avatar (the good wizard in the film) had to use a gun to kill his brother, Black Wolf, in the end. Technology’s a bitch but if it saves your ass, you’ve gotta go for it but you’ve gotta be careful how you use it. That was the conclusion I came to because I didn’t know how I was going to end the film. So that was the conclusion I came to is technology’s okay if it’s used with care.”