Wizards (originally titled War Wizards) is an animated post-apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy film about the battle between two wizards, one representing the forces of magic and one representing the forces of technology. It was written, produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi.
Wizards is notable for being the first fantasy film made by Bakshi, who was previously known only for urban films such as Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin. It grossed $9 million theatrically, and has since become a cult classic. It was released on DVD in 2004.
The planet Earth has been badly damaged by a nuclear war instigated by terrorists, and it has taken two million years for the radioactive clouds to once again allow sunlight to reach the surface. Only a handful of humans have survived, while the rest have changed into mutants who roam the radioactive wastelands of Earth. In the good land of Montagar, fairies, elves and dwarves (the true ancestors of man) have returned and now live happily in the good areas. During a celebration of 3,000 years of peace, Delia, the queen of the fairies, falls into a trance and leaves the party. The puzzled fairies follow her to her home. One of the older fairies finds that Delia has given birth to twin wizards. Avatar, the kind and good wizard, spends much of his boyhood entertaining his mother with beautiful visions, while Blackwolf, the mutant wizard, never visits his mother, and spends his time torturing small animals.
After many years, Delia dies. Blackwolf is excited; he believes he will take over her leadership and rule the land. Avatar engages in battle with his evil brother, emerging as the victor because his magic was strengthened by grief over his mother's loss. Defeated, Blackwolf leaves the good lands, vowing to return and 'make this a planet where mutants rule'.
Years later, Blackwolf becomes the leader of the dark land of Scortch, where he finds and restores bits and pieces of old technology. He tries to attack Montagar twice, but fails both times because his warriors become bored or sidetracked in the midst of battle. When Blackwolf discovers an old projector and reels of Nazi propaganda footage, he enhances the projector with magical power that make the images "real" and utilizes this as a weapon at key moments in battle to inspire his own soldiers and decimate the elves.
Meanwhile, in Montagar, Avatar has become a tutor to Elinore, the daughter of Montagar's president. Avatar is training Elinore to become a full-fledged fairy. The situation in Montagar is complicated when the president is assassinated by Necron 99, a robot sent by Blackwolf to kill the believers in magic. After a confrontation through brain reading, Avatar learns from Necron 99 that the deciding factor in the war with Blackwolf is a 'dream machine' (the projector) which inspires armies with ancient images of war. Avatar, Elinore, Necron 99 (who no longer wants war and is renamed Peace), and Weehawk, one of Avatar's elf spies, set out to destroy the projector and save the world from another Holocaust. Avatar, Peace, Weehawk and Elinore eventually travel to a forest which primarily features fairies.
Peace tells them that he thinks that there is something wrong with the forest. All of them soon meet the leader of the fairies Sean (played by Mark Hamill). Weehawk suddenly notices that Peace is gone. At that moment Sean is killed by an unseen killer and Elinore is captured. Avatar and Weehawk search for Elinore in the forbidden Fairy Sanctuary. Weehawk falls down into a chasm but tells Avatar to keep on looking for Elinore. Meanwhile Elinore is going to be killed by a bunch of fairies and small human-like creatures. Avatar arrives just in time and explains that he is there for a misunderstanding, wanting to get Elinore back. The fairies attack him by shooting an arrow into his shoulder, and he does not fight back, like he said. For this, the fairy king teleports Avatar and Elinore into snowy mountains rather than killing them. Avatar and Elinore travel through the mountains to where Avatar says Scortch is. But Avatar soon finds out that they have been walking in circles. Weehawk and Peace find them and they continue the journey. Soon Avatar and the others came across a place with a General whom Avatar met some time before. The General hopes that Avatar will join them in a battle against Scortch that they were planning for the next day. Soon that night Elinore is outside with Peace when one of Blackwolf's things tries to attack them. Avatar comes out and is able to stop it. But then a Tank comes. Peace fires a gun at the Tank and then checks it out. But Elinore throws a sword at Peace, killing him. Elinore then jumps into the tank as the tank drives away as Avatar and Weehawk watch in confusion.
The next day Avatar and Weehawk take ship and soon arrive at Scortch. After some brief problems, Avatar and Weehawk head their way towards Blackwolf's castle. Meanwhile, the General leads his elf warriors into war against Blackwolf's men, with many on each side being killed and lots of blood being spilled. Weehawk went after Elinore while Avatar went after his brother, Blackwolf. Weehawk was about to kill Elinore, but Elinore explained that Blackwolf had been controlling her mind after she touched Peace. Blackwolf tells Avatar that the only thing he can do now is surrender to him, since he thought he could not be defeated. Avatar pulls a gun out and shoots Blackwolf. After his death, Blackwolf's men give up fighting. Weehawk decides to return to Montagar, while Avatar and Elinore decide not to go back, but to start their own kingdom.
Bakshi felt that he could make an animated fantasy film, and come up with the same elements that were in his other films. "If I could do a kids' film," Bakshi is quoted as saying, "with the same sort of emotion that people love, that doesn't lean on curse words, that doesn't have urban dialogue...that it would validate why I did these other films. [...] I wanted to do a family film that had heart, that talks to kids in a real way, so Wizards was a very important challenge for me."
The original title of the film was War Wizards. During the production of the film, director George Lucas, who, at the time was making Star Wars for the same studio, approached Bakshi and explained that "the various departments were having a problem with two fantasy films coming out with 'war' in the title." Bakshi was asked if he could drop 'War' from the title of his film. Bakshi told Lucas that he would think about it, before eventually changing the title to Wizards.
John Grant writes in his book Masters of Animation that "[the] overall affect of the animation is akin to that of the great anime creators - one has to keep reminding oneself that Wizards predates Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), not the other way round. [...] The backgrounds [...] are especially lovely, even the simplest of them; and in general the movie has a strong visual brio despite occasional technical hurriedness." Notable artists involved in the production of Wizards include Ian Miller, who produced the gloomy backgrounds of Scortch, and Mike Ploog, who contributed likewise for the more arcadian lanscapes of Montagar.
Bakshi was unable to complete the battle sequences with the budget Fox had given him. When he asked them for a budget increase, they refused (during the same meeting, director George Lucas had asked for a budget increase for Star Wars and was also refused). As a result, Bakshi finished his film by paying out of his own pocket and using rotoscoping for the unfinished battle sequences. According to Bakshi, "I thought that if we dropped all the detail, it would look very artistic, and very beautiful, and I felt, why bother animating all of this? I'm looking for a way to get realism into my film and get real emotion." In his audio commentary for the film's DVD release, Bakshi states that "There's no question that it was an easier way to get these gigantic scenes that I wanted. It also was the way that showed me how to do Lord of the Rings, so it worked two ways." In addition to stock footage, the film used battle sequences from films such as Zulu, El Cid, Battle of the Bulge and Alexander Nevsky for rotoscoping. Live-action sequences from Patton were also featured.
Renowned Swedish film critic Orvar Safstrom has the poster art of Wizards tattooed on his right arm.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment had long neglected to put the feature out on DVD until an online petition created by Animation on DVD.com and written by Keith Finch demanding the film's release on DVD was brought to their attention, influencing them to release the film in the format. The disc, released on May 25, 2004, featured an audio commentary track by Bakshi and the interview segment Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation. Bakshi has stated that Wizards was always intended as a trilogy. One of the sequels was pitched to Fox, who have yet to greenlight the project. But it has only been released as a Region 1 DVD and is not available in the other formats.
In late 2004, a Wizards II graphic novel went into production, produced by Bakshi. The stories will be from the Wizards "universe" and each story will be created by a different artist.