Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards presents a world that is at a far remove from (dated) modern times—or at least tries to: it’s set in an anachronistically medieval fairy tale world over two million years after atomic warfare and terrorism have buried and destroyed our civilizations. There is not, however, a total remove, for these past civilizations come back to haunt and threaten the new ones: Black Wolf, the evil twin and enemy of the good wizard Avatar, scavenges artifacts from the past, building war weapons from World War II and finding a film projector (“a Dream Machine”) as well as Third Reich film footage, inspiring all of his mutant henchmen and lackeys to go to wage war against the good elves and fairies and fight to claim the world as their own.
Bakshi, however, manages to portray the past civilizations as still removed in a formalistic way. He used rotoscoping animation, the method of using live-action footage as a foundation for animation—one literally animates over it. The rotoscope animation, however, is merely photographic dyeing and intense, grainy light contrasting of the live-action figures, qualities that keep them visually distinct from the traditional hand-drawn animation. Thus they become another layer of animation on the film, separate from both the background and the traditional hand-drawn animation. Everything live-action based—both rotoscoping and total live-action footage—is given an Other quality, the status of a foreign power in its influence. In this case, the foreignness is temporal; it comes from the past, both formally and thematically. The traditional and original animation is still the norm, and eventually defeats everything based on and backed by only influences of the past. The present prevails.
It’s difficult enough to figure out much of the logic of this quirky film’s content. Avatar of the good guys is an old pedophile, every woman character has generous, overt cleavage, and many of the dialogues are corny as well as blatant, somewhat political messages on religion, heroism, war vs. love, and other topics of debate from the counterculture 60’s, all of which make the film seem at least partially exploitative. There is also poking fun at the Wagnerian end of the world theory—everything is consumed in flames and drowned, but then things start anew—since that doesn’t totally occur, even with atomic destruction: Black Wolf still regenerates Nazi civilization, and it takes the forces of the present to repress those evil regenerations. The influences and propagandas of the past are strong, but they themselves do not strengthen. In the long run, we must strengthen ourselves without being possessed by what we are given.
These two clips are back-to-back. I think that together they illustrate my points pretty clearly.