As a (pleasant) result of my decision to go without Internet service in my new apartment [see previous post], I've been able to catch up on some VHS tapes that I've bought used (and in some cases, very cheap) during the past few years, only to gather dust.
Though Wizards could be seen as Bakshi's test run for Lord of the Rings, being Bakshi's own creation, it has a more unbridled, inspired flair to it. It's uneven -- a lot of momentum is lost in the middle of the film, which is absorbed by a subplot involving fairies that doesn't seem to bear much relation to the overarching plot. The war-versus-peace, tyranny-versus-freedom, love-versus-hate theme isn't explored with much depth, and the use of (via live-action archival footage) of Nazi imagery is a lazy, obvious way of representing fascism. Nazism WAS fascism, of course; it's just not a very imaginative reference. I think that the idea was to shock the senses with some unexpected harsh reality and cause the audience to reflect on the horrors of modern history. But when the movie is ALREADY depicting a tyrannical force, the live-action footage seems extraneous and inappropriate.
Still, the integration of said live-action footage is technically innovative, even if the "dream machine" conceit is meant to excite drug-addled burnt-out hippies. The, er, buxom Elinore being scantily clad for the entirety of the film is pure Bakshi degeneracy, of the lineage of his "adult" films of the early `70's. Avatar's cigar-chomping, gruff smoker's voice, and lewd sleaziness may seem incongruent for a post-apocalyptic sword-and-sorcery palette, but unlike Elinore, he's not without his charms.
The animation is generally very fluid, with some spotty moments; though many a random isolated cel could be mistaken for an animated TV series like Thundarr the Barbarian or He-Man. This isn't a criticism so much as it an observation that the line between "full" theatrical animation and "limited" TV animation of decades past isn't as distinct as the animation community once acted as though it was. The sketchy, stylized backgrounds are appropriate for the wasteland settings. The character designs range from realistic human figures to cartoonish characters that are somewhere between Fleischer and Dr. Seuss (much like Bakshi's later Christmas for Tattertown). The still artwork used with the voiceover narration that introduces the film and recurs in interspersed "bridging" sequences are some of the most impressive, resplendent visuals in the film, blending both lush illustrations and especially careful, full renderings of the Fleischer/Seuss-esque characters.