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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Fantasy > Counterculture > Art > A BIG INTERVIEW WITH ANIMATION LEGEND RALPH BAKSHI !!!

Ralph Bakshi on the recent DVD release of "Wizards"


www.foxmovies.com (to order the DVD directly)


An Exclusive Interview by Stephanie Simmons and Areya Simmons

Ralph Bakshi is the master animator/director from a generation of character animators who took pride in what they did, and honored their passions. He's an artist's artist. Recently, I spoke with Ralph about his passions in light of the fact that "Wizards", his cult masterpiece, will be released on May 25.  We discussed his feelings about that project, as will as some of his impressions about other projects of his from that period, including his adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings", which is out on VHS and DVD.  We also talked about his future plans concerning a continuation of films whose whole story has not yet been told……..


SS: Hello, Ralph! This is my daughter Areya...

RB: Hi Areya! How are you two?

AS: Great!

SS: Ralph, I am so excited about "Wizards" coming out on DVD May 25.  This is really the answer to a prayer...

RB: Well, it's the answer to a petition that a lot of wonderful people were filling out...I actually found a "Wizards" petition in my email...so I signed it, I figured...okay... (laughter)

It's absolutely amazing.

SS: It's wonderful, and, I think it shows...well, first of all, you have had such an effect on film makers and animators and of people who are passionate about the art of filmmaking.  Many young people my daughter's age are not as familiar with you as they should be, and I think "Wizards" is a great opportunity for them to become very familiar with your work.

RB: That's very nice, thank you.

SS: And I noticed that "Wizards" is being released May 25 which is the same day as "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", and that should be a great group to pull in.  Many are already familiar with your work, and of course your work on "Lord of the Rings" in 1978...

RB: Yes, we'll that's what Fox thought. I said at the meeting this would be good, and they basically said what you said.  You know, when we released "Wizards" the first time, it was two weeks before "Star Wars", and it was doing fantastic for an animated film out there, especially in the fantasy film genre that wasn't Disney, and "Star Wars" started going right through the roof, and Fox wasn't prepared for either "Wizards" or "Star Wars" to do so well, so they pulled "Wizards" to make more room for "Star Wars".  I'm not complaining, I just wish they had been more prepared, but with the science fiction/fantasy genre...then I ran into another picture like that when I did "Lord of the Rings" and this time, the date worked to my benefit.  (laughter)

SS: Well, you know that Peter Jackson saw your film in 1978, and read the Fotobook [This and the Fotonovel were books that offered hundreds of full-color stills of the film, pre home video, then added word bubbles as if they were comic books] of the film, and that was his first exposure to Tolkien's tale, and it certainly would not have been undertaken without that influence...and I can tell you I was doing a play at that time of a compression of LOTR and I was playing Frodo there, and at the theatre while your movie was showing, so it made an impression on us all.  So, here is was the girl, playing Frodo... (laughter) which I guess by my physical description, (including short with big feet) I was Tolkien-correct.  (more laughter)

RB: Well, that's incredible because, my girl...for LOTR...the actress...I used a woman to play Frodo for the film...

SS: That's what I thought at the time, but I wasn't sure...

RB: Sharon was her name, and I wanted Frodo to be something other than masculine, and something other than purely feminine...you know, she came off of "The Mickey Mouse Club, of all things! And she worked out fine for me; she came off differently than a boy would, she had a different power than a boy would, and that's where I really got that sort of Hobbit quality by using a girl.  The only mistake on that film may have been in the producer...but that's another story...

SS: I'm sure.  Areya, you had a "Wizards" question, right?

AS: Yes...

RB: Yes, go ahead.

AS: Explain some of the creative process behind "Wizards", and what you hoped you were getting across at that time.

RB: Okay, that's a very good question.  I thought that animation should say something like themes in "Heavy Traffic" and Fritz the Cat" which really young people cannot see (laughter) unless you are over the age of 17, I think.  I basically wanted to say things that were important to me.  Most films are made now to be nice to the audience, and make many people happy and make a lot of money; but, my intent was to make myself happy as a filmmaker first, and hopefully find some audience somewhere.

So, in those days, I was very concerned about progress of technology, and I am still very concerned about technology.  It can be a wonderful thing, but if we sell our souls to technology, or we use it the wrong way, we could take our humanity away.  So, "Wizards" was really about the use of technology, the wrong way...to build airplanes, and bombs, and things, and propaganda...the whole premise was that with too much technology, magic disappears.  Magic of course means magic, but, it is also the human soul.

The premise behind "Wizards" is that humanity has to be careful that we can't trust technology to the extent that we continue to trust technology, and of course I don't want to get too serious but our planet can be polluted through a tremendous misuse of resources through technology.  It's unbelievable.  I'm a great believer in letting the sun shine.

SS: That's...tremendous.  That was one of the things we talked about last evening; I had my daughter and my best friend's son and a niece, all around 15 talk about the film, and about that issue.  In Mayan tradition we have a story in the "Popol Vuh" about Hunapou and Guakar the Shark Spirit; the Good Twin, Bad Twin concept...

RB: Right...

SS: ...and there's a lot to be said about the theme of what is nature centered, and suspicion around what is man-made technology.

RB: Exactly. Well, the Navajo and the Apache have stories, and one of their myths is frightening.  It is that one day most of all the fresh water will go away, and humans will be left to fight to the death over the remaining water. Our oceans are now being polluted to death.  You know, the old myths are very much true, and we have to be careful about how we treat each other.

SS: Yes, and do you think with the current climate of America so tremendously Conservative, or that's the spin we are lead to believe...

RB: That's the spin, exactly...

SS: I heard you say on the commentary that you feel that "Wizards" is geared to children, and this is such a thinking film for young people...there was an article in the morning paper on TV programming for children not being so bad, and I'm thinking: Dora the Explorer, Telly-Tubbies, ...and "Wizards"???

RB: Basically, you just nailed it.  My R-rated films were based on my experiences growing up in Brooklyn; the things that I saw, the things that I felt.  But, I also wanted to use the animation medium for children, but I was very anti what Disney was doing, and is still doing, you know, stuff like horses eating apples and everything, and cats and birds, etc.  I wanted to do a thoughtful film for children because children think.  In other words, the feeling that children have no brains, or have to be catered to a certain way...it's moronic without description.  I can't even begin to get into it, but...

"Wizards" was my first young family film; in other words, something that I did more for kids so that they could understand certain things.  I tried to get them to start thinking about certain problems.  It is defined in the rating which is PG; it is a kid's film, and I wanted to do a kid's film where they could think and enjoy and be taught (maybe taught's the wrong word), something about the world.  Given the ability to solve some of the intellectual problems of the world, instead of the garbage that they're given all the time.  They have to grow up to become human beings who are real adults, and if you give them the right information when they're young, so that when they're adults, they can try to figure it out.  "Wizards" was exactly that.

AS: Have you seen the transfer to DVD?

RB: No.

AS: Well, I think it transferred very well, and...

RB: Thank you!  I was really worried about it!  I was afraid to look! (laughter)

SS: Yeah?!

RB: I really was...

SS: You know what it reminds me of?

RB: No, how'd it look?

SS: Like Rembrandt moving...

RB: Really?! That's better then...

SS: ...because you could see the brush strokes.


SS: Yes!

RB: I will look at it now! (lots of laughter)

SS: It's really beautiful!  It reminded me of what they were trying to achieve effect-swise in that film with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Robin Williams, "What Dreams May Come"...

RB: Right, right...

SS: Where they're running through the Monet...

RB: Oh, sure; I remember that one!

SS: Well, here, it's legitimate.  You can see it in Avatar; you can see it in Weehawk.  It's really really neat to watch.

RB: Oh my God...

SS: ...and it's in widescreen, and it just sings.

AS: Yeah, beautiful.

RB: You know, I had nothing to do with that!  (laughter)  The guys at FOX are a miracle.  The whole time they were doing it, they sent me a copy to look at, and I was afraid to look.

To tell you the truth, I thought they might have to change it, and I didn't want to complain.  I have a hard time looking at my movies...

SS: Really?!  Because I love your movie and can look at them a hundred times.  "Heavy Traffic is one of my favorite movies of all time.

RB: Which movie?

SS: "Heavy Traffic"

RB: I haven't seen "Heavy Traffic" since I made it!  (uproarous laughter)

I have to tell you a funny "Heavy Traffic” story.  We were doing cartoons that we thought would sound funny.  When these people walked out of the "Heavy Traffic" screening, they looked at me like I was a madman.  I mean, these guys who were studio heads looked at me as if I was out of my mind, and I was on Cloud 9 because the picture was so depressing.  (laughter)

SS: Well, you know, having grown up in Pittsburgh, in "The Hill", I can get that!  I grew up there in the 50's and 60's...so I can get it.

RB: So then you know.

SS: I grew up in August Wilson's description, with Walt Harper's Attic.  I used to sit on the fire escape exit with a brick in the door in the summertime listening to artists like, Walt, and George Benson, and Ahmed Jamal, and when I was 15, I tried to dress up like a boy with my saxophone in hand so I could get in an a jam session with Lionel Hampton.

RB: Oh my God, that's incredible.

SS: And of course, I was busted, and he said, "just stay put next to me kid, and drink that ginger ale, and I let you blow a few notes... (laughter)

RB: Where do the kids have to go today to do those kinds of things, and learn in that sort of way?  Everything is so sanitized, it's just unbelievable.

SS: Well...it's really reached interesting points.  We have lost, I think, in my generation, and resemblance of safetly and community.  For most people, it's gone.  And I think one of the important things that you pointed out in "Heavy Traffic" and even in "Coonskin" that even if you have all that noise in the neighborhood, you also have a sense of commradery.

RB: ...and love.

SS: Exactly, and love, underneath it all.

RB: There is love; no question about it, big time.

SS: I realized watching "Wizards" for the first time in nearly 30 years, that that's what's missing: that sense of community that pulls itself together even when the world around them is in crisis.

RB: That's right.  Basically, I grew up very poor, but not for a minute did I feel poor in my neighborhood.  And not for a second was I ashamed.

SS: Exactly, not once.  And you made "Wizards" for about 1.2 million dollars, which is unfathomable to most people; they can't imagine it.

RB: Even in those days they were doing them for between 14-25 million, and "Heavy Traffic" and "Fritz" and "Coonskin" were all done for about a million, but that gave me my freedom.  It was very hard work, but for those low budgets, I knew the studio would not pay attention to me, so I was able to do what I did.  In other words, the minute they give me money to make films, they'd start getting what's called 'script notes'; they gave me money and now they would want to watch the films, but at those prices, it was a license for me to do what I wanted to do.  They would call up and say 'how's it going with the film?' and I'd say, at these prices, you don't even care...and they'd laugh, seriously.  And they'd hang up.

They wanted to say what they wanted to say, but when they saw the film, you should have seen their faces! (loud laughter) I was gettin' even, man.  I'd walk out of the room saying that's was exactly what I want.  And it's animation so you can't recut it; you don't have those scenes to go to, they were stuck with what I gave them.

SS: How do you feel about today's animation, anime like "Akira", today's rotoscoping and motion capture, CGI, etc.?

RB: Well, I've been feeling different ways.  You know, you have to be very careful with computer.  Computer animation doesn't have the heart and soul of character animation; it works for toys and fish under water (laughter, at the realization of what films Bakshi may be pointing this comment to) and inanimate objects that come alive, but it hasn't yet hit, and CGI hasn't yet the human qualities that the great old animation does.  The Japanese have done some fantastic things.  They're ultimate craftsmen; they have the biggest range of stories to tell in animation.  They do it fantastically, everything is just so slick.  But, I don't know, a lot of them, moreover, haven't grown up like you and I; they don't understand what jazz is.  They don't know how to incorporate it into a movie.

Animation is closer to jazz than it is to anything else.  Coltrane taught me how to animate; so, in the days when I used to go to clubs ... first of all, the important thing that they taught me was how important their work was.  These guys worked their clubs, how much were they getting paid?  Not very much, but they played their hearts out.  When I went home, the music stuck.  So jazz had much to do, and had a big impact on my work.  I had Billie Holliday in "Fritz the Cat"...

SS: Yes, I loved that!

RB: I was able to buy that song by Billie Holliday back then for $35 for the rights.  I mean, the masses don't get it...the prices for these kinds of American geniuses that would be played, like, you know, in the back room, and didn't get paid anything.  They taught me alot, those guys.  They taught me about loving your work; work being the thing, and not the money.  Not the money being the thing, but the work being the thing.  If the money is to come, then it comes, but if money never comes, then that works for me.  That's my generation; that's a product of the 50's and 60's.  That was before the record companies and big corporations took over everything.  You have these big giants owning everything.

SS: It's gotten kind of scary.

RB: Scary?  Scary isn't the word for it.  It's past scary.  The government has allowed them to band together, these big corporations, and once upon a time, you couldn't do that.

SS: Yeah, we used to have Anti-trust Laws that said you couldn't have a monopoly...

RB: They overturned the Anti-trust Laws; you couldn't have one company owning so much of the media, and each one of those laws has been overturned, and it's getting scary.  You've got no free thought anymore.  I've never seen so much quiet coming from the media, and the media is the life and breath of this country.

SS: Exactly.  Some of the points you brought up in "Wizards"... terrorists, bombs, New York City, anyone listening?  I've noticed that the POV (point of view) for a lot of CGI is very in-organic; that is, the placement of the camera angle for the action is very unnatural except for the camera view for the CGI, which is why, and I won't mention any names of directors right now, but some of the CGI is so dull, I can barely keep my eyes open.  And I look at your Point Of View, and it's so organic and natural and stimulating.  How did you achieve that fresh feel, that ability to get organic, authentic views?

RB: I didn't try to achieve anything.  Seriously.  You know, when one writes something, one can never be sure of where it will take you.  I would never lie to an audience.  I would never treat audiences as something to manipulate.  If I'm more organic, it's because I don't care what an audience thinks; I am not trying to figure out how to lie to them.  If I think about something, then I am going to present something, and I am not going to lie about it.  It's not about what they think; it's about what do I think.  That's a true film maker.  You make a film about something that inspires you, and you hope the audience gets behind you.  If I am more organic, it's because I don't sit there trying to downtalk the audiences.  I'm not trying to entertain them, I am trying to show them something.  I never cared about the box office, and if that made it more organic, then that may be the secret.  I never sat there and thought about the view.  People spend hours and years trying to figure out how to please an audience, and see if they will like what they're showing.  When, what matters is showing audiences the truth.  It may be something that they don't like, but it's the truth.  I think that that's the difference. I mean, I shot God in "Heavy Traffic".  I blew his head off and no one said a word, I thought I'd be dead.  But, it was pointed at religion, and no one said a word.

SS: Yeah, I got that one.  As a teenager (sneaking in illegally to see your film 'cause I was underaged)... (huge laughter)  I thought the character was speaking out against this institutionalized, control and manipulation of people and their thoughts and passions is just plain wrong.  That's what I got out of it.

RB: That's exactly what I was saying, and it's still going on.  What's happening today is this misuse of God again.  What is going on here?

SS: Well, you just hit the nail on the head with the POV perspective because the real point of view isn't what's going on in the film but what's going on with the artist.  You were filming YOUR point of view, and I just had this epiphany, that what's been going on slowly but sometimes rapidly in some genres has become that the point of view is what will bring in the most money, and staciate the public rather than educate, or enlighten.

RB: Exactly.  That's exactly it.  And I've said this a million times, that when kids living in ghetto schoolyards have to wear $150 sneakers so they won't get harrased or beat up, to be accepted, then there's something wrong with that.  When you can't play in the schoolyard with $2 sneakers, then something's wrong.  And that continues....that continues.

AS: You employed different styles in the same frame and changed types of animation in the same film to change emotion portrayed in a given scene.  It's a very effective technique.  Why do so few major films use this approach?

RB: WOW!!! That's the hard part.  Well, there are these theories...they are all mixed up, but I'll try and straighten some of them out.  People are terrified to disturb an audience from their dream.  Integration is everything in my life, integration is everything for the animals and mankind; it's everything for the planet.  I think that there's nothing better than integrating emotionally, as you said, styles that are right for that emotion at that moment.  I think that audiences will accept that and understand what you're doing; they're not stupid.  I believe what you said, which blew me away basically, that styles help dictate certain emotions, and there's no reason to be afraid to use them in the same frame.  It's more interesting than not interesting, and when you don't do it, you're trying not to disturb the audience.  I'm not afraid of making them feel, and that's definitely a style of mine.  I do that in all of my films; I combine animation techniques to help tell my story.  It's ghetto animation; the kind of animation that people that I grew up with would understand.

SS: It's kind of animation graffiti, with layers of expression.

RB: Exactly, that's all in there.  I love Brooklyn, I love that town.  It's for the people.

SS: Yeah, I've been up there, and everyone has always been friendly, like Pittsburgh, you can talk to everybody.  I never felt uncomfortable there.  There were always people hanging out in the street, neighbors checking to make sure I had enough to eat... (laughter)

RB: Shopping with push carts... that character is disappearing from America.

AS: The use of shadows and the mist are so effective in “Wizards".  How did you create the believable effect of characters moving through or passing by others in the film?  This was something that came in handy when doing LOTR, right?

RB: I was lucky enough.  I apprenticed at a place called Terry-Toons (discussed in the DVD).  I was lucky enough when I started in the animation business to learn from real good animators and cartoonists, people who had spent their whole lives in animation.  When I got to LA, and started making feature length films, I was lucky enough to have some of the greatest animators in the world working for me.  I can't take credit for everything that's been done; it was the people I hired around me.  In every one of my films, I worked with geniuses who loved working in Bakshi Productions because they were wildly free to think...and they gave me everything they had.  I worked with guys from all kinds of races, I had talented people, and I want to be very clear about that.

SS: I know when you worked on LOTR, depicting the characters as Tolkien described them, and showing all the shades and all the variations of Middle-earth that was something at that time that let me know I was in the right place doing the right thing (when portraying Frodo in a play, as mentioned previously), and honored Tolkien's vision.  I wished that would have been carried on as comfortably in the recent adaptation by Peter Jackson.

RB: No, he didn't really get it.  I've been hearing that a lot from people and it's very nice; a real compliment, and I appreciate it.

SS: Are you thinking about going back and completing that project?

RB: I've been asked by Warner Brothers, too.  I asked them why they thought they had the rights to go ahead without me...I'd rather do "Wizards II" to tell you the truth.  I created those characters, Jackson's done his, so...I don't know how I feel about it.  I really don't know.

SS: Hmm...

RB: I gotta watch the number of films I do, because I'm 65 now.  I don't know, the things we discussed about technology, and the way the country's going, there are important things to start screaming about...I'd like to go in that direction.  If I agreed to do LOTR again, the studio would expect me to make a lot of money.  (laughter)  I don't think I really want to, I really don't.

SS: I think your dialog, you and Peter S. Beagle paid so much attention to the detailing, and so much attention to the visualization, I think it's a different dynamic.

RB: One has to respect writers.  Tolkien is the greatest author of fantasy the world has ever had. One has to respect what he has done.  You know, how could a guy sit down and change the dialog, you know, how arrogant.  The arrogance that they're going to change Tolkien and the main character in LOTR to make it a better picture?!  Unbelievable!

Anyway, I have a school on animation that I am starting in New Mexico right now for high school age students.  The next generation that is coming up is really ready.  I gotta do something at my age other than talking.  (laughter)  I loved talking to you, and thanks a lot.

SS: Thank you, Ralph!


See Stephanie Simmons review of the Wizards DVD at:




Stephanie Simmons is the author of an exceptionally rich and researched book involving the original J.R.R. Tolkien Lord Of The Rings books called Regional Cooking From Middle-earth: Recipes Of The Third Age.  It is available through “Emerald Took’s Hobbit Hole” and you can read more about and order it at:





Areya Simmons runs The Lord Of The Rings website The Revenge Of The Hobbits, which can be accessed at the following link: 





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