Max: Fritz! Fritz, get up for God's sake! Get up! They've killed Fritz! They've killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They've killed Fritz! Take that! Take this! Take that, you green slime! You black hearted, short, bow-legged...
Fritz: Max! Max, I'm okay! I'm okay max. Just a scratch. Look I'm all right.
Max: Oh. Oh, damn. There you go again, stepping on my lines, raining on my parade, costing me medals. Oh, damn.
[Accidentally shoots Fritz]
Max: Ohh. Oh, Fritz? Fritz, get up for God's sake! Get up! They've killed Fritz! They've killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Take that! Take that! They killed Fritz!
Ralph Bakshi had long had an interest in fantasy, and had been drawing fantasy artwork as far back as 1955, while he was still in high school. Wizards originated in the concept for Tee-Witt, an never produced television series Bakshi developed and pitched to CBS in 1967. In 1976, Bakshi pitched War Wizards to 20th Century Fox. Returning to the fantasy drawings he had created in high school for inspiration, Bakshi intended to prove that he could produce a "family picture" that had the same impact as his adult-oriented films.
The film is an allegorical comment on the moral ambiguity of technology and the potentially destructive powers of propaganda. Blackwolf's secret weapon is propaganda, used to incite his legions and terrorize the fairy folk of Montagar; but Avatar's willingness to use a technological tool (a handgun pulled from "up his sleeve") destroys his evil twin. Bakshi also states that Wizards "was about the creation of the state of Israel and the Holocaust, about the Jews looking for a homeland, and about the fact that fascism was on the rise again"
Earth has been devastated by a nuclear war instigated by five terrorists, taking two million years for the radioactive clouds to once again allow sunlight to reach the surface. Only a handful of humans have survived the apocalypse, while the rest have changed into mutants who roam the radioactive wastelands. Eventually, humanity's true ancestors – fairies, elves and dwarves – resurfaced and live in the idyllic land of Montagar in peace for three millennia.
While her people celebrate 3,000 years of peace, their ruler Delia, queen of the fairies, fells into a trance and left the party. Puzzled, the fairies follow her to her home and discover that she has given birth to twin wizards. The kindhearted Avatar who spent much of his boyhood entertaining his ailing mother with beautiful visions. But Avatar's mutated brother Blackwolf was pure-evil, never visiting his mother, but spends his time torturing small animals. When Blackwolf learned of their mother's death, he attempted to take over her leadership being defeated in duel against a grief-stricken Avatar. Blackwolf leaves Montagar with a vow to return and "make this a planet where mutants rule".
Years later, Blackwolf has risen to lead the dark land of Scortch, where he and his vast army of goblins, ogres and mutants salvage and restore ancient technology. He tries to attack Montagar twice, but is foiled both times when his mutant warriors become bored or sidetracked in the midst of battle. Blackwolf then discovers an old projector and reels of Nazi propaganda footage, using his magic to enhance it for psychological warfare: Inspiring his own soldiers while horrifying enemy troops into submission.
Meanwhile, in Montagar, Avatar has become a tutor tasked with training the president's daughter Elinore to become a full-fledged fairy. Suddenly, the president is assassinated by Necron 99, a robot sent by Blackwolf to kill believers in magic. Avatar confronts the robot and battles it using brain reading. Necron 99 loses the desire for war and Avatar changes his name to Peace "in the hopes that he will bring it". Avatar learns from the robot that the "dream machine" – the projector – is Blackwolf's secret weapon, inspiring his armies with images of ancient warfare. Avatar, Elinore, Peace, and the elf berserker Weehawk set out to destroy the projector and save the world from another Holocaust.
In a forest inhabited by fairies, Peace has an intuition that something is amiss shortly before the group is accosted by the leader of the fairies, Sean. Weehawk realizes that Peace is missing, when an unseen assassin kills Sean and kidnaps Elinore. Avatar and Weehawk begin to search for Elinore in the forbidden Fairy Sanctuary, but Weehawk falls into a chasm and insists that Avatar leave him and find the girl. He locates her, captured by fairies and small human-like creatures, just as she is about to be killed. Avatar attempts to explain that they did not kill Sean, but the fairies don't believe him, and shoot him with an arrow. Wounded in the shoulder, Avatar refuses to fight back, which impresses the fairy king. Instead of executing them, he merely teleports Avatar and Elinore to a snowy mountaintop. Avatar and Elinore resume their journey, despite the poor conditions, but they soon realize that they are wandering in circles. Weehawk and Peace finally find them, and together, they find their way out of the mountains. Soon Avatar and the others encounter the encamped army of an elf General who is preparing to attack Scortch the following day, but Blackwolf launches a sneak attack that night.
Elinore is outside with Peace when she accidentally disturbed his internal conflict with one of Blackwolf's demons appearing as Avatar quickly dispatches when it attempts to hurt Elinore. But when one of Blackwolf's battle tanks arrives to destroy the camp, Elinore kills Peace when manages to disable the crew before she climbs into the tank as it drives off with Avatar and Weehawk watching in confusion.
The next day, Avatar and Weehawk enter Scortch by ship and make for Blackwolf's castle while the General leads his elf warriors in a bloody battle to distract Blackwolf's forces. The pair split up, Weehawk tracking Elinore while Avatar goes after Blackwolf. Weehawk nearly kills Elinore, but she explains that Blackwolf had been controlling her mind ever since she first touched Peace. Blackwolf declares his magic superior to Avatar's and demands his surrender, Avatar admitting that he hasn't practiced magic for some time and offers to show Blackwolf one last trick that their mother showed him when Blackwolf wasn't around. Avatar then pulls a Luger gun from his upper left sleeve and fatally shoots Blackwolf. With the loss of their leader and the projector destroyed, the mutants give up fighting. With Montagar's safety secured, Weehawk returns home as the new ruler while Avatar and Elinore decide to start their own kingdom elsewhere.
Although Wizards received a limited release, it was very successful in the theaters that showed it, and developed a worldwide audience. According to Bakshi, he was once interviewed by a German reporter who was unsure as to why the Nazi Swastika was used to represent war. Bakshi said "I didn't get any criticism. People pretty much loved Wizards." Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 63%, based on 24 reviews with an average rating of 5.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Its central metaphor is a bit too on the nose, but Wizards is an otherwise psychedelic, freaky trip into an alternate version of our world."
Avatar: Now this, "Peace" here, he knows every step to Scorch. I've promised him life without pain, life without fear...
Weehawk: I still don't trust him.
Avatar: Hey! You're both forgettin' you have the protection of a powerful wizard, here!
[levitates up to horse, lands backward in saddle]
Elinore: [giggling] He's gettin' older, but not much bolder!
[Both Weehawk and Elinore laugh and ride away]
Avatar: I wonder if I packed my scotch...
The line "They killed Fritz! They killed Fritz!" is a reference to Robert Crumb killing off Fritz the Cat in his underground comic book series. Ralph Bakshi directed the film adaptation of Fritz the Cat (1972). Bakshi is quoted as saying, "I named the character Fritz in "Wizards," just so I could scream 'They killed Fritz!' To kill such a cat would make Don Marcus commit suicide."
A possible spin-off film which centered around Peace was never considered by Ralph Bakshi. If a spin-off film about Peace had happened. It would had been a prequel to the film, since Peace gets killed off 60 minutes into the film and the spin-off could had explored the origins of Peace, when he was Nekron 99 or it could had been a story involving Peace that takes place just before Blackwolf sent Nekron 99 to assassinate Avatar, which Avatar captured him and renamed him Peace.