Despite distribution by Hollywood powerhouse 20th Century-Fox, Wizards, the third feature-length film by animator/auteur Ralph Bakshi’s, performed poorly at the mainstream box office although it quickly became a underground phenomenon. This can be attributed in part to the film’s atypical coming attraction notice. Narrated by actress Susan Tyrrell (who voiced Wizard’s epilogue), the trailer is a Technicolor barrage of animated style and graphic design. Although jarring to the viewer, the trailer’s schizophrenic visual aesthetic—juxtaposing hand-drawn figures with rotoscoped footage of Nazi blitzkriegs and air raids– is an accurate representation of the film’s appearance and its subject matter.
Declaring the film the “ultimate futuristic fantasy epic,” while touting Bakshi as the “master of animated magic,” Fox marketed the film by its visual content (referencing the director’s film art credentials) and to a lesser extent, its storyline (clearly laid out by Tyrell’s V.O) A summary of the plot and characters competes at a disadvantage with the dynamic visual presentation.
The preview positions itself within the market place by reference to other well-known animated fantasy epics. The French science-fiction film Fantastic Planet is alluded to through such copy as “strange panoramic settings” and “it is more fantastic, more enchanting than anything you have seen before.”
What makes this trailer unusual is that it takes for its audience a burgeoning, new breed of 1970s filmgoers: teens and young adults with educated, even sophisticated taste in fantasy animation and film as an artistic and design medium. Wizards eschews the gimmicky device of promoting animated features as dumbed-down cartoons for kids or, specifically in Ralph Bakshi’s case, vehicles for bawdy animation. The coming attraction situates the film as a serious cinematic work that can be fairly compared to its live action counterparts.
Although the trailer relies on strong visual design elements to appeal to its audiences, Wizards marketers hedge their bets by including most of the best scenes from the film. The Fox marketing department can be forgiven, since an adult-themed animated fantasy epic was a huge gamble: it was imperative for the studio to generate as much preview buzz as possible, whether appealing to emergent audiences or traditional ones.
Tony Best is a researcher, digital media producer/archivist and aspiring TV promo creative director based in Los Angeles. An alumnus of UCLA’s Moving Image Archive Studies master’s degree program, Tony has worked on several preservation projects, including digital restoration of “lost” television programs and coordinating the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s “L.A. Rebellion” initiative (under the aegis of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time). He is also a regular contributor to the music and film quarterly Wax Poetics. Tony can be reached at email@example.com.
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