Looking Back At FIRE AND ICE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At FIRE AND ICE

Alexander Wallace looks back at the 1983 animated high fantasy adventure, Fire and Ice.
Ralph Bakshi is perhaps the rogue man of Western animation; he has spent much of his career rebelling against the Disney-backed consensus on what the art form should be, technically and in terms of content. Coonskin, his brutal satire of American race relations, is one of the strangest things I have ever watched. In this article, however, I shall discuss one of his relatively more conventional works, 1983’s Fire and Ice.

Bakshi made this film with Frank Frazetta, the famed fantasy artist; for the backgrounds, you had Thomas Kinkade and James Gurney. As such, this is a film that shines first and foremost in the visual department. You get putrid swampland and frigid tundra and a brief but beautiful foray into a very Middle Eastern looking city, as well as multiple sprawling fortresses. They are all realized with a clearly immense amount of effort put into them, and you can feel like you have been transported thousands upon thousands of years into the past. Fire and Ice also has one of Bakshi’s artistic trademarks: the characters move realistically and not with the exaggerated movements that have come to define the Disney style.
This is a prehistoric fantasy; you have cavemen riding pterodactyls in the skies as part of one of those wars endemic to human prehistory. This is a film that is very clearly riding the coattails of the likes of Conan the Barbarian, a sword-and-sorcery epic done in but eighty-one minutes. Nevertheless, it feels epic; you have an icy northern empire squaring off against a fiery southern empire, which gives the whole enterprise the narrative feeling of an ancient legend being retold for the first time in millennia. The core of this film is an ancient one, of good versus evil, cold versus warm, dark versus light, and Bakshi saw (rightly) that there was no need to reinvent the wheel here.

The story is simple, perhaps overly so. There is no character in this film whose motivations are truly complex or truly original; in that regard, it is in some ways rather standard for sword-and-sorcery fantasy. The reasons for the villains going on their rampage for no other reason than one that is best put as “because they’re evil.” This extends to the villainous faction more generally, who are your typical ‘evil horde.’ You have a damsel in distress, but to her credit, and to the film’s credit, she is not helpless; she regularly outwits her pursuers and anything else that comes her way. But she is where the character originality ends; the male lead is your typical epic fantasy hero, and you also have your wise leaders.
One aspect of the art that struck me was the general lack of clothing on … well, just about everyone. Just about every female character is slender and wearing a rather small bikini, which could lead to accusations of misogyny; however, just about every male character is quite muscular and wearing little more than a loincloth. In the scenes among the wilderness, in the swamps just as much as the tundra, I could not help but ask “aren’t they all rather cold?” It is most certainly one of those genre conventions for that sort of prehistoric fantasy; it definitely enhances the whole ‘caveman’ aspect of the whole enterprise.

Overall, is Fire and Ice worth watching? I’d say so. In terms of its story and its characters, it traverses well-shod territory. Its art is spellbinding, and there will be images that you will remember from this film many years after watching it. But despite its narrative shortcomings, the story remains something that keeps your interest the entire way through, as its characters, archetypical as they are, demonstrate that Bakshi and his teammates knew why these archetypes work as well as they do. This is a fantasy film that sees the truth in the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and follows it. Fans of the genre, or of animation, will be quite pleased.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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