Wednesday, November 7, 2012

80s Animation Month: Fire and Ice (1983)

The 80s were a great period for animation. I think basically what happened was that Disney really reduced the amount of animated films it pumped out during the late 70s and early 80s while it tried to diversify into more live action work. As a result there was a gap in market for other animation studios to come in and offer a bit of an alternative to Disney's sugary sweet musical films. Much of the groundwork for this shift had been started a decade earlier with Ralph Bakshi, an animator whose work on films like Fritz the Cat and Coonskin had challenged the perception that cartoons should only be made for kids. The decade also saw a rebirth in the fantasy genre with the success of Conan, not only in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies but also the very success Marvel comic book adaptations. Fire and Ice should have been a resounding success given the time it was released but sadly it failed to hit it off with audiences.

The plot to
Fire and Ice is pretty simple. The evil Queen Juliana and her son Nekron are invading innocent towns and villages up and down the land and have their sights set on taking over the last remaining outpost, the kingdom of Firekeep. The reason they are so unstoppable is that Nekron is a sorcerer and can create enormous ice glaciers with his mind that easily crush anything in their way. Queen Juliana sends a small group of her soldiers to Firekeep to request the king's surrender but it turns out this is just a rouse and the soldiers end up kidnapping the king's daughter Teegra. The resourceful princess however manages to escape and teams up with Larn, a survivor of one of villages Nekron destroyed. They race through the jungle but Teegra ends up getting recaptured. Larn then teams up with the mysterious warrior Darkwolf and the two of them take the battle to Nekron's ice palace.

Honestly, I think it's pretty clear why Fire and Ice flopped. It's not a bad film, far from it. I really, really enjoyed both the story and animation. The major problem is that though the fantastical story is simple and child appropriate, the characters are drawn aren't. Princess Teegra spends almost the entire film clothed throughout in nothing more than the smallest of small bikinis that wouldn't look out of place on a Playboy cover - and the film still somehow managed to get a PG rating! There were a lot of kids films in the 80s that pushed the envelope in terms of content but while a bit of extra violence or swearing seemed to go over okay with audiences, semi-nudity clearly didn't. Even I've got to admit I probably wouldn't want to let anyone under 14 watch this.

The thing is the slightly lurid clothing choices of the characters wasn't just some crazy decision by the director, Ralph Bakshi. The artwork is all based on designs by Frank Frazetta, the artist who drew virtually all the classic covers for Robert E Howard's Conan books. As such it's wonderful to see Frazetta's illustrations finally come to life. There's maybe a little less detail to the characters than he would usually use in his paintings but the style is still very much recognisably his work. The artwork gives the film a slightly hazy, dream-like atmosphere. The backgrounds in particular are painted in very soft focus while all the characters in the foreground are stark and bold.

The film also employed the technique of rotoscoping, whereby by the director filmed live actors quickly doing all the scenes and then essentially had the animators trace over the top of them. I've always been a little confused as to why this process is always frowned upon by critics. Sure, it's cheating a little but given that the characters are all meant to be human (or human-like) I was fine with it. It meant that the film captured a lot of little human details - not unlike Andy Serkis's motion capture work as Gollum in Lord of the Rings - that might otherwise have been missed.

could maybe call the story a little underwhelming - it's more or less was one long chase sequence - but I think the writers understood archetypal structure of fantasy literature very well. Roy Thomas, one half of the writing duo, had spent most of the 70s and 80s writing Marvel's comic book adaptation of Conan and his love of Howard's stories is very evident. I particularly enjoyed the character of Dark Wolf, who is essentially the Han Solo of the movie. He first pops up more than halfway through the film, never takes off his bear skin helmet and only speaks a handful of words. He was a brilliant supporting character, full of mystery, and made the perfect counterpoint to the more bland leading hero, Larn.

All in all, Fire and Ice is a pretty good little movie. Times have changed now and I think the introduction of anime to the West have given audiences a broader perspective on violent and subversive animation. I still don't think the film would do well at the cinema but as a piece of 80s nostaglia for 30-somethings it's a heck of a lot of fun. Like watching a violent, sexy riff on He-man. Word is that Robert Rodriguez is looking to actually remake Fire and Ice at some point in the future and it will be interesting to see what kind of film he makes. Given his work on Sin City I think (and hope) it will be an attempt to adapt Franzetta's work as live action.

For another review of Fire and Ice check out The Film Connoisseur's perspective at:-



  1. I like how realistic the movements are with the animation, of course that all has to do with the rotoscoping techniques, but I love how it looks. Agree, by todays standards its tame, but back then it was ground breaking. Bakshi animation has always had that rough edge to it, it characterizes his work.

    If Robert Rodriguez ever gets serious about making this into live action, that would be freaking awesome.

  2. Yeah, I haven't watched much of Bakshi's other work but I'll be seeking it out now. I quite like how rough and ready it is.

    I'd totally be down for Rodriguez's remake if he's gets around to it. I think it would be CG heavy like Sin City but think he could pull it off well.

  3. WIZARDS is a fantasy/sci-fi of Bakshi's, it plays with similar themes as this one, you might enjoy that one. It's not as polished as this one though, it's older and therefore rougher in terms of animation. Fire and Ice had the benefit of having Frazetta as part of its production team, which was a huge plus.

    1. Yeah, I'm definitely going to have to pick up Wizards next. I really dig Bakshi's rough animation style. Maybe I'll do a 70s Animation Month soon and include it.

  4. Finally! Something positive about this film. Always wanted to see this and it's been in my queue forever, but I think I'll take the plunge and dig into it this weekend. It sounds right up my alley. I have to admit that I though I know what Bakshi has done, I've never seen a single film of his, oh wait! I did see Cool World. lol.
    Great as always Jack! Keep 'em coming!

  5. Ha, yeah I forgot about Cool World. Wasn't that Brad Pitt's first leading role?

    Definitely check out Fire and Ice, I had a blast. I think if you dig the 1982 Conan movie you'll like this.

  6. I hearded about this piece of work sometime ago, but never actually seen it. I like it and hope it'll gain another shot.