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The Asian ApertureAlakazam the Great (1960)
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, May 18, 2013    Share

Way back in 1960, American International Pictures released Alakazam the Great, an early anime theatrical release that bombed. It is even listed in “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and how they got that way,)” by Harry Medved and Randy Lowell. However Alakazam doesn’t deserve all the hate.

The God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka, created a manga called My Son Goku that ran from 1952-1959 and originally appeared in Manga King. It tells the story of a young magical monkey who is so arrogant and proud that he is put through an epic journey. Osamu’s My Son Goku is based on one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature called Journey to the West that was written during the Ming Dynasty, (16th century.) My Son Goku is the basis for Alakazam the Great. Osamu himself had little to do with the filmmaking. He was a creative consultant and was actively involved in promotion. This experience did spark his interest for the anime industry and would eventually lead to his classic series, Astro boy.

First, Alakazam the Great has talented voice actors who didn’t realize they were early anime voice actors like Mr. Beach Party himself, Frankie Avalon. Plus the soothing tone of narrator Sterling Holloway. The Master of Improv, Jonathan Winters contributed to the greedy yet likeable Pig, Sir Quigley Broken Bottom. Alakazam is voiced by Peter Fernandez the vocal talent who went on to Speed Racer, Gigantor, and even Godzilla vs the Sea Monster.
So with all that talent combined, the English dub is actually good. This was back in 1960 when fan debates of subtitled vs dubbed didn’t exist.

Contributing to the music of Alakzam the Great was the Master of the Theremin and the top composer for Tiki culture in the US, Les Baxter. Baxter created catchy songs and lyrics to Ali’s Song and Hey, I’m in Love Again that make you just want to sing along as the characters dance and sing. He also wrote good instrumentals for the soundtrack such as Magic Man and Blue Bird in The Cherry Tree. An Alakazam the Great soundtrack was released in 1960.

Ok the question still remains, how is the animation? I believe that it is good for that time and period it was created. The characters move around quickly and lack the jerky movements of later anime. When Alakazam rides on his magic cloud, he zips through the air with excellent timing. The fighting sequences are well choreographed and visually appealing with some scenes using slapstick for much needed humor. This is meant to be a fun movie and it is. Kids growing up in 1960 got to see Alakazam the Great during Saturday matinees. Although it received 2nd billing for these matinees, it is easily a world that a child could immense into and enjoy. It is interesting to speculate what might have happen had Alakazam the Great been a big success. Anime might have caught on with fans supporting it a decade earlier.

My favorite part of Alakazam the Great is the wonderful character designs. Son Goku is a small monkey who packs a mighty punch and his beautiful girlfriend, Dee Dee, with the flower in her hair, creates the perfect balance. Son Goku isn’t very nice to Dee Dee during their first meeting and he even makes her cry. So he needs a soul changing epic journey to straighten out his issues.

My favorite character is the Jonathan Winters voiced, Sir Quigley Broken Bottom, who appears in one scene that reminds me of the opening sequence in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. In Spirited Away, the young girl Chihiro Ogino watches as her parents gorge on food and transform into pigs. In Alakazam, Sir Quigley is trying to take a young woman to be his wife and she is clearly not interested in him. Alakazam uses his magic to pretend to look like the woman, while Sir Quigley eats all her food, spread out on a large table. This might be a huge stretch but was a younger Miyazaki sitting in the audience in Japan watching Alakazam and not knowing how this might later develop? Also there is the pig character Porco Rosso who appeared in the Miyazaki movie of the same name in 1992.

Ok I admit I was inspired to see this after a number of influences with the main one reading Fred Patten’s wonderful book, Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews. Also I recently listened to Anime News Network’s podcast ANNcast called 50 Years of Anime by Zac Betschy that has an interview with Geoff Tebbetts, the creator of the Golden Ani-Versary Project that looks at anime from 1963 to 2013. The website contains numerous articles by such great writers as Dave Merrill, Mike Toole, Daryl Surat, Joseph Luster, and many others. What struck me as funny while listening to the podcast was when 1960’s anime came up. That made me think of Patten’s book and it made me what to check it out for myself. Fortunately, Netflix is currently streaming Alakazam the Great so I was able to see it Friday night.

Ok, Alakazam the Great doesn’t have the later animation and style of Akira or Ghost in the Shell and that is because it is from a different time, when an epic story based on a centuries old literary work could be transformed into an amusing musical. My own thoughts on why it failed is that American audiences weren’t ready for something like it. Japan had just finished Occupation by US forces in 1952 and the anime boom of the 1980s, was still 20-years away.

However, Alakazam the Great did plant a tiny seed that over decades finally helped to blossom and spread anime fandom in the US.
Just give Alakazam a watch and see what you think. You will probably be glad you did.


3.5 out of 5 Stars Entertaining

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2013 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Crazed Fanboy are ©2013 by Nolan B. Canova and Terence Nuzum.

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