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I Like to Watch (Instantly): Alakazam the Great

Notable titles from the Netflix Watch Instantly world

Alakazam the Great
Alakazam the Great

Alakazam the Great (1960)

Directed by Daisaku Shirakawa, Taiji Yabushita

Cast: Frankie Avalon, Sterling Holloway, Jonathan Winters

Now this is what I like to see on the Netflix Instant Watching roster: another digital-only release of an otherwise almost-impossible-to-find film—and in its original “Toeiscope” ultra-wide aspect ratio to boot. This highly inventive 1960 anime adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s Monkey King manga remains forever burned into the brains of Gen X children who happened to see it in their formative years, and it continues to hypnotize kids with its compelling imagery, archetypal quest narrative and loads of transforming magical beings.

Despite the heavily Americanized redubbing (Jonathan Winters!) and rescoring (Frankie Avalon!), Alakazam (née Saiyu-ki) remains a high water mark in animation. This film is nothing more nor less than the epic Journey to the West, with Buddha renamed to King Amo and the Monkey King to Alakazam. Certain story elements are glossed over or awkwardly repurposed, but the English-language script retains a certain cracked logic that more than suffices to glue together the fabulous animated set-pieces, and the songs aren’t half-bad either. (Once you’ve seen Alakazam, you’ll instantly spot the film’s reference in the 2006 anime Paprika.) Sadly, the Netflix copy, while properly widescreen, is emphatically not HD. If you wanna borrow my laserdisc, drop me a line.

 

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