Alakazam the Great (西遊記, Saiyu-ki, lit. "Journey to the West") is a 1960 Japanese musical anime film, based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West, and was one of the earliest anime films to be released in the United States. Osamu Tezuka was named as a director of the film by Toei Company. However, Tezuka later stated that the only time he was in the studio was to pose for publicity photos. His involvement in promoting the film, however, led to his interest in animation.
It was included as one of the choices in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, and is the only animated film featured in the book.
Alakazam is a young and brave monkey (a macaque) who has been encouraged by all the other monkeys to become their king. After attaining the throne, he becomes rude and dictatorial, and does not believe that human beings are greater than he is. Then he deceives/forces Merlin the magician to teach him magic (reluctantly on Merlin's part, who warns Alakazam that the powers he acquires now will bring him much unhappiness later).
Alakazam becomes so arrogant that he abuses his magic powers, and chooses to go up to Majutsu Land (the Heavens), to challenge King Amo. He is defeated by King Amo. For his punishment, he is sentenced to serve as the bodyguard of Prince Amat on a pilgrimage; in order to learn humility. Ultimately, he learns his lesson and becomes a true hero.
The film was released in the United States by American International on July 26, 1961. For the American release, a few scenes were heavily edited and rearranged and bandleader Les Baxter was hired to compose a new soundtrack. Teen idol Frankie Avalon supplied the singing voice of Alakazam (the speaking voice was done by Peter Fernandez), and Sterling Holloway provided English-language narration. Other famous voices included Jonathan Winters, Arnold Stang, Dodie Stevens, & E.G. Marshall.
Despite a large marketing budget and heavy promotion, the film was unsuccessful in America. The Los Angeles Times called it "warm, amusing and exciting... the art work is really excellent". It was included as one of the choices in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, and is the only animated film featured in the book.
The AIP version of the film was first released on VHS in the 1980s by HBO/Cannon Video (under licensed from then-owner Orion Pictures). Orion Home Video re-released the film in both pan-and-scan and widescreen letterbox VHS editions and on a widescreen laserdisc in 1995. The AIP version had also been made available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Video.