Created by Johnny Gruelle in 1915 and the stars of a number of books and films, 1977 saw Raggedy Ann and Andy finally get the big screen treatment thanks to Richard Williams (best known for taking 28 years to make The Thief And The Cobbler, but also being the animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit) in a story which bares a fair resemblance to that of the plot of the first Toy Story. Or that’s the case initially at least as on her birthday young Marcella (Claire Williams) gets a new doll, Babette (Niki Flacks), and as soon as she leaves the room we learn that all of her toys are sentient when she’s not about, they’re more argumentative than the Pixar characters though, and Babette is certainly not impressed to be there.
Not that she gets a chance to complain for long as she is soon kidnapped by the pirate captain (George S. Irving) when the snow globe he’s trapped in is broken, and it’s up to Ann (Didi Conn) and Andy (Mark Baker) to rescue her – cue one of the weirdest road movies that I’ve ever seen, and the reason why I’m reviewing what’s essentially an all but forgotten animated children’s film. Strangely it also has a fair amount in common with The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie as the characters they meet are almost as unusual, and it is a musical as well, though the songs aren’t quite up there with those of that vaguely known Liverpudlian band.
It’s a little odd as Andy is portrayed as a bit of a dick in the opening song as he moans “I’m no girls toy” and that he’s not a sissy, and boy are some of the lyrics dodgy in it, but then he’s the likeable hero for the rest of the movie and his hissy fit is never referred to again. Also weird (and lordy could I write a lot here, but I’ll try and just keep to the most extreme stuff) are two dolls who sing in unison who have black bodies but white heads, and the pirate who kidnaps Babette is a wistful sort who sings about “The sweet mystery of love” as his stomach and trousers bob about quite disturbingly.
Placing it in as a Cult Classic rather than making it a Comedy Oddity may make some think that I’ve gone quite insane, but this is a very charming and amusingly crazy family film, which is mostly animated but bookended by two live action sequences, and though it is a film which is rather strange it is absolutely delightful too. The imaginative and endearing elements include new friend The Camel With Wrinkled Knees (Fred Stuthman) who appears to be suffering from severe depression as he sings “How can you be happy? How can you be smiling? How can you be anything but low down saggy and blue?”, and he also hallucinates seeing a number of other camels somewhat bizarrely.
As they cross what is supposed to be the real world but clearly isn’t, they encounter “The Greedy” an enormous selection of “Sweets of every distinction and flavour” which has become sentient and appears to be eating itself. It too is desperate for love, complaining “I need a sweetheart” during its song about its love of food, and Ann has a candy heart The Greedy wants to devour her, but luckily they escape before it manages to do so. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what they’re hinting at here, but the animation is so deranged that you won’t care about the moralising, and the song is one of the best in the movie.
The film doesn’t settle down for a second as after this our motley crew meet Sir Leonard Looney, “the looniest knight of the year”, and are in Looney Land, a world where all the practical jokes come from. Once again they have to escape from an unusual threat as King Cuckoo has issues with being short and only grows in size when something funny happens, and plans to keep Ann, Andy and the camel there to entertain him. There’s a problem though, as when he’s able to laugh only certain parts of his body grow, like his nose or his feet, and as this is a kid’s movie it doesn’t become more disturbing than that though it does come bloody close. All of the above is gloriously surreal and then some, while there’s a couple more morals thrown in for free, but it manages to do so in an unpreachy manner and deserves kudos for this.
After they manage to flee Ann and co finally reach Babette and the pirate ship, but there’s one last twist as Babette has escaped from the clutches of the shitty pirate and become the boat’s new Captain, and we discover this as she sings the very funny song “Hooray for me!”, and the Pirate Captain whines about how fickle women are, because he still doesn’t appear to realise that kidnapping isn’t the best way to seduce the fairer sex. King Cuckoo then pops up to make everything even sillier, before there’s a final bit with the now severely mentally ill camel, who does at least get a happy ending along with everyone else even though I fear he’ll need years of therapy if he’s ever to sort out his many strange issues.
The animation isn’t the prettiest ever seen but it flows well, and the eccentric selection of characters certainly are very memorable and there’s a lot of laugh out loud moments in the film. The songs are fairly simplistic numbers but also have amusing lyrics, and while this isn’t a soundtrack I’d ever listen to on its own it works well within the movie. All of which combined, and the quite frankly peculiar plotting as it takes our characters in to very unexpected territories, makes it a joy to watch, and as with the best kids movies there is something for all ages to enjoy here.
You can watch the film on youtube here.