The Most Screwed Up Children’s Animated Movie Musical Ever
In 1977 my parents took me on my 4th birthday to see the new Raggedy Ann and Andy film that has just opened the day before in movies. For those of us who grew up in 1970s, Raggedy Ann and Andy merchandise was everywhere. It had already been around for decades, as the original Raggedy Ann doll was created in 1915, with Andy introduced to the mix in 1920. For many, these clown-like rag dolls were an affectionate part of your childhood innocence. They were safety blankets, if you will, to hug and hold when the nights got too creepy and the monsters under your bed began to emerge. They were associated with all things good and safe.
Until that 1977 movie titled Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a stunning, colorful animated movie musical. It just seemed to be born of a 1960s drug trip that had lasted well-past the Bicentennial. Imagine a nursery, much like Toy Story, where the toys come to life and have adventures unbeknownst to their owners. These two beloved moppets find themselves on a journey to save a doll named Babette who has been kidnapped from the nursery by a smitten pirate named Captain Contagious. On their journey, they befriend a stuffed camel who is chronically morose for being discarded by his former owner. So depressed, in fact, that he often enters into a hypnotic state and wanders aimlessly after a camel caravan mirage (in one stunning animated musical moment to the song “Blue” he is shown spiraling through the stars with the Bactrian’s of his hallucinations in a visual reminiscent of the Grateful Dead Bears). The journey these three go on is a horrific one, perhaps the spookiest and most psychotic ever told in a children’s musical, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. They weather a sea storm in a deep pit where the enormous, globular monster “The Greedy” resides. He eats and devours sweets, but is never full. His taffy like form spreads as far as the eye can see, creating the ocean that our catalysts must cross. They encounter the knight Sir Leonard Looney, a practitioner of practical jokes who leads our heroes into the horror/fun house of King Koo Koo, who has his own sinister and majorly psychotic issues. These sequences are without a doubt visually arresting and guaranteed to inhabit a child’s nightmares for years to come. Of course, everything ends in a happy ending, but only after we’ve been emotionally scarred and our hope tainted by this violation of our innocence.
The most disturbing part of the film is the character of Captain Contagious (a creepy name to begin with), who, every time he encountered the lovely Babette, he would gyrate his hips and his mustache would go erect. This made her abduction all the more uncomfortable, as it was visually insinuated that she could possibly be sexually assaulted. This, however, is just one example of how this film, created for children, probably had no business being shown to children. One imagines the film’s real intent was to provide entertainment for those under the influence of marijuana, or at least simulate the experience.
Joe Raposo, famous for his music for PBS mainstays Sesame Street and The Electric Company, as well as the theme song for the popular sitcom Three’s Company, composed the score for Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure. The songs are generally agreeable, sometimes absurd, occasionally haunting, but mostly forgettable. Raposo would remain attracted to Raggedy Ann and Andy after this film, even taking two to the songs from this film and recycling them in 1984 Broadway musical flop Raggedy Ann. The stage production was very loosely based on the animated film, but most of the plot was different and much darker (yes, it was possible).
Popular theatre people of the day voiced some of the characters, most notably Didi Conn (Grease films) as Raggedy Ann, Mark Baker (Candide) as Andy, George S. Irving (Irene, Me and My Girl) as Captain Contagious, and Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me) as Barney Beanbag and Socko. The film’s director Richard Williams would go on to be the animation director for the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and its animated short offspring.
The film was a flop, costing 4 million dollars to create, but only bringing in 1.5 million at the box office. That being said, its imagery had a real impact on the four-year-old me, and thirty-eight years later, I still can’t get it out of my mind. Despite its flaws and inherent failures, there is something artistic and breathtaking about its horrors, on a par with an Edward Gorey drawing or a maudlin poem by Edgar Allan Poe. We sort of revel in the freakishness of it all. Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure is definitely not playful like Toy Story, and will never be a jubilant, feel-good movie classic, but it will always and forever leave an impression.