Forgotten Movies: "Raggedy Ann And Andy: A Musical Adventure"

by AnomalousArtist

Welcome to the wacky, wild and often wearisome world of master animator Richard Williams' eye-popping animated 70s opus!

We live, today, in a world of mass production and consumption of "entertainment." People, particularly in younger generations, don't seem to be holding onto things quite as fiercely as their predecessors did, for better or for worse.

As a result, some things get swept under the rug much more quickly--and permanently--than they might have in the past. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In this article I'll present a relic from the past that certainly did its best to be memorable but has been forgotten nonetheless, at least outside of cult/animation film circles. I'll leave it up to the individual to decide whether this is a good or bad thing!

Presenting 1978's "Raggedy Ann And Andy: A Musical Adventure!"

Illustration of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy with Two Robins by Johnny Gruelle
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1) Richard Williams: genius or madman?

Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons ruled the animation world from the 1930's to the 1960's.  Eventually various factions, like the film board of Canada, created a wave of experimental stop-motion output that still influences the market to this day. 

Richard Williams was a British/Canadian animator from Toronto who made a name for himself in the 60s doing title sequences for feature films ("What's New Pussycat" and the "Pink Panther" films) before winning accolades and awards for a truly dark and effective "Christmas Carol" special in 1971. 

"Raggedy Ann" followed in 1977 and Mr. Williams went on to helm another successful Christmas special in 1982 ("Ziggy's Gift").  Eventually he headed up the animation on the wildly popular "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" feature film (1988) that sparked the still-thriving animation boom that exists today.

After the commercial disappointment of a pet-project, the legendary "Thief And The Cobbler" Mr. Willams penned a book that is considered an essential animation bible, 2002's "The Animator's Survival Kit."

Richard Williams has a notable style; his characters are always intricate and his animation is generally on "1's," that is, one drawing per one frame (most animation uses one drawing per 2-4 frames, by comparison). The look of "1's" is difficult to pull off for most artists and has become a Williams' signature, but it's also more costly, and the results are debatable depending who you talk to.

2) A great idea: A Raggedy Ann movie!

Raggedy Ann first appeared in 1915 as a doll and 1918 in print form.  The character, created by American Johnny Gruelle, was apparently named after a combination of the famous poem "The Raggedy Man" and Little Orphan Annie. 

Humble, tatty and incredibly sincere, the doll (and her brother, Andy, introduced later) and stories were wildly successful and are still in demand today. 

In the early 70s Richard Williams got a chance to direct his own animated feature and chose the Raggedy Ann stories as the basis.  The original idea seemed like a good one; the story would pre-date "Toy Story" by nearly 20 years. 

Young (live action) Marcella receives a lovely, frilled doll from France named Babette for her birthday.  While Marcella is gone the toys in her room come to life and welcome Babette but a ruddy sea captain in a snow globe falls in love with the doll and whisks her away.  Ann and Andy decide to rescue Babette and spend the rest of the film trying to track her down, and of course everything ends happily. 

A great team was assembled; aside from the unique vision Richard Williams brought to the project, and a fine assembly of established and up and coming animators, a fun voice talent crew included Didi Conn ("Frenchie" in Grease) as Ann, Mark Baker (the 80s sitcom "Perfect Strangers") as Andy and a host of familiar voice actors like George S. Irving and Arnold Stang.  Driving the musical side of this "Musical Adventure" would be composer Joe Raposo, notorious for his lovely, lilting, memorable music for "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company."

The stage was set for an animated classic from 20th Century Fox, the studio that was about to begin a glorious run with the phenomenal success of "Star Wars" a month later.

Unfortunately "Raggedy Ann And Andy: A Musical Adventure" was a commercial and critical flop that has never really resurfaced since outside of being fodder for the early days of the Disney Channel.  As of this writing there still hasn't been an official DVD release and it doesn't look like there will be one any time soon.  VHS and bootleg copies can be acquired and the film shows up on Youtube periodically, but the film has, by and large, been swept away under the raggedy rugs of time.  Whether that's a good or bad thing is a matter of personal opinion...

Raggedy Ann Classic Doll 16"

This lovely Raggedy Ann doll has been excluively designed by Aurora World, with the classic, timeless, vintage look that Reggedy Anne origonally had. She is beautifully hand mad...

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3) More "musical" than "adventure"

It's easy to look back and assess where things went wrong after a movie has failed but there were some obvious problems with this project from the start. 

The first thing that seems wrong is the score.  There are 14 songs in this film. 

Consider: the average "album" of the era would have been about 10 songs long, making it roughly 40 minutes in length.  This means that around half the length of this film consists of characters singing.  This might be fine if it were an animated opera or even something by Rogers and Hammerstein...instead we have Raposo's gentle, lilting songs...one after the other...all through the film. 

I happen to like the (rather hard to find) soundtrack a lot and it generated a small hit for Helen Reddy (who would have her last big hit with the Pete's Dragon tune "Candle On The Water" soon after) with a song called "Blue" that I think is truly beautiful.

Most kids, however, found the music treacly and interminable and even fans agree the constant, near-droning melodies, sung mostly by non-singers, are a bit much.

I can't verify this but I was informed by an insider that Raposo was determined that his entire score be represented in the film as part of his contract, and was so adamant about his music, even after the commercial failure of the film, that he got involved in a live Broadway version of the project that was, apparently, even more surreal (and unsuccessful) than the film it was based on. 

At any rate, the "plot blockages" created by the unending music didn't help the film much.

Helen Reddy sings "Blue" on the Muppet Show

4) Once upon a time there were...well...a lot of things...

Another critical problem with the film is the storytelling.  Before the story proper has even begun there's a long credit scrawl introducing all the characters we're about to see and who animated them.  This is followed by an endless sequence in Marcella's bedroom where we...meet all the characters!  However, once the "adventure" begins officially all the toys we just met are left behind as Ann and Andy set out on their quest together...where they meet even MORE characters!  The result is an endless parade of little people that come and go, none of whom the audience ever gets to know or care about. 

Even Ann and Andy are hard to get close to; Didi Conn gives a warm and sensitive performance but she seems a bit mis-cast, her voice doesn't match the character's face.  Similarly, Mark Baker has a rich tenor Broadway-belter singing voice that doesn't jibe with the fuff-headed, tough little-boy persona we see on screen.

The endless parade of new personalities and the lack of intrigue in any one of them make the film a real chore to get through at times.

Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure [VHS]

VHS Video

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Raggedy Ann & Andy a Musical Adventure

The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the 1977 film. Music and Lyrics by Joe Raposo. 20 tracks total. Very good condition - some wear on cover, playlist sticker on lower fro...

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5) The plot thickens...

Along with the myriad characters are myriad situations.  It takes nearly half the film for Ann and Andy to even start their quest, they're so busy singing and meeting new characters...once they start their journey they keep bumping into new and more bizarre entities, culminating in some surreal side-steps. At one point our heros are roiling in the writhing pit of a grotesque, morphing "candy monster" and later take a "trip" through a twisting, undulating black-and-white silent film world that would give M.C. Escher a head-ache.  None of this has anything to do with the goal of saving Babette nor does it have any basis in things the characters (or the audience) would expect to find in any known world; it's off-putting and a little disturbing at times.

"The Greedy"

(take dramamine before you watch this one!)

"Loonie Land"

(The quality is bad but you get the idea, quick!)

6) "Welcome to Loonie Land!"

Richard Williams may not have been the best choice of animator for such a simple concept as two rag dolls on a journey through the night to find their friend; it is both the triumph and the downfall of the film that his animation IS the star of the film.

First and foremost, each character is loaded with so many details it becomes like some kind of optical illusion.  Fans of Disney cartoons may note the studio had plenty of cats but very seldom used tigers or cheetahs; the dense patterns on such animals is a lot of work to draw.

The effect of SO many characters with SO much detail on them in an already dense film landscape creates a confusing and unpleasant image that your mind resists.

And speaking of resisting, the film goes on wild, free-for-all tangents where not only are several characters moving all at once, the background is moving and the camera FILMING the background is moving.  Nowadays, of course, this is standard filming technique for an action film...but will it EVER be standard for a gentle kids' movie? 

In particularly the aforementioned candy monster ("The Greedy") sequence and the scenes in Looney Land can leave a viewer feeling not unlike the name of another character, "Queasy."

I have never seen this film on a theater screen but my friends who have say that, with its wide-screen cinemascope frame, certain extended scenes are well-nigh unbearable to watch and prompted parents to walk out of the film at the time. 

These techniques--which are fascinating, to say the least--might've been better utilized in smaller doses or are more palatable on a smaller TV screen. 

Finally, as happened more than once with Richard Williams' projects, money began to run out and compromises had to be made; the quality couldn't be maintained and so corners were cut.  By the end of the film characters are drawn much more simply than they were before and they're animated sloppily...you can literally FEEL the film losing steam as it goes on, if you haven't lost steam yourself, before a quick happy ending restores order.

7) But did it deserve to get "buried?"

Raggedy Ann and Andy's musical adventure came and went quickly in theaters, if it played at all; it was considered too young in tone for older viewers and too mature for tykes; it was a "doll" movie ostensibly made for girls but advertised to draw boys in with all the creatures and the "adventure" angle (I'm always hesitant to draw distinctions like that lest I offend; *I* didn't market it that way, that's how *Hollywood* thinks about these things!). 

It wasn't a cheap film to make and lost money which is never a good thing in show business; it didn't do too well when it eventually played on commercial television, as some films that were saved from obscurity have done. It can be a hard film to watch if you don't know what to expect, and even after seeing it several times I find myself amazed at how visually dizzying it is, not in a particularly good way. 

But is it all that bad?  Is it so bad it's "good?"

As I said, I like the score a lot. Had they cut the songs by half and attached them to a more conservative film it might have been more successful.  Or maybe not!

Chuck Jones (he did a lot of the cuter Warner Brothers cartoons like the one where the bulldog adopts a little kitty cat) did some Raggedy Ann cartoons for TV a few years later and they were very sweet, very cute...and fairly forgettable.

One of the main reasons the film IS remembered to this day by some of us is because of its audacity.  Animation fans argue whether the character work in the film is genius, madness, a success, a failure or a combination of all of the above. 

Hand-drawn animation is petering out as a respected, on-going (and financially lucrative) art form; "Raggedy Ann" is certainly an example of artistry, whether or not you believe that art is good or bad. 

Personally I find the film mesmerizing and even enjoyable, but I'm weird, I make no bones about it!

I like to watch the film occasionally and imagine what it might have been in other hands...I like the way it sprawls out of control and becomes a sort of fever-dream after beginning as typical children's pabulum. 

I particularly like the sequence with the "Camel With The Wrinkled Knees" by legendary Disney animator Art Babbitt.  The sequence, and the song (the aforementioned "Blue") are sad, sweet, sentimental, attractively colored and above all QUIET.

I don't know why the film isn't available--perhaps the music is tied up in royalty disputes or, as often happens, Fox studios simply doesn't see enough demand for a failed, old film to spend the money and effort to trot it out again.

One thing is clear; there has never been, and never will again be, a film quite like this one and for that alone I feel it deserves a place in cinema history.  If you are even remotely intrigued, try to track the film down and check it out and decide for yourself--you certainly won't forget it once you've seen it!

"Blue" From "Raggedy Ann And Andy: A Musical Adventure"

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Updated: 10/22/2013, AnomalousArtist
 
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AnomalousArtist on 07/18/2013

Thank you for the information, I had no idea there was such tragedy connected to the doll, that explains a few things! I actually knew very little about the doll/character growing up, it was always just "around" and maybe that was another reason the movie wasn't more successful. Good luck finding the film and let me know what you think :)

Tolovaj on 07/17/2013

Many people in USA are familiar with Raggedy Ann and her friends but almost nobody remembers Johnny Gruelle, her creator, his daughter Marcella and her tragic death leading to some sort of obsession with her doll, which actually belonged to Johnny's mother before Johnny 'recreated it' for his daughter. I think the back story and emotional involvement made Raggedy Ann so strong and musical made so many decades after Johnny's death (by the way, I used one of his illustrations of Rapunzel in one of my articles too) would be real challenge to repeat the success of the 'original'.
I have read about Gruelle so much I would certainly look at the animation with different eyes than average viewer. Thanks for this info, I'll try to check our library if this is available in Slovenia. Sometimes we can find real treasures in totally unexpected places.

AnomalousArtist on 05/29/2013

Oh cool, thanks Elias! Let me know what you think...you've been warned, heh heh... :)

EliasZanetti on 05/29/2013

For every forgotten movie you might wonder what went wrong but the digging up and rediscovering of hidden treasures is a huge pleasure for mocie buffs. So many thanks for the recommendation. I'll try and check it out if available.

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