Raggedy Ann and the rest of the toys in Marcella's playroom are curious about a package that has just arrived. They look inside and discover it contains a beautiful French doll. The haughty girl, named Babette, is horrified by her new home. She wants to go back to Paris. Meanwhile, the Captain, a pirate in a snow globe, sees Babette and falls in love. He tricks Raggedy Ann into freeing him and then immediately kidnaps Babette and sails out the window. Raggedy Ann and Andy leave the playroom to rescue her. Their adventure includes meeting a blue camel with wrinkled knees; the Greedy, a living, self-consuming taffy pit filled with every candy and confection known to the palate; King Coo Coo and the Loonie Knight, who love to laugh, but only at the expense of others; and Gazooks, a tickle monster hired to give King Coo Coo the last laugh. Finally, they find the Captain; but the damsel in distress proves more capable than they had imagined. Written by
An oasis of warmth in the cold wasteland of seventies animation
People not quite into their twenties take for granted the warm, feel good animated films that are available to them these days. Starting with Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988 (though unfairly attributed to The Little Mermaid a year later), a renaissance of animation had begun that is still going strong today (thanks mostly to Pixar). But the privileged children of the 90's would never know of the cold, bleak wasteland of theatrical animation in the 1970's. With the advent of Fritz the Cat in 1971, soft, fuzzy, family-friendly animation fell out of favor with the studios, and ushered in the dark wave of adult themed cartoons. Ralph Bakshi led the pack with such topical and wholly adult productions as Coonskin (a.k.a. Streetfight), Wizards, Heavy Traffic, the original Lords of the Rings, and the previously mentioned Fritz the Cat. Soon his violent vision was adopted by other renegade animators and before long, virtually all animated films were saddled with either a PG or dreaded R rating. So it goes without saying that a sweet little film like Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure hardly had an audience when it was released in 1976. The fact that it ever got made is a testimony to the desperation of the studios and people who so desperately missed the sweet and touching films in the old Disney vein. This film dared to be cute, had the tenacity to be sweet, had the temerity to be gentle, the chutzpah to be (GASP!) KID FRIENDLY! In all fairness, it must be stressed that RAAA was not alone in their attempt to bring softness back into modern animation. Charles Schulz's wonderful Peanuts characters had two great attempts in the seventies with Snoopy, Come Home and Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. And the usually rigid and slap-sticky Hanna Barbera brought us that lovely tear-jerker of a cartoon, Charlotte's Web. But these productions were far and few between, and never on such a grandiose scale as their more violent bretheren. With RAAA, director Richard Williams (the real brain trust behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit, not Robert Zemeckis, who only directed the live action) not only attempted to revive family friendly cartoons, but also attempted to bring back lavish, fluid animation and movie musical sensibilities. In doing so he brought back some of animation's pioneers to make sure the film was done right. Grim Natwick (creator of Betty Boop, animator of Snow White and Richard's mentor) lent a hand, along with countless others, in the creation of The Greedy, King Cuckoo, the Camel with the wrinkled knees and the rest of Johnny Gruelle's storybook menagerie. The Brilliant Joe Raposo (of Sesame Street fame and brain trust of Kermit the Frog's Bein' Green)provided delightful songs for the film (The Camel's sweet and somber song alone is worth watching this film), and Didi Conn and Mark Lynn-Baker voiced the title characters to perfection. The net result of this creative hodge podge was one of the warmest, most entertaining and family friendly cartoons to break through the doom and gloom of standard 70's animation.
Regretfully, movie critics denounced the film for reasons too varied and unfounded to mention here. That, coupled with the fact that RAAA became avalanched by the glut of violent animation and the wealth of bad family films, resulting in it barely making a blip on the pop culture radar. Thanks to old school television programming (does anyone else recall Nickelodeon's Special Delivery?), I re-discovered this long lost treasure in the mid 80's, and had the foresight to immortalize it (along with some vintage 80's commercials) on Beta video (and you don't get much more vintage that Beta). This has been a gem in my movie collection ever since, and still holds a special place in my heart and my childhood. So modern movie going audiences, count your blessings. You have warm, family friendly animation dropped at your feet these days. But you never know. The day may come again soon where such kid-oriented fare becomes passe, and the studios return to churning out violent, bleak animation, just as they did in the 70's. If that day does come, however, I still have a copy of Raggedy Ann and Andy to see me through the darkness, comforting me in the knowledge that, at least in animation, good will always rise out of the ashes of evil.
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