To celebrate Valentine’s Day, this week’s Animation Spin celebrates our love of the Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass with two of their most outstanding soundtrack albums.
The Original Sound Track Recording
Columbia Records – Masterworks Series OS-2940 Stereo / OL-6540 Mono (12” 33 1/3 rpm / 1966)
Credits: Film Executive Producer: Joseph E. Levine. Director: Jules Bass. Producer/Screenwriter: Arthur Rankin, Jr. Associate Producer: Larry Roemer. Additional Dialogue: Romeo Muller. Album Producer: Ernie Altschuler. Music Score, Arrangements: Maury Laws. “Daydreamer” Orchestration: Don Costa. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Songs: “Daydreamer,” “Wishes and Teardrops,” Isn’t It Cozy,” “Happy Guy,” “Daydreamer (Reprise),” “Luck to Sell,” “Who Can Tell,” “Simply Wonderful,” by Maury Laws and Jules Bass.
Instrumentals: Overture, “Tivoli Bells,” “Waltz for a Mermaid,” “Voyage of the Walnut Shell,” Finale (“Daydreamer” Reprise) by Maury Laws.
Performers: Robert Goulet (Singing “Daydreamer” Main Title); Ray Bolger (The Pieman); Ed Wynn (The Emperor); Sessue Hayakawa (The Mole); Paul O’Keefe (Chris Andersen); Robert Harter (Big Claus, Ensemble Singer); Videocraft Chorus.
There are several aspects of the recently passed Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s contributions to entertainment that bear further discussion. In the case of the first theatrical feature to combine live action with R/B’s specific style of stop motion — AniMagic™ — there is no better film to exemplify Rankin’s visionary approach than The Daydreamer.
It’s a great example as a misfire in many ways as well as a success in others — and it actually mirrors the over-reaching ambitions of other purveyors of fantasy. Walt Disney wasn’t quite ready for a musical fantasy when he made Babes in Toyland, but came into his own with Mary Poppins. Sid Krofft always had grand, outlandish ideas for every one of the TV shows he conceived with his feet-on-the-ground brother, Marty. Time and budget just couldn’t fulfill this vision, but there had to be a leftover spark of this inventive spirit or their shows would not have resounded with the public as they did.
Walt Disney bounced back with Poppins, so much so that everyone in the movie business wanted to match the success. It’s important to point out that, with the exception of The Sound of Music, Oliver! and Funny Girl, virtually none of the late’60s musicals were big hits (though many have become treasured classics, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).
In this context, The Daydreamer did very well considering its microscopic budget, but you can definitely see where the credit cards maxed out. Overall, the story tries to be profound about human nature and existence but ends up with too many down notes. But I still consider it to be one of my favorites. Especially now that it doesn’t have to live up to the expectations I had when I fell in love with the soundtrack album.
Like Joe Levine, Columbia Records may have expected Poppins-like success and pulled out all the stops with the album, as released on its prestigious Masterworks label. The stereo sound is magnificent, with the orchestrations and elements designed around the two channels; something that Rankin/Bass musical director Maury Laws was well versed in through his experience with those “ping-pong percussion” type stereo records that thrilled suburbanites (like my Dad) in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
Nowhere on any other recording will you here the essence of the Laws/Bass musical canon presented so completely than on this album. All the songs and arrangements provided the blueprints for subsequent songs for the next 15-20 years. Violins soar to the skies, anticipate and sustain. Tactile percussion tick-tocks punctuate. Trombones comment and assert.
According to Rick Goldschmidt’s The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass, Robert Goulet performed “Daydreamer” (say there, hey dreamer) on The Ed Sullivan Show to promote the film and the album, but Levine was so unhappy with the film that he canceled its premiere. The Daydreamer fell into matinee and TV syndication limbo until it was rescued for home video and frequent broadcasts on TCM.
The album lists the extraordinary all-star voice cast on the front cover, but they do not all appear on the album. Either their characters did not sing, or a studio “ghost singer” performed in place of the star. I believe this is the case with Hayley Mills and Patty Duke, whose songs may have been sung by such vocalists as Rose Marie Jun or Iris Rainer.
Record companies used to distribute promotional copies of records like The Daydreamer as “turntable albums.” in hopes that, beyond scoring a song hit, that they might earn fees when stations used lots of their cuts to play out before news and for other production needs. At holiday time, you might have heard an AM station play “Tivoli Bells.” I’ve heard selection from the Pufnstuf movie soundtrack album used for news, station promos and local commercials. Camarata’s version of “Aldonza” from Man of LaMancha album was used to sell cars!
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Daydreamer” Overture
In this made-for-the-album presentation, Laws combines “Daydreamer” (from which the film got its title); “Luck to Sell” (which has the same riff as “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand” in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas); “Voyage of the Walnut Shell,” “Wishes and Teardrops,” and “Tivoli Bells.”’
HERE COMES PETER COTTONTAIL
A Musical Easter Fable
TV Soundtrack Recording
Presented by ABC in Association with Arthur Rankin, Jr. & Jules Bass
Videocraft International WR-4767 (12” 33 rpm)
Album Released (For Promotion Only) in 1970. Producer/Directors: Arthur Rankin. Jr., Jules Bass. TV Series Associate Producer: Basil Cox. Writer: Romeo Muller, based on the Book “The Easter Bunny Who Overslept” by Priscilla and Otto Frederich. Musical Director: Maury Laws. Editorial Supervision: Irving Goldress. Sound and Effects Recording: Jim Harris, John Boyd. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Voices: Danny Kaye (Sassafras, Colonel Bunny, Antoine); Casey Kasem (Peter); Vincent Price (Irontail); Paul Frees (Colonel Bunny’s Advisor, Ben the Chicken, Dad at Thanksgiving); Joan Gardner (Mom on Mother’s Day, Witch, Bonnie Bonnet, Store Owner); Iris Rainer (Donna); Jeff Thomas, Greg Thomas (Kids on July 4); The Mike Sammes Singers.
Songs: “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins; “The Easter Bunny Never Sleeps,” “If I Could Only Get Back to Yesterday,” “Improvise,” “The Puzzle of Life.”
Instrumental: “Waltz for a Witch” (from Mad Monster Party)
TV Guide said that Here Comes Peter Cottontail had one of the best scores in children’s special history. It also had a great story, a perfect cast and reflected Rankin/Bass at its prime, as the small company was somehow becoming a contender on Saturday mornings as well as with prime time specials.
It shared members of the same cast, the overall look and even the slight echo in the dialogue track with Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, premiering the same year. Rankin/Bass eventually produced two more Easter bunny-themed specials that contradicted each other somewhat, but this one is still a grand jewel, ranking alongside Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the others in the crown.
Danny Kaye was a great favorite of Arthur Rankin. The entertainer accompanied him to Japan, where he was able to see the progress of the animation and for the artists to study some of his movements as reference. Kaye also starred in another Rankin/Bass special, The Emperor’s New Clothes, which was actually a pilot for a series called The Enchanted World of Danny Kaye. Perhaps the network didn’t buy it because it thought audiences would only want to see such things during the holidays. I can only dream about how that might have added up to some great Laws/Bass songs and records.
Vincent Price made his animation debut with Here Comes Peter Cottontail as Irontail, even though it was publicized that it was with was Rattigan in 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. However, it’s worth examining his performance in both films, as he tends to burlesque his menace as Irontail (like an operetta or panto villain) for Cottontail, yet performs Rattigan in a far more layered, wholly terrifying way. Price tends to be dismissed as a pure scene chewer, but it’s not true as far as these two performances are concerned.
This particular record was never released commercially. Because the audio was created so many months before the animation, ABC and R/B could circulate this album to potential sponsors and business associates. It’s a shame that it never saw wide release, as its so entertaining with or without the picture (though I would have edited out all the moments between commercial breaks where Sassafras holds up his magic viewing eggs and recaps a few lines).
I’ve never been able to fully comprehend how Peter, by going forward to the next Easter, spares the town from a year of Irontail’s bad eggs. I guess he doesn’t. We’re supposed to write off that year as lousy. What’s great about the storyline is that it incorporates major holidays from throughout the year (which is how I’m getting away with featuring it now instead of this spring—see the song below).
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Be Mine Today”
How many Casey Kasem songs are there? Well, here’s one that’s perfect for Valentine’s Day, so be sure to serenade your loved one with it. Kasem’s vocal partner is writer/actress Iris Rainer, who became a best selling fiction novelist as Iris Rainer Dart. Her book, Beaches, was adapted into the 1988 movie hit starring Bette Midler.