One of 1970’s lesser-remembered Saturday morning cartoons inspired an album of groovy songs recorded in the same British recording studios as 1977’s Star Wars.
DOCTOR DOLITTLE PRESENTS
Songs from “Doctor Dolittle” as Featured on the NBC Television Network Series
Produced by David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng
Carousel Records (Bell Records / Columbia Pictures) CAR-3504 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / Also on 8-Track Tape)
Released in 1970. Conductor: Eric Rogers. Horn and String Arrangements: Doug Goodwin. Recorded at Anvil Studios, Denham, England. Music Mix-Down: Scot Barnes. Recording Engineer: Eric Tomlinson. Album Cover Design: Art Leonardi titles and musical sequences. TV Series Writers: Lennie Weinrib, Paul Harrison. Running Time: 28 minutes.
Grasshopper Vocalists: Robbie Falloon, Annadell, Colin Johnson, Mike Sherwood, Glyn Nelson.
Songs: “When You Wear a Happy Smile,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Fine,” “Tiger Moo,” “You’ve Got An Allergy,” “It’s The Happening Thing,” “Doggone Dog,” “When the Sky is Clear, When the Water’s Clean,” “On a Train Goin’ West,” “Good Friends Come in All Sizes,” “You Can Do It,” “You Can Really Fly,” “A Friend in Need” by Doug Goodwin.
Doctor Dolittle is a very resilient property. It began in the trenches of WWI, where author Hugh Lofting, to relieve stress and boredom, wrote the stories for his kids back home. As books, they became world renowned, so much so that even Walt Disney himself attempted to gain the rights to the books (his record company would later release two versions of the movie score, one of which was displayed on the wall of the film’s producer, Arthur P. Jacobs).
20th Century Fox eventually took those film rights and transformed the books into what was hoped to be Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady all rolled into one. The resulting film has been written about extensively for its budget-busting problems of location, animal wrangling and Rex Harrison antics. It’s an understatement to say that the film’s bonanza status at the box office, retail stores, music charts and Oscar shelves was over-anticipated.
Though the 1967 film did pick up two Academy Awards (for Special Effects and Song for “Talk to the Animals”), Doctor Dolittle laid a lot of eggs. The strange thing is that, those eggs ended up everywhere and took on lives of their own. Maybe the toys and such were not big sellers, but baby boomers saw them everywhere. Maybe the soundtrack album adorned thousands of bargain bins, but that also meant a lot of us bought it. And a lot of artists recorded the songs. To a kid in the late ‘60s, “Talk to the Animals” was a standard, performed on variety shows and played on AM radio stations upon which you could still hear Sammy Davis, Jr. alongside The Beatles, Ray Conniff and Smokey Robinson. The score was outstanding no matter how some critics turned their noses up at them, with several songs gain international prominence. A London stage version proved that there was life in the ol’ Doc yet. It was the circumstances, not the elements within the property, and clearly that is not lost on those who are still captivated by it. Fox gave the 1967 movie such reach that it continued to make an impact for years.
Indeed, while the Eddie Murphy remakes may owe little to the 1967 film, since the premise itself made it work more successfully as a contemporary comedy, there has been a bidding war for rights to a new version. Universal will release a new Dolittle starring Robert Downey, Jr. in 2019. Though no details have been disclosed about the approach of the film (except for the assumption that Downey’s Dolittle will be a tart-tongued smarty pants), the point is that the 1967 movie is imbedded in a collective psyche through years of exposure on TV and home video. In fact, an expanded soundtrack CD and Blu-ray of the 1967 version have just been released.
The reason for all this context is to explain why DePatie-Freleng and NBC would present an animated version of Doctor Dolittle two years after the movie had basically tanked. Isn’t that like producing a John Carter series two years late? Not at all. The Dolittle books, first of all, were still established on their own). And second, the movie was ubiquitous despite its box office demise. The aura surrounding movies didn’t dissipate as quickly as it seems to today.
That had to be the reason DePatie-Freleng used the Oscar-winning “Talk to the Animals” as the theme song, albeit a highly grooved-up version. The lyrics were altered to set up the premise of the series, having Dolittle pursued by a comical band of pirates, led by Scurvy, who had an odd gangster look for a pirate. The cartoon also picked up the distinctive marketing font that appeared on all the film merchandise (though not on the film main titles themselves).
Purists of the Dolittle books might not have been thrilled with turning the adventures into a sitcom-like globetrotting chase, but for its purpose, it opened up the world a little bit for young viewers and invited the odd bits of education to filter their way in. Dolittle’s objective as a character is to travel the world to help animals and their environment, while Scurvy is out to learn how to talk to animals in order to, it seems, gain power and wealth—at least that’s how it’s explained. The premise more resembles the plot of Around the World in 80 Days, with Phileas Fogg chased by Inspector Fix (which became its own NBC animated series produced by Australia’s API, before Hanna-Barbera bought the studio, in 1972).
Lennie Weinrib, who became a vocal fixture of Saturday morning TV (so much so that it can have one reminiscing about those days just to hear his voice), was just getting into animation with this series, his second for DePatie-Freleng (the first being Roland and Ratfink). With his writing partner Paul Harrison–the duo also responsible for the writing on H.R. Pufnstuf–the series has the feeling of high adventure, but like Pufnstuf, it has no problem lapsing into Bob Hope-style one liners and pop culture references.
Dolittle seemed a change of pace for DePatie-Freleng, a chance to branch out into fantasy and adventure with music. At first, one might think Dolittle might have been the kind of thing their rival studios might have taken on, but maybe they wanted to widen their portfolio beyond six-minute gag cartoons. While there are some awkward aspects to their Dolittle by today’s standards, they were striving for something different yet without abandoning their house style. One of the nicest things about the show is that perennial incidental voice actor Hal Smith was given the lead role as Doctor Dolittle himself.
Weinrib and Harrison must have been closely involved with not only the premise, but also mapping out the outline of all 17 episodes so that they meshed with the songs. Unlike songs on The Archie Show or Josie and the Pussycats, most of the Grasshoppers’ songs are related to the storyline. This is a little harder to accomplish as it requires pre-planning as opposed to the luxury of tossing any song into any given chase. It may be for that reason that the writers were given credit on the album. Even though they didn’t write the songs, their scripts influenced them.
Whenever the Grasshoppers decided to perform, Dolittle opened his medical bag and it becomes a colorful band stage. What the band “played” has little stylistic connection to the rest of the show, but no less an auditory shift than the very different musical arrangements and studio vocalists that were suddenly heard when The Partridge Family performed on their show a couple of years later.
All of the music was recorded in England with British singers, a common practice for the late ‘60s. The great Mike Sammes Singers not only recorded for many Disney albums, they also can be heard on several Rankin/Bass specials and series of this period (including Tomfoolery, which ran on NBC the same year as Doctor Dolittle). It’s possible that DePatie-Freleng musical director Doug Goodwin handled much of the studio’s orchestral music for other shows overseas as well.
Unlike The Archies, the Pussycats, the Brady Kids or even the few Scooby-Doo pop songs, the Grasshoppers songs are completely child-focused and have no pretentions to do anything else but serve their source material. They do stand on their own as peppy late’60’s groovy flower power tunes, though.
Quite a few reading this Spin today might be discovering of the existence of a Doctor Dolittle cartoon series for the first time. NBC placed it at 10 a.m., against a CBS juggernaut of the brand-new Josie and the Pussycats (preceded by Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies and followed by The Harlem Globetrotters, so that couldn’t have helped its ratings.
For those who follow novelty music such as this, there might be some confusion because there are actually two children’s pop groups called “The Grasshoppers.” The first “group” was an umbrella term for Peter Pan Records various Chipmunk covers. There were quite a few of them on such labels as Spin-O-Rama, Parade, Diplomat and Tinkerbell. Hop over here for their Spin (it’s under the post about the Golden Jetsons).
The album design was created by Art Leonardi, who also staged the musical sequences and the lightning-paced titles. In a parallel universe where Doctor Dolittle the movie and the TV cartoon were phenomenal hits, it’s interesting to wonder what a “DePatie-Freleng Records” company would have been like. This is such a delightfully cartoony cover, it is fun to imagine more like it, based on other DFE cartoons.