ANIMATION SPIN
August 30, 2016 posted by

The Rankin/Bass (and Paul Coker, Jr.) “Wacky World of Mother Goose” (1965)

The first Rankin/Bass cel-animated theatrical feature was a showcase for Paul Coker’s designs and the music of a veteran Disney Theme Park musical director.

WackyWorldFrontCover-600

Joseph E. Levine Presents
An Arthur Rankin/Jules Bass Production
THE WACKY WORLD OF MOTHER GOOSE
The Original Soundtrack Album
Epic Records (Columbia) BN-26230 (Stereo) LN-24230 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / 1965)

Released in 1967. Musical Direction: George Wilkins: Album Producer: Manny Kellem. Running Time: 24 minutes.

Voices Include: Margaret Rutherford (Mother Goose); Bob McFadden (Humpty Dumpty); Craig Secher, Susan Melvin, Robert Harter, William Marine.
Songs: “Wacky World,” “You’re Predictable,” “S.S. B.B.C.,” “Never Too Late,” “Fairytale Romance,” “Half a Chance,” “Goodbye” by George Wilkins, Jules Bass.
Instrumentals: “Rings on Her Fingers,” “Mother’s Waltz,” “You’re Predictable,” “Wacky Hoedown,” “Fairytale Romance” by George Wilkins.

wacky-mother-goose-posterAs explained when we covered the live-action/animated Rankin/Bass feature The Daydreamer, the multi-picture deal with Joe Levine’s Embassy Pictures was based on very tight budgets, even though Levine expected Disney quality at Woolworth prices.

Only Mad Monster Party managed to strike a balance between scope and limitations. Though a tad padded, all the elements worked together and the result was a work of considerable influence upon later animation by those it inspired. Though the same may not be said of The Wacky World of Mother Goose, released a few months after Party in 1967, it is notable for a number of reasons.

Chief among them is that Wacky World is the only cel-animated feature in history designed by the great Paul Coker, Jr. A longtime artist/designer for Mad Magazine and thousands of greeting cards, Coker was instrumental in creating the house look of Rankin/Bass animation after the departure of Tony Peters (who lent a slightly different but complementary look to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The New Adventures of Pinocchio).

So, while the film’s thin story suggests that it should have been (and possibly was intended to be) an hour-long TV special, Wacky World belongs to Coker as much as to Rankin and Bass. His distinctive, linear style is shown to great advantage after being remastered for DVD and occasional cable showings—looking far better than it did on VHS and airings on local TV stations.

If only the film took more advantage of the graphic Coker style by opening up the story a little more. The film is as uneven as Count Walktwist, the “crooked man” of the who takes over the town (shades of Babes in Toyland). What’s odd that that, at the very beginning of the movie, the star character—voiced by Oscar-winning “Miss Marple” actress Margaret Rutherford—is gone, even faster than Janet Leigh did in Psycho. Mother Goose returns at the end, but one has to wonder if there was some reason why she departed in the first place. Was Rutherford too ill to record more dialogue? Was she paid just for one song and a few minutes of dialogue?

Wacky-mother-goose-lobby

Dame Rutherford appears in only one song–which she speaks rather than sings–called “Goodbye.” It comes late on the soundtrack album but early in the movie. Perhaps that should have been the reverse, as the viewers has not really become acquainted enough with Ms. Goose to have any real feeling for the emotion the song wants to create.

The other voice artists in the cast are from the New York talent pool, most notably Bob McFadden, a fine actor who gave the sixties so many wonderful performances in cartoons, commercials and recordings. His Count character dominates the film—though strangely he is not given his own song.

The album's back cover - click to enlarge

The album’s back cover – click to enlarge

None of the actors are listed by their voices, so it’s tricky to identify who is who. The bass voice comes from Robert Harter, who played the fellow who arrested Chris Andersen for poaching in The Daydreamer. Another singer in the credits is William Marine, who as Bill Marine, sang and narrated a number of Cricket children’s records for Pickwick. The main musical director for Rankin/Bass, Maury Laws, conducted these records.

Laws is not mentioned anywhere in connection with Wacky World, but he was very busy on Rankin/Bass projects at the time this film was made, so he may have been somewhat involved. The title tune in particular has a very distinctive Laws sound.

But the musical director that was assigned to the film is of particular interest to Disney theme park fans George Wilkins is a composer/arranger for a number of Disney attractions, including several at Epcot and the “Vacation Hoedown” and Christmas versions of the Country Bear Jamboree. His arrangements are very bright and tactile in the Rankin/Bass tradition, with a heaping helping of ’60s grooviness in “Never Too Late” and “Half a Chance.”

If only the album weren’t so short! True, there aren’t very many songs and several of them are reprised as instrumentals, but it might have been nice to at least repeat the title song at the end of side two—as the movie itself does. It’s ironic that such a meandering film should have such a brief soundtrack LP.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN

“Wacky World”
An upbeat march in the vein of “Hey, Look Me Over” and “Pass Me By,” this is one of the best songs in the Rankin/Bass repertoire. In the film, nothing particularly thrilling happens to match its exuberance—mostly just scenes of Mother Goose flying around her storybook. What a joy is it to hear in full stereo!

24 Comments

  • Surprisingly I’ve never did like The Wacky World of Mother Goose.
    The reasons…
    1-It was “dark” humor wise in other words it wasn’t “Wacky” as in “funny Wacky”
    2-The plot line was in my opinion weak with more of a Spy Movie type theme
    3-The voices of the kids (Bo Peep,Jack) were irritating! They could of brought in Mel Blanc (doing his Nasty Widdle Kid voice),June Foray,Janet Waldo,Mae Quezel Dal McKinnon,Daws Butler Dick Beals and Walter Tetley as the voices of the kids in Mother Goose Land.

    • I meant to say Mae Questel.
      4-The monster candlestick must of gave the younger children nightmares.
      Suprisingly there were several other cartoons based on Mother Goose which were Wacky and more fun to watch that this in my opinion “drivel”

      1-Mother Goose Goes Hollywood by Walt Disney Productions where several well known stars from the 1930’s portrayed several of the iconic Mother Goose characters
      2-HBO’s Mother Goose Rap and Rhyme (which was part of the Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child series) with Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Gooseburg.
      And
      3-Disney’s Goldie and Bear which takes wackiness to a new level.

    • BIGG3469:
      That sounds like a good idea for a cast..they WERE NYC-based but had some West coasters and even the higher-scale costing Paul Frees, but Mae Questel already was NY based..I’d add Don Messick, Stan Freberg, Paul Frees and Frank Nelson.

      I’ve actually liked part of this myself..

  • I was pretty disappointed with this film when I saw this on TCM a few years ago. Not only was the plot nothing special, but the synching of the characters’ mouth movement to the soundtrack was way off in many scenes. I thought the best part was the song “Never Too Late”.

  • Somewhere, sometime, I read that voice guy Bob McFadden, who was half of “Bob McFadden and Dor”, the credited artist on a novelty record called “The Mummy” that I played to death as a child, was really pop poet sensation Rod McKuen, or vice versa. Maybe I got it wrong and McKuen was actually the mysterious “Dor”. Does anyone know the facts?

    I could Google this, but more fun to throw it out to the voice experts here.

    • Peter:
      You’re right! It was Rod Mckuen as DOR ! Bob Mcfadden also did voice work for MILTON THE MONSTER and COOL McCOOL!

    • Rod McKuen also penned the lyrics for A Boy Named Charlie Brown,Failure Face and Champion Charlie Brown for the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

    • Rod McKuen also penned the lyrics for A Boy Named Charlie Brown,Failure Face and Champion Charlie Brown for the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

    • Rod McKuen also penned the lyrics for A Boy Named Charlie Brown,Failure Face and Champion Charlie Brown for the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

    • Rod McKuen also penned the lyrics for A Boy Named Charlie Brown,Failure Face and Champion Charlie Brown for the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

    • Oh! Right! I just had a face-slapping moment and realized “Dor” is Rod backwards.

    • Rod was undoubtedly the beatnik, who the mummy attempted to scare, on the record. It ends with him going, “Like, help”.

  • This movie is one of Rankin/Bass’ few duds, but the soundtrack is really good. I love the song “Great Big Wacky World.” Thanks for uploading the stereo version, Greg!

  • When I was in elementary school, we were occasionally herded into the auditorium for a movie. This was one of the movies we got to see. Part of it, anyway. Everyone got so rowdy that they cut the film off about halfway through and sent us all back to class.

    • Oh, glad to hear! I wish we did that to a bland film at my school!

    • We were shown Sloan Foundation Looney Tunes and Rudy Larriva Road Runners at the end of the school year (in junior high!).
      I should have started a riot.

    • We had The Man From Button Wilow and the Jerry Lewis live action comedy The Big Mouth in grade school and Uncle Sam Magoo and Donald Duck’s How to Have a Accident… Series In Junior High along with a unknown Eastern European (Maybe Czechoslovian?) animated short about a harmonica playing boy and his pet Catepillar.

    • I thought the “Accidents” film were very good in my opinion as well as the great “Mathmagicland” which I did get to see at school. As for a bland film, I can’t think of one at the top of my head.

  • Rod was Dor

    • Thanks. Don’t rub it in.

  • @SCARRAS
    What’s odd is that both Paul Frees and Don Messick did work for Rankin Bass later on after The Wacky World of Mother Goose in a number of Christmas Specials (Both Paul Frees and Bob McFadden shared the VO duties as Santa Claus) and both starred in The Hobbit and The Return of the King. Four other VO artist that should have also starred in The Wacky World of Mother Goose were Larry Storch,Robie Lester,Allen Swift and Hans Conried..

  • Back in the mid-70s a theater in Santa Cruz was running kiddie matinees. They were usually imitation Disney comedies with heavy one-weekend TV campaigns; one starred Dean Jones and another starred a magical Volkswagen Beetle. The second features included slightly dated oddments like this and “Shinbone Alley”.

    Missed “Wacky World of Mother Goose” but made a pilgrimage to see “Shinbone Alley” (I loved the “Archy and Mehitabel” record that spawned a stage musical and finally the animated movie). Had the theater almost to myself; wish I could have seen how that played to a houseful of children and parents.

    • Was the Volkswagen movie one of the “Superbug” movies from Germany? I saw the third one in the series, “Superbug Rides Again” (retitled just “Superbug” for US release), in a theater in the late 1970’s, and the fourth, “Superbug, Craziest Car in the World”, on TV a bit later. I now have all 5 of them on VHS, and the first 3 on DVD.

    • Was the Dean Jones film “Mr. Super-Invisible” by any chance?
      I recall the German “Superbug” movies, and there were a couple of Tim Conway flicks that had a faux-Disney vibe: “The Billion Dollar Hobo” and “They Went Thataway & Thataway.”

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