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.
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.
As 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?
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.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
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!