Bizarre, strange…and fascinating to watch. That’s 1977’s animated feature, Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure.
Directed by the legendary Richard Williams, who always pushed animation’s envelope, and this film is absolute proof of that. Based on the iconic dolls that were first introduced in 1915 (Raggedy Andy was introduced five years later in 1920), this feature is animated in every sense of the word. It’s full of movement that, at times is boggling, lush backgrounds that seem to envelop every scene, and fascinating character design and sequences that blur the line between disturbing and stunning.
Raggedy Ann & Andy opens in live-action, and we meet the young girl Marcella (played by the director’s daughter Claire Williams), whose playroom includes dolls and toys that come to life when Marcella leaves the room (shades of Toy Story, which would come along twenty-three years later).
Here, the film transitions to animation. A new toy has arrived, a beautiful doll from France named Babette (the voice of Niki Flacks). She is welcomed to the playroom by Raggedy Ann (Didi Conn) and Andy (Mark Baker), as well as the other toys, such as the wind-up toy, Grandpa (Mason Adams), a sock puppet named Socko (Sheldon Harnick), the twin dolls, the Pennies (Margery Gray and Lynne Stuart) and the self-explanatory Susie Pincushion (Hetty Galen).
Also, in the room, Captain Contagious (George S. Irving), the pirate who lives in a snow globe but falls in love with Babette. He breaks free of the snow globe and kidnaps Babette, taking her out of the nursery. This leads Raggedy Ann and Andy to leave, as well, to rescue Babette and takes them on an adventure unlike any other.
And on this journey, the two rag dolls encounter psychedelia that could have only been brought to the screen during the 70s.
They meet the “Camel with the wrinkled knees” (Fred Stuthman), a sad stuffed animal who has been abandoned by his previous owner and often sees a mystical camel caravan floating in the sky. Then, there’s “The Greedy,” (Joe Silver) a gelatinous sea of taffy with a constantly distorting face who does nothing but devour candy, and Sir Leonard Looney the Knight (Alan Sues) and King Koo Koo (Marty Brill) in Looney Land, who pride themselves on practical jokes.
While Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure received mixed to negative reviews and was disappointing at the box office, when it opened on April 1st, 1977, several of the film’s sequences represent some of the most impressive moments in animation from this era. Particularly remarkable is the sequence with The Greedy, as Raggedy Ann, Andy, and the camel float in a cupcake wrapper through the endlessly flowing ocean of taffy. The Greedy morphs and shifts around them, consuming sweets. It contains full, kinetic, mesmerizing animation, with everything in each frame constantly moving. It’s made more impressive because, with computer animation still some years away, it was all completed by hand.
Additionally, several animation legends contributed to the film. The massive “all-star” team of talent on the film included Art Babbit, who, among his many memorable characters, had created the Wicked Queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, animated the Camel here; Grim Natwick, who had animated Snow White in Disney’s first full-length feature and had also significantly contributed to the Fleischer Studios and UPA, crafted the Looney Knight and Tissa David, one of the pioneering women in animation, brought Raggedy Ann to the screen and became the first woman to create and animate a character in a feature film.
Another legend who was a part of the film was Joe Raposo, the songwriter behind the Sesame Street theme song and other famous music in the show. For the film Raggedy Ann & Andy, he composed several unique songs, such as the ballad “Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers” and the movie’s centerpiece number, “Rag Dolly.”
The songs were later used in two different variations when Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure was translated into a play in 1981 and then again in 1984.
After its brief theatrical run, Raggedy Ann & Andy eventually found its way to cable and then to VHS. However, there’s not been an official DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming release to date. This is a shame, as it would be wonderful to widen the audience for the film (particularly for animation fans), as it truly is bizarre, strange, …and absolutely fascinating to watch.