Animation Cel-ebration
May 2, 2022 posted by Michael Lyons

Toy Story: The 45th Anniversary of “Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure”

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.

12 Comments

  • Y’know, I’ll have to give this one another try. I watched part of it years ago, but never got through it due to its extreme corniness and unremarkable songs, but I appreciate Richard Williams and the work he did over the years to keep quality animation alive.

    Some of his best stuff existed as title sequences for films like Return of the Pink Panther – short but funny and with great attention to movement as an essential part of characterization, which the old silent comics understood (they had to!) and ought to get more attention in the current animation age where wordy scripts seem to rule the roost..

  • Fascinating to watch, but also a film where the parts are greater than their sum. Maybe it it hadn’t started in grounded live-action, the eventual transition to full-on psychedelia and back again might not have been so jarring.

    Still, I do enjoy some of the songs, particularly ‘Blue’, ‘No Girl’s Toy’ and ‘Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers’.

    Didi Conn would go on to play Stacey Jones on “Shining Time Station” for PBS and a rendition of the song ‘Home’ (performed by Roger Whitaker) from this feature was used for a musical interlude on an episode of that show. Imagine my surprise after years of hearing that song inbetween Thomas the Tank Engine stories to discover how far back its pedigree went!

    • Not to mention Roposo wrote the theme song and someof the songs during the first season. Sadly, he passed away a week after the series debut (and a few months before the end of season 20 of “Sesame Street”).

  • Don’t forget that Emery Hawkins animated most of “The Greedy” taffy pit sequence, possibly the best stuff in the whole picture!

  • Well, it’s certainly an imaginative film, with first-rate animation and some pretty good songs. (The ragtime revival of the seventies, which manifested itself in films like “The Sting”, is on display here.) But it suffers from weak, unsympathetic characterisations and a lack of any discernable humour. Adventure Time, for all its poor animation and atrocious music, nevertheless has vivid characters and enough humour amid the weirdness to make its flaws forgivable.

    One thing did make me laugh out loud: the king’s exchange with the monster (“Get it?” “Got it!” “Good!”) as they were waterskiing towards the pirate ship. That’s a running gag in “The Court Jester”, one of Danny Kaye’s funniest comedies.

    Around this time Didi Conn starred in “You Light Up My Life”, a feature film built around one of the most saccharine songs of the seventies not recorded by the Carpenters. Her singing voice was dubbed by a professional singer. They should have done that for “Raggedy Ann and Andy”, too.

  • I happened to find a “Playhouse Video” tape of this at a middle school garage sale in 2014 (althought there was some technical weariness on the tape at the end). I admit the storyline could’ve been a bit stronger (I thought the Fleischers two-reeler had a better story despite getting Ragedy-Ann and Andy’s relationship wrong), but the animation was well done. My favorite part was Art Babbit’s animation of the camel during the song “Blue”.

    I should mentioned that at the time Raposo was on “hiatus” on the Children Television Workshop (he left around 1973-74). He did do the occasional projects for them such as the two aclaimed “Sesame Street” disco albums and did serveral Muppet projects including “The Great Muppet Caper” (along with side projects such as the three exclusive non-book Dr. Seuess specials). Joe came back on the Street in 1983 and work there till the very end. A tribute special was done a year after his passing which went through his many song including “Blue” which aired on May 16th 1990 (the day we lost his friend Jim).

  • Raggedy Ann was like finishing school for so many animators of the second Renaissance. Eric Goldberg, Crystal Klabunde, Kevin Petrilak, David Block, John Bruno, Carol Millican and myself, all got their first big break on a major movie. You could see the passing of the torch from Hollywoods Golden Age generation to us boomers. Most of the assistants were in their twenties, and most of the animators in their sixties. I was just twenty, and Dick had me clean up a scene by Grim Natwick, who was 87!
    I got to work with Barney Posner, the assistant who cleaned up Ken Muse’s animation of Jerry dancing with Gene Kelly in Anchor’s Away.

  • Garrett Gilchrist (who previously built a recobbled cut of Williams’ Thief & the Cobbler) organized the transfer of a 35mm copy of that movie, and while it’s not official it’s easily viewable and well worth looking for it. I do think our very own Steve Stanchfield was involved – if that’s not a gage of quality, I don’t know what is !

  • All it lacked was a cohesive style. It’s an incredibly untidy film (downright–dare I say it–raggedy), more acid trip than fantasy. The 1970s were a rough time for animation anyway. Xerography made characters look seedy and frayed, and the pervasive adult realism of films of the time made sweetness and innocence a hard sell at the box office. Only Disney, whose own product had become increasingly bland, could put out successful G-rated entertainment on name value alone.

    • “The 1970s were a rough time for animation anyway. Xerography made characters look seedy and frayed, and the pervasive adult realism of films of the time made sweetness and innocence a hard sell at the box office.”

      Have you seen Ralph Bakshi’s films during that time? They were anything BUT sweet and innocent!

  • Now here’s an obscure observation: right after Raggedy Ann sings “I Look and What Do I See,” Topsy doll says, “That’s the most beautiful thing I ever heard!”

    That’s a reference to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. While not as memorable as “Sock it to Me” or “You bet your sweet bippy,” that catchphrase was said frequently by many cast members, but particularly Goldie Hawn for the first few years of its run.

    As for this post, Mike, “Verrrrry eennn-teresting!”

    • I’ve read that Goldie Hawn was considered for the role of Raggedy Ann when it was first conceived as a live-action musical, before it was decided to make an animated film.

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