Pop Culture Vomit Bag!: Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1978)
Raggedy Ann was originally created by early 20th century American writer Johnny Gruelle. Legend says that she was born when he took one of his young daughter Marcella's rag dolls, drew a face on it and made up a name for it from James Whitcomb Riley's poems "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphant Annie". She made her entrance into American pop culture with the book Raggedy Ann Stories in 1918, which was followed two years later by Raggedy Andy Stories, which introduced her brother Raggedy Andy.
Many people know the characters not so much for the books as for the dolls, which have been made since 1920 by many different companies, legally or otherwise, and are collected even today.
For everyone else, there's Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, the characters' first and to date only feature film, directed (for the most part) by Richard Williams, the man who gave us two Pink Panther title sequences and exactly one-half of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Most of you may not remember this film in theaters – it was a critical and commercial bomb, plus a lot of us weren't born yet – but rather from repeated broadcasts on the Disney Channel in the late 80s and early 90s. It has never been released on home video outside of VHS, and if it's ever been aired on TV in recent years, then I wouldn't know about it. And yet if you asked someone about Raggedy Ann and Andy, I reckon a few of them would recall at least one scene from this movie. Believe me, it's kinda hard to forget it…especially when you were five years old when you saw it.
So the movie opens in live-action as we meet a young girl named Marcella (named after the original creator’s daughter – nice homage) as she comes home from school with her Raggedy Ann doll and heads upstairs into her playroom, where she drops it off with all her other playroom toys.
Then the opening credits start. Now here is where I have to give the film some merit: nowadays the Hollywood movie machine builds all the publicity for their animated films from the A-list and B-list celebrities they bring in to do the voices, as if star power comes before art. This movie, however, is different. Not a single voice actor is listed in the opening credits; rather, the animators get top billing. And they have quite an impressive roster, too: Disney animators, UPA animators, people who worked on Looney Tunes. And hey, music and lyrics by Joe Raposo from Sesame Street, that can't be bad either, right?
We come back to the playroom and transit to animation where we meet Raggedy Ann and her plaything compatriots: a windup fix-it man with six arms, a talking pin-cushion lady, a talking sock, a rugged old doll in a rocking chair, and—
We’re only 5½ minutes into the movie, people.
So after Raggedy Ann (voiced by Didi Conn, who would later play Frenchy in the Grease movies) sings about what she sees with Marcella in the outside world, we then get the plot rolling: today is Marcella’s seventh birthday, and she’s received a package which has been in the room the entire time and only now do people call attention to it. And only then do they also realize that Ann’s brother Andy has been squashed under it for exactly as long. It’s a birthday present from an anonymous sender from Paris, and during a brief live-action interlude Marcella opens it up to find a fancy-dressed thick-accented French doll named Babette. Once Marcella leaves the room (again), Babette comes to life and shows apprehension about her new surroundings with just a pinch of homesickness despite Annie’s attempts to persuade her that they mean her no harm…in song.
We also meet a pirate captain living on a ship in a snow globe with his obligatory parrot Queasy and a disturbingly prehensile handlebar mustache. One look at the new girl in town and he’s turned on faster than a Tea Partyer at a Sarah Palin lookalike contest. Raggedy Ann takes notice of this man’s sudden and not-at-all-suspicious desire to escape his little glass prison and with the help of the six-armed fix-it guy obligingly lets him out…which turns out to be a big mistake as the playroom floods with water, the ship suddenly grows in size, and the captain and the crew which he suddenly has abscond with Babette and row the ship up the wall and out of a second-story window to points unknown.
Raggedy Ann, feeling she is to blame for the whole thing, ignores the other toys’ warnings about leaving the playroom on their own and follows them out into the “deep deep woods” in hopes of rescuing Babette, while Andy tags along to protect his sister.
And here’s where the nightmare starts.
After a bit of wandering through this forest which has suddenly appeared in Marcella's backyard and singing about togetherness and not being afraid and crap like that, we meet our first weirdo: a beat-up stuffed camel with wrinkled knees whose lonely wanderings have led him to hallucinate about little pink camels roaming across the sky. I'm not kidding here: he literally blanks out and little pink camels start singing and calling out to him.
Apparently he’s been rummaging these woods because his former owner’s mother threw him out one day and he’s been looking for a new home ever since. (And yes, he sings about it. There’s like a couple of songs every ten minutes. I can verify this: the movie was split up into parts on YouTube.) After the Raggedys promise to take him home with them and let him travel with them, he starts hallucinating again which starts him running, taking Raggedy Ann and Andy along with him. Despite protests and desperate pleas from his new found friends, he races right off a cliff and all three of them plummet into…what I’m only assuming is a puddle of someone’s vomit.
But wait, it’s not a puddle of vomit (appearances to the contrary), it’s a giant pit of melty, gooey taffy.
Meet the Greedy, an amorphous blob who has collected every piece of junk food in the world, and he’s constantly eating them over and over again (so technically it could be a puddle of vomit). And he has a song, too, about his insatiable appetite and his desire for a “sweetheart”, and he’d prefer his new visitors stay to help him find it. (Well actually, he’s not looking for a significant other, as the song would have you believe, he’s looking for a heart which is quite literally sweet in flavor. It’s sort of a play on words, you see.) A very bizarre moment in the movie, even more so considering that the Greedy is never mentioned again after this. He tries to capture them, they get away, and that’s it. He’s there for one scene and then you never see him again. What was his point? What did he contribute to the plot?
Our heroes have only barely escaped from this giant puddle of vomit in the forest which has suddenly appeared in Marcella's backyard only to stumble onto—
A mugger? A serial killer?
No, it’s Sir Leonard the Looney Knight, a lovable little psychotic with an affinity for practical jokes and the voice of former Laugh-In sportscaster Alan Sues.
Welcome to Loonyland, a kingdom of deranged psychopaths just past the giant puddle of vomit in the forest which has suddenly appeared in Marcella's backyard where all the practical jokes in the world come from. And Leonard wastes no time demonstrating a few on our newly arrived tourists. But it's okay, he's only doing it because he LOVES them...he even says so in a song.
Our heroes wisely run away from Leonard, but then run into what is best described as grade-A nightmare fuel.
Next we’re in the court of the King of the Loonies, King Koo Koo, as displayed on a 1:1 scale. He has a bit of a Napoleon complex, as he is no more than six inches tall and nobody takes him seriously (which I would blame more on the company he keeps – a menagerie of giggling fools of varying character designs) — and yes, he does sing about it. The only way he can grow big is by laughing at the expense of others, which causes him to inflate in a different part of his body (insert erection joke here — and no, we don't exactly see that bit grow, and not that we'd want to anyway). Koo Koo insists that the Raggedys and their camel stay to keep him laughing, and…then a pie fight breaks out.
During the mayhem, our heroes escape and finally catch up with Babette and the Captain — on his ship out in the middle of the ocean beyond the kingdom of deranged psychopaths and the giant puddle of vomit in the forest which has suddenly appeared in Marcella’s backyard. But when they come about:
I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions regarding the whip.
Babette has inspired the Captain's crew to mutiny, taken over the ship and has set sail for Gay Paree, while her attacker is down below in irons. The new captain orders her would-be rescuers hung from the highest yardarm for some reason, but just then Koo Koo comes back with…what I can only describe as a bulbous manta ray with several protruding arms that looks like he came from Greedy’s giant puddle of vomit. Determined to have “the last laugh”, he orders whatever it is to start tickling everybody, which inflates him to a gargantuan size in easily the most child-scarring moment in the entire film…until Queasy is subliminally inspired to pop him.
The next morning, Marcella finds all of her toys mysteriously floating in a fish pond in her backyard…which looks totally normal despite having a deep dark forest, a giant puddle of vomit, a kingdom of deranged psychopaths and an entire ocean in it (which the fish pond is supposed to explain). No wonder the house sold cheap.
Anyway, everybody is welcomed back, Babette apologizes for being a stuck-up brat, she and the Captain arrange a date (despite her entire episode being grounds for a restraining order) and everyone lives happily ever af—oh wait, still one loose end to tie, the camel's still outside.
So the camel is let in through the window and everyone welcomes him to the fold, one last song, Marcella comes back to put everyone away, movie’s over. Though the way that she looks at her new camel doll which has suddenly appeared in her room suggests that he may be seeing the inside of a garbage can in about a month or so.
What is up with this movie? Granted the animation is pretty fluid at times and some of the songs are kinda cute, but good grief, was this really marketed to young children? As if the frightening imagery wasn't enough, there are too many songs in it. Nearly EVERY CHARACTER has at least one song, and I can think of a few of them that they could have afforded to cut out. The story didn't make a lot of sense either — there is a plot of course, but it's pushed to the wayside to focus more on this menagerie of freaks and monsters, while the title characters don't get a lot of development. Raggedy Ann is just gentle and innocent, while Raggedy Andy is just macho and masculine.
But perhaps the most bizarre thing about it is that it's a movie based on a concept about toys who come to life and go on adventures when the kids are out of the room, and was a box office failure, whereas eighteen years later, Disney would release a similar movie from then-unknown studio Pixar and build a franchise around it that's just gone into its second sequel.
Guess some movies have it, and some don't.