Movies That Ruined My Childhood: Raggedy Ann & Andy.
Raggedy Ann and Andy’s musical movie is filled to the brim with odd characters, ghastly sights, and plenty of childhood scarring memories.
When I wrote my top ten insane movies based on toys list, I purposefully left one out. A movie so crazy and demented, it needed a special mention. Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure is that movie.
The film has an interesting back-story, as it was troubled from the beginning. The original director died of an illness, so Richard Williams, the animation supervisor, took over the helm. The film went over budget and nearly over schedule, and the studio fought Williams when it came to any cuts. The result was that Williams was credited but ultimately booted, and the film was a long, convoluted fiasco. It was shown without marketing, quickly pushed into syndication, airing on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel (oh, Disney, you’re getting too good at this game!) It remains a rare VHS, the only format it was released upon.
What caught my young fascination, and growing unease, about the film was twofold: the film was filled with adult themes, and the characters (except for Ann and Andy) were a horror shop of weird and repellent creations. That suspicion was confirmed upon revisiting the film.
Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977)
Raggedy Ann and Andy are the prized toys for a young girl named Marcella, though they happily share their nursery play-room with a menagerie of other dolls and toys. As the story begins, a new plaything has arrived from France, a haughty French belle named Babette. Ann tries to welcome the new toy, but Babette is aghast at the provincial toys and longs to return home to Paris. Before she can get over her homesickness, Captain Contagious, a pirate captain caught in a snowglobe, sets his eyes upon Babette and decides to steal her for his own. He smashes his globe, grabs Babette, and sails out of the nursery. Raggedy Ann and Andy decide to pursue him, in order to keep Marcella from learning about the theft (and possibly keep her from the fact that her toys are sentient.)
From the beginning, we get a sense that these toys are not quite right. Mostly they’re low stereotypes; Babette is a snooty Parisian socialite, Captain Contagious is a bawdy, corpulent rascal with the telltale facial features of a hard-drinking alcoholic, and there is a pair of brown marionette girls who are slightly racist Pacific Islander tropes. The rest of the game are mostly bizarre and ghastly, such as an accordion clown with manic mannerisms or a simple sock puppet suffering from depression. And these are the good guys.
Once out in the world, Ann and Andy find a discarded stuffed camel who is suffering from delirium due to being lonely. The pair of rag dolls invite him to the nursery after they save Babette, but the poor thing is losing its mind. It frequently has fever dreams of a caravan of camels headed up to heaven, and it goes racing after them, screaming not to be left behind, dragging Ann and Andy into harm.
The Bad Guys.
That harm is an opium den vision of weirdos who all want to capture Ann and Andy. The first (and worst) is a creature made of taffy who is constantly gorging itself…on itself, yet never finding satisfaction. Is this a musical adventure or Dante’s vision of hell, plus toys? The creature wants to consume a “sweet-heart”, which Ann happens to have. Sewn up inside her. So the creature decides he’s going to take her heart, one way or another. Luckily Andy and Camel figure out a way to get it to gorge itself on refuse instead, escaping on a floating cupcake.
Next, the pair are accosted by a knight from Looney Land who subjects them to humiliating pranks and pratfalls. His mission is to find hapless victims to amuse his lord, King Koo Koo, who is teeny tiny but can grow whenever he laughs (though only part of him unless he’s really amused.) He subjects them to an asylum’s worth of insanity, including a clever bit of animation where it looks like Ann and Andy are trying to escape through an M.C. Escher drawing.
Finally, the trio find Babette, who has taken over the pirate ship by using her feminine charms, and is heading to France by sea. Before Ann can talk sense into her, a giant mass of protoplasm grabs them, and starts to tickle everyone uncontrollably. King Koo Koo unleashed the feathered Krakken in order to get the maximum amount of laughs, growing into a monstrous size…before exploding. All’s well that ends well, right?
So that’s the crazy characters, what about the adult themes? Throughout the film, there’s an odd undercurrent of sexuality. Babette is obviously stylized as sexy, and her outfits grow more revealing as she progresses. Captain Contagious has two long flowing mustache appendages which often mimic lewd gestures, and he has a propensity to thrust his hips in the general direction of ladies. The taffy monster is all sorts of messed up subconscious desires and oral fixations. You can even see some sexual innuendo about King Koo Koo’s size. It kind of all makes sense when you find out that Richard Williams also worked on another sexually charged animated feature that blended real world and cartoon characters: Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The real disconcerting thing is that Ann and Andy are just a touch over-familiar. They’re like young sweethearts instead of brother and sister, sharing tender moments and being unfailingly concerned for each other. If they weren’t brother and sister, they would be the most charming young couple in the world, and they’re both intensely likable amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the rest of the cast. It’s a bit weird, in that Victorian “nobody is closer than family” kind of way.
It’s a Mad Mad Mad World.
Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure is not all bad. It does a fantastic job blending live action and cartoon worlds in a believable way. Toy Story owes quite a bit to this film, thematically and story wise. Ann and Andy are wonderful and endearing, as long as you agree to just believe they’re very affectionate siblings. The musical numbers, though way too frequent, are quite well done, and I can still find myself remembering the tunes 20 plus years later. The animation is ambitious, if grotesque, blending many styles with fluidity and uncanny nuance. If only it wasn’t so damn bizarre!
At the end of the day, it’s hard to get over how demented and adult this simple kids story became. There is definitely a vestige of Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz added to the carefree world of Raggedy Ann, where insanity is all too happy to put in an appearance. Add all of the sexual undertones (the mass tickling has some very disturbing facial expressions going on!) and you have a film that should only be enjoyed by older audiences.