Needed: A 30th Anniversary DVD of "Raggedy Ann and Andy – A Musical Adventure"

Thirty years ago, animation was treading water; it was there, but not too many people noticed. The renaissance was more than a decade away. Disney released The Rescuers, which was well-received, and 20th Century Fox released Raggedy Ann and Andy – A Musical Adventure… which by and large wasn’t. And yet, in my informal survey, nearly 100% of today’s thirty-somethings who saw “Raggedy Ann” as children, in its first and only theatrical release, remember it with great fondness.

And it is an interesting feature-length cartoon. It would pretty much have to be – with Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) at the helm, and animation legends like Hal Ambro (At Disney’s from Make Mine Music through Mary Poppins), Grim Natwick (who started in the thirties and worked for Disney, Iwerks, Fleisher, Lantz, and UPA), Art Babbit (another Disney legend), Gerry Chiniquy, (Warner’s) Emery Hawkins (Warner’s) Michael Sporn (who runs a great animation blog you can reach by clicking his name), Corny Cole, John Kimball (yes, Ward’s son), plus a talented animator and remarkable person named Tissa David.

Raggedy Ann and Andy wasn’t just for kids. The plot is set into motion by lust… the lust of Captain Contagious for Babette, A French doll who either adapts well to the pirate lifestyle… or succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome, since she takes over the Captain’s ship, is wearing corsets and carrying a whip by the end of the film. The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees fades into a lovingly rendered psychedelic reverie. There’s a great ‘traveling camera’ sequence presented in black and white that can give you vertigo, a sly borrowing from McCay’s Little Nemo.

I suspect that The Rescuers was a much bigger hit than Raggedy Ann. Nonetheless, when I went to see Raggedy Ann in ‘77 – I couldn’t get a ticket.

This was due to the helpful nature of the person selling tickets. “You know, that’s a cartoon, sir.” I replied that I was aware of that fact. “I can’t give you a refund if that’s not what you want to see.” I promised the ticket agent I wouldn’t be seeking a refund. Handing me the ticket, she again warned me: “Alright, just so you know, this is a ticket to see a cartoon.” Maybe that sums up the common attitude toward animation in ‘77.

I gave some serious thought to reappearing at the box office ten minutes later, saying, “Hey! you sold me a ticket to a cartoon! What were you thinking? I want my money back!” But just a couple of minutes into the film, I was hooked. The music, by Joe Raposo, was clever, melodic, and memorable. The voices? Sheer genius to cast Didi Conn, the perfect voice for Raggedy Ann (and who sounds not a day older three decades later). The animation was… well, it didn’t look like Disney. It was looser, rougher around the edges, and seemingly not tied down by foolish consistency, that hobgoblin of little minds. It was fun to watch; you could almost feel the exuberance of the animators. The story was… episodic, most closely paralleled in the feature Walt Disney claimed to hate, Alice In Wonderland. I always liked Alice In Wonderland.

On the home-video front, Raggedy Ann and Andy was released years ago on VHS and Beta. It never came to laser disc, as far as I know, and isn’t on DVD. Considering the money to be made from a DVD, you’ve got to think “massive legal problems.” They’re not hard to conjure up, since the film was co-produced by Bobbs-Merrill, ITT, and 20th Century Fox. The ITT Corporation sold its publishing group, including Bobbs-Merrill, to MacMillan in 1985. Simon & Schuster acquired Macmillan ‘94. The year after Raggedy Ann was made, ownership of 20th Century Fox changed hands, and in 1984, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation became sole owner. Raggedy Ann is currently licensed by United Media Licensing. Somebody better get out their legal sword and get busy on this Gordian knot, because untangling it may not be possible.

There were few books being published about animation at the time, and by pretending to widen his focus from the film at hand to include histories of both animation and Raggedy Ann (totaling 35 pages out of about 300), John Canemaker was able to write The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy – An Intimate Look at the Art of Animation: Its History, Techniques, and Artists and have it published. Billed as presenting, for the first time, a “…truly comprehensive look at the creation of a feature-length cartoon from conception to completion,” there may have been some ulterior motives at work on the part of the publisher… Bobbs-Merrill.

The book, Canemaker’s first venture into animation history, is excellent. Between seeing the film and reading the book, I became familiar with who animated what. Richard Williams himself animated most of Raggedy Andy’s song, “I’m No Girl’s Toy.” John Kimball did the Little Nemo-inspired staircase scene. Emery Hawkins did The Greedy.

And the remarkable Tissa David did much of Raggedy Ann. Canemaker writes:

Tissa David was a teenager when she saw Walt Disney’s Snow White in 1938, and although she was “absolutely bewildered by it,” She felt that “this is what I want to do.”

Born in Transylvania (how many people get to say that?) she got a job at an animated film studio in Budapest, and continued to work there during the German occupation during WWII. Canemaker quotes David:

We had three bombardments every single day for a whole year. Eleven in the morning were the Americans, who came and bombed strategic points. Nine o’clock at night were the Russians, who were light bombers and just dropped fire-bombs on the town. And the English came around four o’clock in the morning. Through it all Tissa kept on animating. “They never hit the studio,” she says, “but they hit everything around it.” On her resume she would give as her reason for leaving “The Siege of Budapest.”

You have to admire anyone who can say “just dropped fire-bombs,” as if that really wasn’t a big thing.

After the war, Canemaker reports that Tissa David became co-owner of a studio which was doing well when the state decided to take it over in 1949. David escaped to France where, for a time, she found work as a housemaid and cleaning woman. In 1955, David came to the U.S. and applied for a job at UPA. When she finally got an interview, who comes out to see her but Grim Natwick, the man who animated the character of Snow White.

[Grim Natwick] came bounding out to interview the frightened Tissa and boomed, “Do you know what animation is?” Understanding very little English and speaking even less, she shyly answered “Animation is – animation.” “You can’t argue with that,” chuckled Natwick, and thus began a “very close” personal and professional relationship that lasted twelve years.

I’m glad I became a big fan of the film, thanks largely to John Canemaker’s book. I went to visit a gentleman who worked at ITT and bought a number of Raggedy Ann cels. (The pictures above are my photos of some of those original cels). I also wrote to Tissa David and Grim Natwick, both of whom were kind enough to write back (A portion of Natwick’s letter is reproduced below – I asked Grim about the “Animation is – animation” quote).

Please, merged powers that be, this is a gorgeous widescreen film that cries out for DVD release. Somebody – please tell me it will happen.

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1 comment to Needed: A 30th Anniversary DVD of "Raggedy Ann and Andy – A Musical Adventure"

  • latinbaby

    I agree, we NEED a DVD. I just finished watching this film, and I was impressed. I'm a huge Richard Williams and animation fan, and I don't think this film deserves the reputation it has garnered on the internet. While it's not the best film (or the best film for children), the care put into its art and animation is excellent.
    The famous Michael Sporn also worked on this film.