Monday, October 12, 2009

Halloween Specials That Time Forgot: The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile

There's nothing as sweet or sentimental as a boy and his pumpkin!


In 1977, Bobbs-Merrill, a defunct publishing firm then owned by mammoth communications giant ITT, released the fully-animated feature film "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure" to cinemas nationwide. Directed by master animator Richard Williams, the film was a 85 minute musical head-trip through flights of fancy and other childish trappings. This film itself is of not importance to this review, but what I think happened next was a direct aftershock to it.

Of course it would not be the first time Raggedy Ann and her brother made it to the big screen through animation, the earliest adaptations go back to 1940 when the Fleischer Studios put out a 2-reeler story on the two ragdolls, and two subsequent cartoons were produced by Famous Studios during the decade. Course in the late 80's there would be the Saturday morning program that aired on CBS-TV for a number of years, but enough tidbits for now.

Due to whatever renewed interest Bobbs-Merrill had for it's classic RA&A property (based on the books of Johnny Gruelle) they commissioned Chuck Jones to help devlop several animated holiday specials for the next few years. The first of these was "The Great Santa Claus caper", and the other, "The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile". This review will be on the latter, and one that I still can't seem to wrap around my finger it's convoluted premise for a Halloween special.

It's Halloween night, and trick or treating is underway in town, all, except for one Aunt Agatha (played by Hobart Donavan) who refuses to let her nephew Ralph (played by Steven Rosenberg) go out for the annual candy run, let alone have a pumpkin. Meanwhile, admist the sounds of miscellanous voices and barks (played by Miscellanous People [and Dogs]), Raggedy Ann and Andy (played by June Foray and Daws Butler) watch as the disappointed Ralph (no relation to Ralph Philips of Chuck Jones's glory days at WB) wanders back into his darken bedroom in defeat, wondering what they could do about it. Ann suggests that Aunt Agatha may not be as mean as she appears, and that she was once a little girl herself, forgetting what it was like to be one. A plan is thereby established to go out and find Ralph a pumpkin. Along with their ragdoll Arthur, they head up to a lonely stand on a hill where the most unloved pumpkin of them all (played by Les Tremayne) who has been wallowing in his tears of pumpkin seeds, just wanting someone to take him.

Now I just set-up the premise here perfectly, and I know some people will look back and think, "huh?" I did too. I'm not lying when I say I think there's something kinda weird about the whole set-up that made less sense to me as an adult than it did as a kid, and perhaps it's just so. I just can't remember ever being attatched to a plant-based gourd the way the special ends with as if you just simply swapped a Christmas story and a puppy with a pumpkin! Ann's reasoning that "If there's a little boy who needs a pumpkin, there just has to be a pumpkin out there someplace that needs a little boy" might seem like a sound idea, yet these are plants we're talking about, face it, this thing's gonna rot in a few weeks!

For a Chuck Jones special from late in his career, it's not too bad animation-wise, and there are some clever bits of gags that go back to his classic days at WB. A mouse who bothered setting up home in the stand the pumpkin was on immedidately packs his bags up and leaves due to the disturbances of the orange guy's constant whine, leaving up a message tack to a post stating his mouse hole was for rent. Later, once Ann, Andy and Arthur (a creation of Chuck for these specials as well) got the pumpkin up and ready to go back to town, we get one of those whimsy chase sequences that include several passing bystanders and their reactions to the situation, very much keeping to the spirit Chuck had displayed on such toons as "Punch Truck" or "Rocket-Bye Baby", where it isn't about the main attraction, but the reactions by those affected by it.

Then of course you get the happy ending where a boy meets his pumpkin, and Ann shows Aunt Agatha the error of her ways, admitting in her sleep she was once a child too, an no sooner are both characters out and trick or treating with whatever they could find at the last minute (you rarely see any trick or treaters out when the ragdolls come back to town at 8:15 as Andy points out at one point in this special). Fine and dandy, of course until the day after Halloween with headaches all around! I once showed this to some buds a couple years ago, and even then I couldn't figure out the "WTF" factor of this special until I saw their responses to it. Now I question Chuck Jones' integrity even more!

Click HERE for some punkin' glompin' lovin'!


BONUS: CBS Halloween promo from 1980


Have a Very Merry Hallo, and a Happy New Ween!

8 comments:

Tohoscope said...

I think you nailed exactly what was wrong with this special. The whole plot just makes no sense. "If we get the right pumpkin it'll solve all the problems!" What???

I guess you can't fault Chuck for trying to make it all work. As a kid I always blamed Raggedy Ann and Andy. They're just not that interesting to hang too much of a story on. Honestly, Raggedy Ann ain't the first thing to come to mind when you think about Halloween. It's not even the twentieth. The Grinch is more menacing and threatening (plus he had Boris Karloff's voice.) But even the monster themed Warner Brothers shorts have more of a Halloween spirit then this.

Oh, I got it. How about Raggedy Ann vs Chucky? Good rag doll against evil mass produced doll? Raggedy Ann vs the toys of Toy Story? "Raggedy Ann teams up with Woody and Buzz Lightyear to save Halloween."

On second thought, forget that.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I think you nailed exactly what was wrong with this special. The whole plot just makes no sense. "If we get the right pumpkin it'll solve all the problems!" What???

I tried my best to explain just how bizarre that whole bit was, but I guess it spoke for itself! Really, what world did Chuck came from where an idea like that just worked? Glad it was a sappy kiddie special anyway.

I guess you can't fault Chuck for trying to make it all work. As a kid I always blamed Raggedy Ann and Andy. They're just not that interesting to hang too much of a story on. Honestly, Raggedy Ann ain't the first thing to come to mind when you think about Halloween. It's not even the twentieth. The Grinch is more menacing and threatening (plus he had Boris Karloff's voice.) But even the monster themed Warner Brothers shorts have more of a Halloween spirit then this.

True, RA&A were the Strawberry Shortcake of their time, no point whatsoever other than an excuse for another merchandising blitz!

Nowadays the first thing that comes to mine for me on Halloween is The Great Pumpkin, but I hardly know of any pumpkin patch to go to and waste mindless nighttime hours cold and alone!

Tohoscope said...

Heh. I think The Great Pumpkin is the first thing everybody thinks of when they think of Halloween Specials. All it takes for me is to hear Vince Guaraldi's The Great Pumpkin Waltz and I'm deep in the Pumpkin Patch.

Shawn Robare said...

Actually the plot is just Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, only with the spirits removed and a madcap romp thrown in the middle. Well, Raggedy Ann & Andy sort of function as abbreviated spirits, but you get the picture.

I actually dug this special because it's got some great voice work (Daws Butler, June Foray and Les Tremayne are always awesome in my book) and some brilliant character acting moments on the pumpkin (something Chuck Jones was a master at.)

Chris Sobieniak said...

Tohoscope said...
Heh. I think The Great Pumpkin is the first thing everybody thinks of when they think of Halloween Specials. All it takes for me is to hear Vince Guaraldi's The Great Pumpkin Waltz and I'm deep in the Pumpkin Patch.


It is a very calm, yet moving piece! All I ever get in my head is the constant remarks made to Linus over his fruitless pursuit.

Nowadays, I usually tell people not to bother watching it on TV anymore, not after what ABC's done with it, just get the DVD, you'll thank me in the end!

Shawn Robare said...
Actually the plot is just Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, only with the spirits removed and a madcap romp thrown in the middle.


Interesting you mention that since Chuck did produce an Academy Award-winning adaptation of said story that deserves to be out on DVD right now, but apparently someone doesn't want us to have it at all.

Well, Raggedy Ann & Andy sort of function as abbreviated spirits, but you get the picture.

I do, especially with the bit where they're in the aunt's bedroom and get her to be all nostalgic for her youth and what she's doing to Ralph by robbing him of the same thing.

I actually dug this special because it's got some great voice work (Daws Butler, June Foray and Les Tremayne are always awesome in my book) and some brilliant character acting moments on the pumpkin (something Chuck Jones was a master at.)

Very true. The pumpkin does have it's moments, though I think I kinda like Tremayne's performance of Alexander Graham Wolf in the other special, "The Great Santa Claus Caper" despite the character being very much a Wile E. clone hell bent on ruining Christmas through greed.

There was a period in time when the Chuck Jones versions of RA&A (including Raggedy Arthur and Alexander G. Wolf) were often seen on coloring books and other merchandising into the early 80's I can remember.

Steering it back to anime, Harmony Gold at one point had distribution on these specials too in the 80's, as I do faintly remember seeing their logo pop up at the opening and end of the specials on Nick's Special Delivery presentations.

d. merrill said...

Yet another important piece of evidence to explain the popularity of Japanese animation in the United States.

property said...

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Chris Sobieniak said...

d. merrill said...
Yet another important piece of evidence to explain the popularity of Japanese animation in the United States.


You learn new things everyday!

property said...
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