Sunday, November 18, 2007
THE DAYDREAMER (1966) is a recently re-discovered obscure feature by *Animagic* inventors Rankin-Bass (of RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER fame). The film opens with a likable title song by recently deceased Las Vegas crooner Robert Goulet and some great Al Hirschfeld caricatures of the all-star cast.
After the song (in a live action segment), we discover it's 1801 Denmark and we meet pathetic Papa Andersen the shoemaker (commie "witch hunt" victim Jack Gilford) and his young son Chris (15 year old Paul O'Keefe of THE PATTY DUKE SHOW) - who we soon discover ALWAYS wears the same snug red polyester tights and suspenders, even underneath his nightshirt! Papa is visited by Elmira Gulch herself when Margaret Hamilton comes a knockin' looking for her shoes, only Papa's such a rotten shoemaker that they are not fixed yet. We also suspect that Chris' mom left Papa cause he's such a loser. Gilford, usually very charming, seems as though he's reading from cue cards here.
After Papa tells him of the legendary Garden of Paradise, narcoleptic Chris is visited by an animated version of the Sandman (voiced by Cyril Ritchard)- who tells him that in order to be happy and successful he MUST find the Garden of Paradise. So Chris falls asleep on a boat - and is transformed into an living, breathing Animagic character! Only it doesn't last too long because his boat crashes and he drowns. The End.
So Chris is dead, and The Little Mermaid (voiced by Disney sweetheart Hayley Mills) discovers his lifeless body. After her father (Burl Ives, phoning it in as Father Neptune) tells her that there's no hope for Chris, she makes a deal with the fabulously goth Sea Witch (Talullah Bankhead, giving Pat Caroll's Ursula a run for her money) who brings Chris back to life. They then swim around and the "Ariel" falls in love with the formerly dead boy. He tells her to fuck off cause he's just not into her, besides he's got a garden to find. So he breaks her heart and wakes up all wet in a boat.
Back in the real world, Chris next befriends an ugly duckling. But then he falls asleep again, this time falling in with two conniving tailors (voiced by Terry Thomas and Victor Borge) who are busy designing the Emperor's New Clothes. Chris and the tailors pull a fast one on the narcissistic king (Ed Wynn), but get exposed themselves when a little kid alerts the townsfolk to their scheme. Chris then awakens (in the real world) and gets arrested for poaching a duck!!!
In the most bizarre live action sequence in the film - Chris is tied up bondage style and dragged through town while singing a showtune about being unlucky while back-up dancers perform an elaborate Fosse-like routine around him. The scene MUST be seen to be believed!
So Chris falls asleep again, this time he meets up with Thumbelina (voiced by Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara). Thumby shrinks him down to her size and the two meet up with a Rat (Boris Karloff) who pimps her out to a Mole, who plans on marrying Thumby. Meanwhile, they find a dead sparrow and Thumby touches it and covers it with her sweater. Didn't she ever hear that children shouldn't play with dead things??? Disturbing. Following a musical number by bats - the dead sparrow comes back to life because of Thumby's sweater. Huh? Somehow the wedding doesn't happen and Chris learns the valuable lesson that "your size has nothing to do with your true happiness." Hmmm...that's not what all those emails in my inbox say...
So eventually Chris gets to his Garden of Paradise - where there are cotton candy trees, monotone peacocks, butterflies, blue marshmallows and the Tree of Knowledge!!! He is told(by an offscreen voice) that he must not eat EVER the blossoms from the tree. This story is starting to sound awfully familiar.
After pledging that he won't eat the blossoms, Chris does a little dance - and is visited by a horny and devilish version of himself. Of course Horny Chris convinces our hero to eat the thing. So he eats it and after a fiery apocalyptic finale - he's banished to The Land of Nothingness!!! Wakes then up in reality, where Papa is arrested and shackled to Chris. Papa saves them both by bribing the warden with his wife's wedding ring. Guess Mama Anderson's not coming back after all. We then learn that Chris grows up to become Hans Christian Andersen!!! Wow...I did not see that coming!
I was really hoping to love this film. After recently watching MAD MONSTER PARTY? for Halloween and looking forward to my annual viewings of their Christmas TV classics, Rankin-Bass usually can do no wrong. But I think the uneven performances and choppy storytelling really make parts of this unwatchable. They probably thought they were making the next WIZARD OF OZ or MARY POPPINS - but ended up making something that would alternately bore and frighten little kids, their target audience. I'll give this one 6 outta 10 "Huhs?" mostly for the awesome bondage musical number.
Two interesting notes: In another WIZARD OF OZ nod, Ray Bolger has a brief cameo as The Pie Man. Parts of THE DAYDREAMER were filmed on location at the Denmark Exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair.