Music: Something That’s Truly Human

I remember having a conversation with my dad at the age of twelve. It was about a month after September 11th happened and I was still wrapping my mind around who the terrorists were and what they stood for. My dad told me that they were with The Taliban, a fundamentalist political movement that had taken over Afghanistan. He described how oppressive they were to the people there. I could believe that a group could ban certain clothing and speech but one thing I found absolutely hard to believe was that they banned music. With the exception of certain religious chanting, all types of music were banned and The Taliban would do everything from smashing CDs and cassettes to hunting down musicians.

Before that moment, I had no idea how much humanity took music for granted. People hear music around them, whether it is at a concert, through headphones or in the background. Everyone likes music even if it’s only specific types. Indeed, music can be catered to any age, personality and occasion; it’s just that flexible. I literally could not imagine a world without it. It begs the question, what would a world without music be like?

Music is an art form that is so old that the date of its invention can only be theorized. Bone flutes have been found in caves across Europe and Asia and even if musical instruments only date back 40,000 years, music itself may be thousands of years older. It may even be as old as other distinctly human concepts and inventions, like speech and fire, and may have directly or indirectly contributed to our development as a species rather than existing as a byproduct of advanced intelligence. It would be easier to imagine a society that had music before but then banned it (which, as I mentioned before, is difficult enough as it is).

So what would that world be like? If we were to get rid of music, not only would we be getting rid of instruments, we would also have to do away with forms of entertainment and stimulation that employ music, such as movies, TV shows and video games. We would also have to censor the vast majority of the internet. Dancing would be close to impossible without rhythmic sound to accompany it. Speech tone would be much more monotonous than it is in our world. Indeed, this world would be dull and eerie.

Any child that grows up in a society during a music ban who hears music for the first time would assume that it was some sort of fantastic audible drug. Hearing it has our minds swim in imagery and make us feel a wide range of emotions. It changes our perception of time. It makes us move our bodies in ways that we normally wouldn’t. It makes people more attractive if they’re the ones making the music. It brings people together and makes them forget any differences or problems that they may have. It makes you want to just keep listening and, when stopped, it makes us want to come back for more later on. It would be positively mind-blowing.

But we must remember why this scenario is quite unrealistic. The first reason would be that people who remember music back when it was legal would still have favorite songs of theirs that would pop into their heads or make their way to their lips as they’re performing mundane tasks. Secondly, music is the audible version of art. If art decorates space, then music decorates time. It would not make much sense if one was banned and the other wasn’t. Also, a person can make anything into an instrument, and I mean anything. Pots and pans, whistles, baby rattles, wood, marbles, metal bars. In fact, a contraption made of just those last three can manage to make quite a catchy tune. And let’s not forget the sounds of nature around us, such as chirping birds and the barrage of raindrops during a storm. If there was no music for several generations, someone – in fact, many people – would end up re-inventing it sooner or later, either on purpose or by accident.

Remember those forms of entertainment and stimulation I mentioned that would have to be abolished in a world without music? Well that was precisely what The Taliban did. They went through all this trouble to ban music but, not surprisingly, they were not entirely successful. According to an article dating back to the time when I had that conversation with my dad, people in Afghanistan (which had a rich musical tradition before The Taliban came through) literally took music underground or away from civilization, music speakeasies, if you will.

So at this time, in this place, be happy for music. No matter how meager your existence, no matter how bad things get in this crazy world, music will always be here as just one of the ways that humans bring others joy through entertaining expression.

Frankie Reviews Stuff: Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure

I’ve decided to do a blast from the past and post a review that I wrote back in 2009. Enjoy!

We ultimately know of the classic films that were catered for the entire family; ones with plotlines involving fantasy, romance, talking animals, and anything else that would please adults and children alike. You know which films I am talking about – most of them were produced by Disney, with a couple produced by Warner Brothers and MGM, sometimes in an attempt to compete with Disney. If you thought you knew about every single film of this caliber made, you’d be quite mistaken. There is one particular musical family film produced by 20th Century Fox that was largely forgotten because it bombed at the box office and was considered to be an utter failure. This means that a person would have no chance in the seven stages of the underworld of finding a DVD copy unless they were to find a pirated one on Ebay. Which film am I talking about, you ask? I am talking about the sugary-sweet, psychedelic hayride Raggedy Ann and Andy: a Musical Adventure, directed by Randy Williams. Raggedy Ann is a treasured American icon that is universally known by small children, their parents and their grandparents, so it is only appropriate to conjure up a family film about her.

Not only is this film considered obscure in many circles, but it also came out in 1977, over a decade before I was born.  So how did I hear about it anyway? I heard about it from the biggest source of information (and porn) in our modern world, the internet. One of my favorite web series, The Nostalgia Critic, posted an episode earlier this year entitled “The Top 11 Nostalgic Mind-F***s (Why top 11?  Because he likes to go one step beyond).” In case you were wondering, a “mind-f***” is a moment that is random, pointless, and all-around nonsensical. In one of the slots (I forget which one – since this was a list of nonsensical movies and shows, he replaced the numbers with random objects, like “number piano” and “number shoe” instead of “number eight” and “number seven”) was the movie Raggedy Ann and Andy: a Musical Adventure — not just one moment from the movie, but the movie itself. From the scenes he showed, the movie looked pretty screwed up: a candy monster wishing for a sweetheart, a knight with purple skin singing about how he loved the main protagonists, two naked dolls dancing… how absurd! What were they on when they made this? The Nostalgia Critic didn’t explain much about the film’s plot since this was part of a list, so I didn’t get as much of an impression of the film.

Curiosity got the best of me and I went to the online video treasure trove known as YouTube. I typed “Raggedy Ann and Andy: a Musical Adventure” in the search box to see if there were any segments from the movie posted. To my surprise, not only were there segments, but somebody went and posted the ENTIRE MOVIE in ten interconnected videos on the site. Apparently, the movie is now in public domain and people can now do what they wish to it. At first I hesitated, but then I thought “this might be a larf,” so I bit (might I warm you that the rest of the essay contains movie spoilers).

The film starts off with little, live-action Marcella getting off the bus and going into her home while clutching the foot of her Raggedy Ann doll. When she arrives in her upstairs playroom, she is reminded by her mother that a special event is taking place that day, one in which she would have to look nice. When she puts Raggedy Ann in her little chair, she leaves the room and the credits begin. What sets this film apart from other films is that the opening credits tell us who animated who and ultimately tell us who will be in the film later on. The creators took a unique approach and hired different animators to be in charge of different scenes and characters – an animation smorgasbord, if you will. They, and not the voice actors, are treated like the stars.

When that’s all said and done, we cut to the scene where the proverbial magic begins. The movie makes a transition from live action to animation when Raggedy Ann comes alive and looks around. All the other toys come alive, too, once they realize that Marcella is nowhere to be seen. We can clearly see where the creators of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story got their whole “toys with secret lives” concept, even if they don’t want to admit it. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a rip-off since all concepts have their roots somewhere. Raggedy Ann’s voice is supplied by Didi Conn, otherwise known as Frenchie from the movie Grease. When I heard that bit of information, I made the connection between the two characters and said “Oh yeah – that IS her!” Her voice has a childlike whimsy that matches Raggedy’s character perfectly; it just screams “innocent girl with a candy heart” from the highest rooftops. Soon enough, we see the rest of the playroom in all their glory.

For the record, I think I had that sock-man-thing when I was her age.

I’m probably not alone in thinking that Marcella has the strangest collection of toys of any six-year-old. Among them are a fix-it man who gets around with a single wheel, a dragon made from socks and Susie Pincushion, a doll with needles sticking out of her dress. How could Marcella’s parents let her play with such a dangerous toy? Why haven’t these been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission? There are two toys in particular that annoy me to no end, and those are the Koko Twins, the title they are given in the ending credits. They basically look like two naked Betty Boop dolls that sing and choreograph every last afterthought in voices that sound like gophers that inhaled helium. How I wish I could put them out in the backyard and blow them up with miniature firecrackers as a “science experiment.”

After Raggedy Ann sings about the outside world and how wonderful it is, we are introduced to her brother Raggedy Andy, who was accidentally crushed by a giant box (he’s okay). After learning that the package contains a new doll, he sings a song called “No Girls’ Toy,” his own little anthem pertaining to being spunky and masculine in a girls’ environment (Well you’re certainly not a boys’ toy, Andy.  So what the heck are you?). I like how the animation shows him as being extremely flexible while dancing; paying homage to the fact that he is, indeed, a doll, even if he is alive and frolicking.

All right, I admit it; Andy has to be my favorite character in the entire film, even if he only plays second banana to Ann. His witty cynicism and boyish charm make him so adorable that you just want to pinch his little fabricated cheeks. In all honesty, if I were ten years younger, I would’ve surely developed a puppy crush on him. The fact that he has an excellent singing voice doesn’t hurt, either.

Marcella eventually opens the present to reveal a doll all the way from France named Babette. After Marcella leaves the room, the other toys try to make Babette feel welcome after she walks onto the balcony of the dollhouse. This brings me to the confusing aspect of the animation; why are all the toys smaller in their animated/living forms than they are in real life? When Marcella puts Babette into the top story of her dollhouse, she is clearly doll size but in the animated segment, she is tiny enough to walk onto the balcony. I guess this is up to your imagination.

Babette is the typical shy newcomer who almost doesn’t want to reveal herself. She looks beautiful but her singing voice is much to be desired when she laments about missing her home country. It is one thing to speak in a terrible French accent; it is quite another to sing in one. Almost immediately after Babette introduces herself, Ann is tricked into releasing a lovesick sea captain from his snow globe and Babette is kidnapped. I guess she really should have stayed inside the dollhouse. Realizing that this was all her fault, Raggedy Ann does the right thing by venturing outside the playroom to rescue Babette. Andy comes, too, since he doesn’t want anything to happen to Ann (you’ve got to love his commitment).

While in the deep, dark woods, our two protagonists sing the song “Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers” to cheer each other up. It is quite a sweet song, really. Some choice lyrics go like this:

Candy hearts and paper flowers

Sunshine days and skies of blue

Rhymes and songs we sing forever

Words to say I love you true

 

Times get bad and then I worry

How we’ll ever see it through

But candy hearts and paper flowers

Will always keep me close to you

 

At this point, Raggedy Ann and Andy appear less like brother and sister and more like a young couple in love. Before I point at the laptop screen and wildly proclaim “incest!” I would like to add that I enjoy how these characters are challenging the stereotype of brothers and sisters always fighting. In fact, I don’t think they have a single conflict in the duration of the film. Now that’s a wholesome example for the kiddies right there, though it makes their relationship a little less interesting.

What some consider our third protagonist is introduced soon afterward. Raggedy Ann and Andy stumble upon a blue camel who is simply know as “The Camel with Weak Knees” (yes, that’s his name). He tells his story, about how he used to be owned by a little boy but then the boy’s mother threw him away. Now I’m definitely convinced that the writers of Toy Story saw this movie beforehand. This story sounds a little too similar to that of Jessie the Cowgirl in the film’s sequel. If not, then this is one hell of a coincidence. The Camel is convinced that his goal of everlasting happiness is to join the caravan of camels in the sky. Only he is able to see them, and when he catches sight of them, he looks dazed and swept away from reality. Even if the creators of this “kids’ movie” don’t want to openly admit it, this character is high on some sort of hallucinogen, a little like how nobody in Scooby-Doo openly admits that Shaggy is a pothead (and he obviously is).

When the camel is chasing the imaginary caravan, Andy remarks “This is really weird.” These four words are only setting us up for things to come. The Camel accidentally jumps off the cliff with Ann and Andy on his back and the three plunge down, down, down. Hold on to your seats, everybody; this is the defining moment when the movie stops being cute and starts becoming like a bad acid trip.

I’m fab-u-lous!

Our heroes find themselves in a sea of sticky, orange goo with miscellaneous sweet things floating in it. Out of the blue (or out of the orange, I should say) appears the scariest and most unnecessary of our films antagonists, The Greedy. This shape-shifting monster lives in the pit of taffy, but is also the pit of taffy itself. From what he tells our heroes, you almost pity him; he eats and eats all these sugary delights but never feels satisfied (maybe he has just been dumped?). What he wants is a “sweetheart.” Whether this means “a heart made of sugar” or “someone to love” is never addressed. He probably meant the former, since he becomes elated when Ann tells him that she has a candy heart. What does the giant, self-cannibalizing blob do next? He tries to cut the heart out of the poor girl with a scissor. This writer says that a diabolical act such as this would normally land a movie a rating that is higher than “G.” Luckily, the monster is foiled when Ann and Andy flatten the beast with a wad of taffy. What if The Greedy had succeeded in ripping out Ann’s heart? There wouldn’t be a lot of blood and gore per se, but there would be stuffing and stitches everywhere.

If you thought that this was the weirdest scene in the film and that the next scene couldn’t possibly be weirder, you give this film way too much credit. Ann, Andy and The Camel find themselves at the entrance of Looney Land, where they encounter Sir Leonard Looney, a giddy, effeminate-sounding knight that looks like he is wearing a trash can over his midsection. He uses this opportunity to play all sorts of practical jokes on the characters, with Andy being the victim of most of them. His musical number is… confusing… to say the least. He claims that he plays jokes on them is because he loves them. What? Is he saying that you need to hurt someone in order to show compassion? The only example of this I know in real life is when someone is about to put their sick golden retriever out of their misery. Then again, I shouldn’t question the logic of Looney Land. If you pay attention to detail, you will notice that Sir Leonard Looney is not even wearing pants. Sure, Donald Duck never wore pants, but he was a duck and Leonard is a person… I think.

I’m no expert on purple people.

That was only the beginning; Ann and Andy go on a trippy, surreal tour of Looney Land that involves checkerboards, staircases and a black and white tint for some reason. This brings them to the court of King KooKoo, the ruler of Looney Land. He is a power-hungry little bugger and from the sound of his voice you would assume that he was Hitler if you didn’t have your eyes open. The only obstacle stopping him from achieving world domination is his extremely small stature. German accent aside, he probably has the most in common with Napoleon. He explains that the only way he will get bigger is if he laughs. Leonard starts playing jokes on Ann and Andy and the king temporarily grows bigger from laughing at every moment. One can easily spot the positive hidden message for the kiddies when Ann says “Making fun of other people never made anybody bigger than anybody else.” For all we know, King KooKoo probably IS based just as much on Hitler as he is on any other crazed European ruler. Both he and The Fuehrer wanted world domination and both of them weren’t particularly kind to certain people. All King KooKoo did was laugh at people, whereas Hitler… I think we all know what he did.

After all this craziness, our heroes finally find the captain’s ship in the high seas. We discover that Babette is no longer the victim of the lovelorn captain. In a surprise twist, we find that Babette has taken over the ship and declared herself captain. Actually, it is not that surprising to see an empowered woman in a film made in the 1970’s, but I digress. The captain’s role as antagonist becomes less and less apparent, as we see that he is being kept within the dark confines of the ship (take that, male-dominated society!) lamenting that his parrot, Wheezy, is his only friend, which is why he was searching for love all along. He was one of those villains that wasn’t evil, but misunderstood.

The role of antagonist is transferred over to King KooKoo, as it should be; he grabs his phone and calls up a monster known as the Gadzooks to help him achieve the goal of laughing enough to become the biggest king of all. If it were up to me, I would’ve had him summon the Gadzooks using a black magic spell from a dusty, forgotten tome, but beggars can’t be choosers. If one thinks about it, Babette has become sort of an antagonist (how many antagonists are there in this movie?!) because the power she has as captain goes to her head and she ties Ann and Andy to the ship so she can sail to France. This gives viewers yet another reason to hate her besides her phony French accent.

Soon, King KooKoo and The Gadzooks make their appearance so they can put their evil plan into fruition. With his long tentacles, The Gadzooks takes hold of everybody and starts tickling them nonstop, causing The King to laugh and expand exponentially like a balloon. What I wonder is why The King needed to hunt down Raggedy Ann and Andy for this plan in the first place. Why couldn’t he have gotten The Gadzooks to tickle him instead? For that matter, why couldn’t he have just tickled himself? Oh yeah, that’s right. It is physically impossible to tickle yourself. Another thing I think about is how The King plans to rule the world if he takes on the size and shape of a planet. Like I said earlier, I should never ever question the logic of Looney Land, even if this particular scene is set on the high seas. Taking a brave stance, Wheezy the parrot flies in to save the day by popping the pompous ruler with his sharp beak. Out of all the characters, it is the enemy’s annoying sidekick to thank for the safety of Marcella’s toys.

Marcella goes outside to find that her toys had “somehow” ended up near a puddle and she takes them indoors. Babette acted snooty and power-hungry earlier, but in the end, at least she acknowledges that she caused all this trouble and apologizes for the mess. To her merit, it wasn’t entirely her fault – the captain had a lot to do with it, too. I’m surprised that she forgave the captain so easily. Of course, she makes a deal with him that he can’t have her all the time; he can visit her on Sundays. She could’ve chosen to file a restraining order but I am assuming that she is leaving the whole ordeal in the past. The Camel with Wrinkled Knees gets accepted into the group of toys and everyone lives happily ever after. He had gotten into the playroom by climbing up the side of the house and little Marcella doesn’t once question how this new toy appears in the room. I can only assume that she thought it was a belated birthday present.

In all, Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure is a film that children will enjoy, especially the ones who love bright colors and aren’t terrified by nonsense and randomness. Thanks to video sharing websites and The Berne Act, it is slowly coming out of obscurity and can be shown to a new generation of children. To sum it all up, I would describe this film as a mad scientist’s cross between Toy Story, Yellow Submarine and Alice and Wonderland. As far as the plotline goes, it is pretty screwy and scatterbrained in the middle and the producers may have done this with the help of the “inspiration” stored in a shoebox in the trunk of somebody’s car.

To be fair, the film isn’t any more screwy and scatterbrained than the latter two of the movies that I just mentioned. The voice acting was above average for many of the characters except for Babette and those naked dancing Betty Boop dolls *shutters*. At least some of the songs in this musical adventure were catchy and memorable, with my personal favorites being “Just a Rag Dolly,” “No Girls’ Toy,” and “Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers.” This might be a family film with adorable protagonists and feel-good themes, but any adult watching this movie from the middle onward (especially the ones who remember watching this film as a kid) might want to sleep with the lights on after seeing it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure is owned by 20th Century Fox.